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Watch now: 850 pages. The history of 1 Decatur church.

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DECATUR — Decatur’s St John's Episcopal Church, on the corner of Church and Eldorado streets, can draw attention with its elaborate stained glass windows and looming bell tower.

A book, “The Definitive History of St. John’s Episcopal Church,” was recently published providing history and meaning to the details surrounding the religious building.

Although the 850-page book is a culmination of the church’s past, it is also a historical book filled with many Decatur stories. “It has about 800 people listed in the index,” co-author Jan Akins said. “Anything you would ever want to know about this church is in this book.”

St. John's book

“The Definitive History of St. John’s Episcopal Church,” by Jan Akins and Aaron Akins

The book is filled with stories, factual information and history that tells of Decatur’s past as well as the church’s accounts, including biographies for the 58 rectors that have tended to St. John’s.

“There’s no stone left unturned,” said Aaron Akins, Jan Akins’ son and co-author of the book.

Research included studying blueprints, photos, and other Decatur historical references. The location of the church was near the center of the city at the time, a prime spot for social activities. Members of the church included well known members of Decatur’s history such as banker L.L. Burrows.

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“The churches used to anchor the communities downtown,” Aaron Akins said.

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References to other buildings, including the Decatur Library, schools, and other business, are associated with the church. “They all blend in with the community,” Jan Akins said.

Akins mom and son

Jan Akins, right, and Aaron Akins co-authored “The Definitive History of St. John’s Episcopal Church.”

Funerals were also important occasions. With prominent members of the community attending the church, many processions traveled down Church Street to the member’s final resting place in Greenwood Cemetery.

Along with pictures, graphics and historical references, full copies of newsletters and cookbooks are printed in the book. 3-D computer renderings of the church’s progress in the 1890s and beyond fill several pages.

“Every picture in there has a purpose,” Jan Akins said. “We asked ‘where has St. John’s been?’ ‘What have they done?’ ”

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Talents from around the globe contributed to the making of the book, including printers and artists from Armenia, Bangladesh, Canada, and India.

The church was renovated in the 1990s with a few additions before and since. During the process, the mother and son created a 155-page historical reference book. After a recent health scare, the two wanted to tackle an update.

The book is large with glossy color photos, making it expensive to publish and ship. The authors said they are willing to meet with people to discuss the details of the book and the church as well as gather more information. “There are still some roots out there,” Jan Akins said. “It’s not just St. John’s. Virtually every church in Decatur probably has the same kind of stories.”

The last reference in the book is dated in 2021. What will the authors do about future publications? “We’re not sure yet,” Aaron Akins said.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: 25 photos of Decatur churches through the years

Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR

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