Dr. Richard Veit, History Day at Christ Church ShrewsburySteeple Clock at Christ Church ShrewsburyColonial Portrayal at Christ Church

History

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 Vinegar Bible 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 Eli after 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.

Clergy of Christ Church
  1702-1703 George Keith
  1703-1713 Alexander Innes
  1733-1737 John Forbes
  1737-1746 John Miln
  1746-1751 Thomas Thompson
  1751-1775 Samuel Cooke
  1788-1799 Henry Waddell
  1799-1806 Andrew Fowler
  1809-1824 John Croes
  1824-1830 Eli Wheeler
  1830-1863 Harry Finch
  1863-1866 Thomas J. Taylor
  1866-1875 Wiliam B. Otis
  1875-1898 Benjamin Franklin
  1898-1906 William N. Baily
  1906-1919 Frederick P. Swezey
  1919-1922 Alanson Q. Baily
  1922-1942 Carroll M. Burck
  1942-1947 Robert D. Smith
  1947-1948 J. Lawrence Ware
  1948-1959 Theodore E. A. LeVan
  1959-1964 Anselm Broburg
  1964-1970 Ronald G. Albury
  1971-1988 Edward M. Story
  1988-1995 James E. LaSage
  1997-present Lisa S. Mitchell

Triptychs

The Triptychs at Christ Church

Did you know that we have two triptychs at Christ Church?

Well, you might ask, what is a triptych?

So the Wikipedia says, A triptych is a work of art (usually a panel painting) which is divided into three sections, or three carved panels which are hinged together and folded.

So, where are they?

One is blue and is in the parish hall above the small altar. (An altarpiece is one of the primary functions of this art form.) The other is newly re- installed on the east wall of the parish hall near the stained glass window.

So you may now ask: How did we come into possession of these objets d’art?

An excellent question. Here is what we know. During WWII there was a group called the Committee for the Army, Navy and Air Corps that commissioned art works for use by the armed forces. One goal of this organization was to provide settings for military personnel to worship. These triptychs were two of over 500 of those commissions. While many were made of wood, some were made of metal for use on ships. Their acquisition dates to 1973 during the rectorship of Reverend Edward Story. However their mounting on the walls of the parish hall did not occur until the arrival of Father LeSage who, when advised they were stored in the basement, asked for their placement on the walls of the parish hall.

Why were they in the basement?

One parishioner says that Fr. Story never liked them and banished them.

Well if he did not like them why were they acquired during his term?

When these art works were released by the military, some were offered to churches at no cost. They were being stored at an estate on Long Island. Reverend James Simpson, the rector at Christ Church Middletown, went to the estate accompanied by Reverend Story and Reverend Jaynes, the rector at St John’s in Little Silver. They returned with 11 triptychs by various artists. Two each were distributed to Christ Church Middletown, Christ Church Shrewsbury, and St John’s.

As a curiosity what happened to the other 5?

A mystery.

OK, how do we know all this?

In 2009 we were contacted by The Quick Center of Art at St Bonaventure University. They were mounting an exhibit of the works of Hildreth Meiere (pronounced mere) and one of the triptychs is one of her works commissioned by the above mentioned Committee. They asked to borrow it for the exhibit.

And?

At that point there was no knowledge at the church about any of this! There was nothing in the vestry minutes or in the memories of long time parishioners. The Quick Center learned about this through the family of the artist who have established a Foundation to promote her art. There is also a record of the Committee’s commissions that is kept at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

Who is Hidreth Meiere?

She is a mid-twentieth century artist specializing in various forms of Art Deco style renditions. Her work can be seen throughout the country including major elements at the St Louis RC Cathedral, St Bartholomew’s in New York City, and Rockefeller Center.

Did we lend it to them?

We did. It is our policy to share our heritage with the broader community. The exhibit opened in September 2009.

Have we learned anything further about our other triptych?

We have. The artist for the triptych with the blue background is by Nina Barr Wheeler. It is identified as No. 48. (Our Meier triptych is listed in the records as No. 63.)Nina Barr Wheeler was an associate of Hildreth Meiere. This information was acquired through the records at the American Art Archives by a Friend of Christ Church. She is Bob Kelly’s sister in law, Catherine Kiser, who lives in the Washington DC area.

Do we know how these triptychs were used in the military from their inception?

The Meiere triptych served as an altarpiece in the chapel at Dow Airfield in Maine and then went to Treasure Island Naval Station in San Francisco Bay. The Wheeler altarpiece went to Fort Ontario, New York and then to Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland.

Do we know how much these are worth?

Not at this point. They have not been on the public market and so comparables are not available. In addition large-ish religious art works have a narrow and specialized market. In 1974 a significant number of these altarpieces were sold to a New York art dealer. At that time they were informally appraised with the values in the $3000-4000 range.

~ Information on Triptychs was supplied by Robert M. Kelly, Jr., Parish Historian