A historic church on the near west side of Cleveland is celebrating Black History Month by talking about its legacy as a station on the Underground Railroad.
Project Director and Vicar, the Rev Patricia Hanen, spoke to local news about the church’s historic mission:
In the mid-1800s, parishioners housed fugitive slaves in the church’s bell tower.
“There are several rooms up off of the stairs to the tower,” says Reverend Patricia Hanen, Project Director and Vicar at St. John’s. “People would stay there until they saw light.”
Hanen says the lights were from boats on Lake Erie waiting to take freedom-seekers from Cleveland on a journey to Canada where slavery was outlawed. The specific details of how many people were escorted to freedom through St. John’s are unclear.
“We don’t have good records about this because it was illegal,” says Hanen.
St John’s does not currently house a regular congregation, but in recent years has hosted Easter Vigil services, sung Compline, and various community and artistic events. Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman, Ohio City Incorporated, and Cleveland Public Theater have all recognized the importance of the church’s history and its continuing vocation to serve the community within which it has stood since 1838. Last year, Station Hope was the name given to an arts festival dedicated to the church’s history as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
“This is sacred ground,” says Raymond Bobgan, Executive Artistic Director at Cleveland Public Theatre. “Not because it has been sanctified by a church but because of what people have done here. … When we think about the bravery of the freedom seekers coming north and the bravery of the people in this community who were breaking the law to do this, we have to remember that there is still a lot of work to be done,” says Bobgan.
A reflection in the Ohio Diocese’s Church Life magazine by former Project Developer, Alex Barton, on last year’s Station Hope event concluded,
On April 26th we as a diocese strove for justice and peace among all people as we have and will do as followers of Jesus Christ until the end. And, the narratives so often overlooked in our nation were given a space to speak, a space to be heard. We will continue to respect the dignity of all human beings at Saint John’s Cleveland with God’s help.
Posted by Rosalind Hughes (Diocese of Ohio)