From the Heritage Room
The arrival of the decade of the 1940s was eventful with continued debt reduction, which by July, 1942, was paid in full after 20 years of building, growth and faithful stewardship. Yet, St. John’s could not escape the dark clouds of World War II. John Brock, who grew up in St. John’s, said the church faced the war years, “much as all Americans did. It was a time of sacrifice and much prayer. The war started on a Sunday afternoon (December 7, 1941). We were all in shock, and the church was full for evening services that memorable night.”
Brock was a youth at the time. He later attended Mars Hill College, Wake Forest University and UNC Charlotte and became a journalist, businessman, movie producer and university administrator. He recalled that St. John’s furnished dozens of young men and women to the war effort and scores of others who worked in support industries and services. He said that even though gas was rationed, most members lived in nearby neighborhoods, and church attendance was not appreciably affected.
“I especially remember D-Day in June (1944) while Vacation Bible School was going on. The workers got up in the early hours of the morning and prepared a moving opening assembly for the kids. It was very patriotic, inspiring and prayerful,” Brock said. “Some of the families of the church (mine included) would go downtown on North Tryon Street on Saturday night to a reception center where servicemen on weekend pass would congregate. Each family would take several servicemen home to offer them meals and a place to spend the night. My mom, dad, sister and I would sleep in the attic so they could enjoy a real bed for the night.” Brock remembers that in the aftermath of the war, the church “adopted/sponsored” 8 or 10 families of refugees from Latvia.
St. John’s provided a number of servicemen to the military services. Some of them paid the supreme sacrifice. Some displayed real acts of heroism. Bob Benton’s aircraft was shot up returning across the English Channel, and he crash-landed in an English village. Frank Caldwell was shot down over Germany and taken prisoner. Others made similar sacrifices.
St. John’s continued to mature. Dr. Durden celebrated his 15th anniversary on April 2, 1944 and preached his last sermon, saying, “I have finished my course.” A search committee reported on May 24, 1944 that they had found a new pastor– Dr. Claude U. Broach. The church voted unanimously to extend a call, and Dr. Broach accepted on May 23, 1944, saying, “We shall enter upon this new relationship in a time of universal sorrow and turmoil. This shall not discourage us.” The journey he began that day turned into 30 years of ministry that would define St. John’s.
The pastor and lay leaders immediately began planning for the future and in 1946 adopted a dramatic plan for expansion, including classrooms, a chapel, and the space that would become Lasater Hall. The church also began a program of outreach, establishing mission churches. The decade ended with a promising vision.