St John's Church can be found towards the southern end of the village of Port Ellen and stands end-on to the well sheltered Loch Leòdamais. It serves as the Parish Church of Kildalton and Oa, a parish covering a very large but, with the exception of Port Ellen itself, very thinly populated part of the south of Islay.
St John's was built between 1897 and 1898 by the architect Sydney Mitchell. His company, Sydney Mitchell & Wilson, had a significant output and was known for a wide range of churches, private houses and public buildings. Sydney Mitchell was also appointed to the post of architect to the Board of Lunacy in Scotland in the late 1880s, and he went on to design many of Scotland's asylums. It is said that the design for St John's is based on that for the Romanesque Church at Leulinghen-Bernes near Boulogne and reactions to the highly unusual tower range from the faintly disapproving in architectural references, to affection from locals who have grown to like their church topped off with what can appear from some angles to be a gnome's head.
St John's was built at the end of a half century in which Islay's population had halved because of clearance and emigration, and in which many of those who remained had left the more rural areas of the island to settle in new villages like Port Ellen. As a result, St John's replaced old places of worship in depopulated areas like Kildalton, seven miles to the north-east and home to a magnificent carved cross, and Kilnaughton, on the far side of Kilnaughton Bay from Port Ellen.
St John's setting is an oddly retiring one. Although it stands immediately behind the lochside road, its end-on aspect in views across the loch from Port Ellen's harbour render it a less than obvious feature in the landscape, and the later building behind it of brown harled houses camouflage its presence still further. The church remains very much as originally built, despite having been extensively restored in the late 1980s.
You enter St John's via a porch attached to the south wall near the western gable under the tower. The interior has a much more open and roomy feel than you expect from the outside, something greatly helped by the light wood of the pews and the extensive use of white paint on the walls and ceilings. When viewed from the end of the church the pattern made by the dark wood of the roof beams is an intriguing one that is oddly reminiscent of a spider's web.
The focal point of the church is at its east end, where a chancel is reached through a slightly pointed chancel arch. This is home to the communion table, above which is a stained glass window entitled "Christ the Good Shepherd" erected in memory of the Reverend James Mackinnon, who served as Minister from 1894 (i.e. before the church was built) to 1938. Another stained glass window commemorates Pilot Officer Iain Ramsay Junior of Kildalton, who was killed in action on 30 April 1942.