The parish of Christ Church in Shrewsbury New Jersey was founded in 1702. The Reverend George Keith, an Anglican missionary dispatched by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) in London, held services in 1702 in the home of Lewis Morris, later Royal Governor of New Jersey. Morris can be regarded as one of the forces behind the founding of the parish since he had requested that a missionary be sent by the SPG. The parish established more of a presence in 1706 through the acquisition of a small parcel of land at the present-day intersection of Broad Street and Sycamore Avenue in Shrewsbury.
Abraham Russell a master brickmason from New York erected the first parish church building, of
brick and lime, on this site in 1732-33. Christ Church was granted its official charter in 1738 by King George II and that document is on display in the church today. In 1739 William Leeds Jr. bequeathed 500 acres to the church to serve as a glebe, or income-producing farm. This property was in Lincroft, formerly known as Leedsville. In 1743 the SPG sent a schoolmaster, Christopher Reynolds, to New Jersey. He opened the first common school in Eastern New Jersey on the church property. Reynolds also led the congregation in the singing of psalms until his death in 1760.
After about 25 years the initial church was deemed to no longer meet the needs of the parish. Noted colonial architect, Robert Smith, developed plans for a new structure for parish worship. This building was funded by lotteries conducted in 1758 and 1760. Since lotteries were illegal in New Jersey, the drawings were held on Biles Island in the Delaware River and in Sandy Hook Bay. The new church was constructed from 1769 to 1774 under the leadership of the SPG missionary, the Reverend Samuel Cooke. Reverend Cooke was to be the last missionary serving Christ Church. He left for England in 1775 as the revolutionary war clouds thickened and the safety of a representative of the British crown was compromised.
During the Revolution the church was used as barracks by patriot soldiers. Since the church was a symbol of the British Crown, these soldiers shot at the pulpit and at the orb and crown on the steeple atop the church building. The church retains the damaged orb and a wood-embedded musketball. After 15 years a new homegrown cleric, Rev. Henry Waddell, became rector. Christ Church has had an uninterrupted clerical leadership to this day. The church remains an active Episcopal parish with worship services in the 234 year-old church each week.
Some notable aspects of the parish are:
- The church maintains a collection of old books including numerous Bibles and Books of Common Prayer (BCP). The most prominent Bible is the so-called
VinegarBible printed by John Basket in Oxford in 1717 and presented to the church in 1752 by Roger Elliston, the Comptroller of His Majesty’s Customs in New York. The Vinegar Bible, so-called due to the misprinting of the Parable of the Vineyard, was in use until 1916 and is now on permanent display in the church. The BCPs include a 1662 prayer book of Queen Elizabeth and a 1760 BCP given to the parish by William Franklin, thelast New Jersey colony royal governor and son of Benjamin Franklin.
- Queen Anne gave a communion service set to the parish in 1708. The service consists of two silver pieces including a chalice inscribed
Christ Church Shrewsbury.
- The Charter of the church granted by King George in 1738 and signed by the Royal Governor is on permanent display in the church.
- The parishes of St. James Memorial in Eatontown, Trinity in Red Bank and St. James in Long Branch were founded by Christ Church rector, the Reverend Harry Finch in the middle 19th century.
- Two pewter alms basins were given to the church by King George II in 1738 and are on display in the church.
- The parish of Christ Church Middletown was originally part of the broader Christ Church parish served by a common vestry and a single rector. Christ Church Middletown became an independent parish in 1854.
- The Tower clock was added as part of the construction of the clock tower in the 1870s. Both parishioners and the village funded the clock. This E. Howard tower keeps time to this day and is hand-wound weekly by a corps of volunteers.
- Christ Church had a churchyard bell dating to the mid 18th century. A new bell was acquired in 1825. It is called
Old Eliafter the Reverend Eli Wheeler who arranged its acquisition. This bell was cast in France in 1788 and hung in a convent in Santo Domingo. At Christ Church it hung in the great oak in the churchyard until the erection of the clock tower where it was installed and is rung by the same E Howard winding mechanism that controls the clock.