One of the most controversial things Lewis did during the 1970s was to bless gay couples in the church, Rosier said.
That came about after a friend of Lewis' knocked on the priest's door, came out to him as gay and asked that he and his friends have space in the church to meet.
"These were the days when there wasn't much coming out in Charleston," Lewis said.
That conversation led to gays and lesbians having meeting space in the church and, ultimately, to Lewis quietly performing a sort of marriage ceremony for two same-sex couples who attended the church.
Later, two lines in a newspaper story would expose Lewis and the ceremonies, which not even the church's congregation had yet known about, Lewis said.
"It really hit the fan," Lewis recalled. "I mean really hit the fan."
Many congregants left the church because of the blessings, but they also brought in others and helped form an attitude that stills exists today in the church.
"That set the tone for gay and lesbian people being welcomed here," Rosier said. "It's really changed a lot of people's hearts. The people are really supportive. Nowadays it's a non-issue. There are a lot of gays that attend -- I'm one of them."
'Not the worst thing we've been through'
In recent years, the church has gone through a bit of upheaval over the appointment of a priest to rector.
"[There was a] disagreement over whether Rev. Susan Latimer was the right person to be rector over St. John's," Rosier said. "That caused a lot of tension and, luckily, she was able to be called to ministry in Tampa, Fla."
The church brought on an interim rector -- the Rev. Michael Jupin -- in May.
"The majority of the people who left because they disapproved of [Latimer] have returned," Rosier said. "Other people left because they disliked the controversy. In fact, it was referred to as drama by some people. They didn't feel comfortable with the drama."
Lewis, who had moved back to Charleston after being away, lost his license to minister for violating Episcopal procedures by performing rites for St. John's members while he was no longer rector of the congregation.
Lewis declined to comment on the situation for this story.
Rosier said the church has survived through much bigger upheavals.
"There has been a lot of dissatisfaction in the last couple of years," he said, "but I don't think it's the worst thing we've ever been through."
He added that the biggest upheaval in recent church history was when Lewis offered the blessings on gay couples.
Under Jupin's leadership, the congregation is healing, said David Morton, the church's choirmaster and music director. Morton has been a member of the church since 1962, although he lived away from Charleston for a while. The congregation, typically focused on others, is taking time to itself, he said.
"We're trying to work with ourselves right now," Morton said. "We need to. That's important."
Morton recalled a conversation with a church secretary who died years ago. The woman, who was angry at the time with the minister, said, "Ministers come and go but St. John's stands on the corner of Quarrier and Broad."
Although that street name has changed to Leon Sullivan, the sentiment remains true, Morton said.
"We will be here through smoke and fire and tribulation," Morton said. "St. John's will stand on the corner."
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.