The Episcopal Church in New Jersey
Bishop Croes could offer patriotic credentials, having served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary war. He put forth a definitive plan for missionary operations and helped found the General Theological Seminary, the General Missionary Society, and the Episcopal Sunday School Union. Bishop Croes was considered by his clergy to be solid, reliable, and conscientious. He served 17 years as Bishop, until his death in 1832.
During the episcopate of Bishop Croes, services were only occasionally held in Woodbury, either by the Bishop himself or by the priests in charge of the parishes at Clarksboro and Chews Landing.
Croes was succeeded by George Washington Doane (see picture) on October 31st, 1832. Bishop Doane was a handsome man with a magnetic personality, resonant voice, and abundant social gifts. He was a strong supporter of the missionary movement and the development of Episcopal schools. He was a leader of the High Church party. In 1839 Bishop Doane voted to admit Alexander Crummell, an African-American, to General Theological Seminary; the only bishop on the seminary board to do so. One of Bishop Doane’s hymns is in the Hymnal 1982 (#457, “Thou art the Way, to thee alone”).
By the end of his 27 years as Bishop, the Diocese had almost 100 clergy serving 85 parishes. He held services in the old Court House, where large congregations and neighboring clergy would be present to meet the Bishop.
A Mission is Established
In 1854, the first regular and organized attempt to introduce the services of the church was made. Bishop Doane, in May of that year, commissioned the Reverend William Herbert Norris as a missioner to Woodbury. The newly appointed missionary arrived in Woodbury having in his possession a letter of introduction from Bishop Doane:
Riverside, 15 May, 1854
My dear Mr. Carter,
This will introduce to you The Rev. Mr. Norris. He is instructed to remove to Woodbury and undertake the establishment of a church there. I commend him to you kindness. You will show him the cure and aid him in its accomplishment.
Your faithful friend,
Upon Father Norris’ arrival, the church definitely had room to grow! There were few churchmen in the area. A large majority of the townspeople were of Quaker ancestry and old ties were still very strong.
While regular services continued in the Upper Room, a meeting had taken place to determine the organization and building of a church. As a result of the meeting, a committee consisting of Father Norris, John K. Wright, George Manly, John Downing, and Benjamin F. Carter was appointed Treasurer of the Fund. On a motion from Mr. George Manly at that meeting it was resolved that the organization, when complete, should be known by the name of “Christ Church.” Subsequently, Dr. Norris and Messrs. Manly and Carter were appointed a committee to procure a suitable building lot.
|Church Property Expands
Two days later, Father Norris deeded the lot in consideration of William Herbert Norris, John K. Wright, George Manly, Edward Pierson, and Benjamin F. Carter, in trust for church purposes. On July 26, 1855, the cornerstone for the proposed structure was laid by Bishop Doane and the event was duly recorded in his journal:
July 26, 1855:
On Thursday, 26, I laid the corner-stone of Christ Church, Woodbury; and made the address. The Rev. Messrs. Norris, the Missionary, Bartlett and Graham, (of the Diocese of South Carolina) were present. I found the roots of the church already well set, in a soil, where some have thought, it never could secure a lodgment. But, “all men have not faith.”
The present structure was completed in 1856, and subsequently consecrated by Bishop Doane on Thursday, September 17th, 1857.
On December 21st of the following year the Norris house, located between the Church and Wood Street, was purchased. When Father Norris died in 1880, the property was inherited by his widow, Juliet Rawle Norris. At the time of her death in 1883 it was passed on to her son, Dr. Herbert Norris, along with the old Temperance Hall. He in turn on December 21st, 1885, deeded the house to the Vestry. Vestry decided to purchase the property on the other side adjoining the Church, thus gaining possession of the entire block fronting on Delaware and between New and Wood Streets.
The present structure was completed in 1856, and subsequently consecrated by Bishop Doane on Thursday, September 17, 1857.
In November of 1884, the Reverend Howard E. Thompson was called as Rector of Christ Church. During his stay as Rector, church organizations thrived, including the Christ Church Guild, St. Agnes Guild, Youngmen and Boy’s Bible Class, an Acolyte Guild, Youngmen’s Guild, Guild of Holy Innocents, and the Brotherhood of St. Andrew. Also during his rectorate, many physical improvements and additions were made, and numerous gifts and memorials were given to the church. In November 1895, Father Thompson resigned as Rector, leaving behind him a legacy in property, furnishings, and spirit that continues to influence the shape of our corporate worship at Christ Church.
During Father Urban’s rectorate, which began in 1895, the Rectory was completely remodeled and veneered with stone. Another major change was the installation of a new pipe organ that was powered by a water motor. The pipes were decorated with a light blue color and gold design. The old hand-pumped organ was placed in the Sunday School. No longer were the efforts of the organ pumper to be heard emanating from behind that feeble screen in the Church.
To Father Urban’s lasting pride, on New Year’s Day, 1900, the Vestry adopted and signed the certificate that recommended his son for admission to the Sacred Order of Priests. Ralph Earnest Urban was probably the first man from Christ Church to be Priested, and he eventually was consecrated as Suffragan Bishop of New Jersey on November 11, 1932.
The Reverend Malcolm Taylor assumed the Rectorate March 15, 1903. While Father Taylor was rector, the triangular windows were cut into the roof of the Church, the ceilings covered with ceiling boards, and the interior redecorated (January and February, 1904). Beginning in May 1905, stained glass Memorial Windows were placed in the Church. This project overlapped the Rectorate of the Reverend James McIllheny, who came to Christ Church on June 11, 1906, upon the resignation of Father Taylor in January 1.
In December, 1906, a choir room was built underneath the Church with a stairway coming up into the Church in the back of the Nave. It was removed several years later, when it was found to be a fire hazard. Electricity was introduced in the Church in November, 1907; the old gas lamps that were installed during Father Thompson’s rectorate were converted to electric. In 1907, a lot was purchased in the Clarksboro cemetery and the remains of those interred in the yard of Christ Church were moved to the new lot in Clarksboro. During this time there were no regular contributions to the support of Christ Church. Approximately 13 people (about seven families) were supporting the parish. The Women of the Parish Aid Society and of the Christ Church Guild gave much time and work to the parish.
In 1911, during the Rectorshop of Father Edgar Campbell, Christ Church had a fire. A news clipping records this event:
Women communicants of Christ Protestant Episcopal Church, at Woodbury, braved the fire which attacked the building today, and rescued the altar cloth, Bible and bishop’s chair from the burning altar.
The fire started in the basement from the heater and quickly communicated to the body of the Church by way of the flues.
When the smoke was seen issuing from the roof, Mrs. Edgar Campbell, wife of the Rector, and several other women parishioners forced their way into the blazing building and saved what they considered its most valuable contents. Firemen succeeded in saving the building.
After the resignation of Father Campbell, it was over a year before Christ Church had another Rector. The Reverend Howard M. Stuckert assumed the Rectorship in April, 1913, a position which he held until his resignation in September of 1918. During his Rectorship, Father Stuckert’s father drew up the plans for a new Parish House. Work was started in July, 1914, and the Parish House was completed by December of the same year.
At a special meeting of the Vestry on July 15, 1918, Father Stuckert tendered his resignation as Rector effective August 31, 1918. Immediately the Vestry began preparations for seeking a new Rector.
On September 9, 1918, a call was extended to the Reverend Robert G. Williams, then serving at St. Wilfred’s, Camden.
Father Williams accepted the call and became the 10th priest to serve the people of Christ Church. His was an extremely fruitful one. Father Williams came to Christ Church on the footsteps of a war that had shocked the minds and hearts of all Christians. He led his flock through the Great Depression, through the Second World War, and the Korean Conflict, all the while guiding them and nourishing their faith in God. Father Williams gave himself not only to his church and diocese, but to the community at large by serving in many civic projects. In recognition of his devoted service to the Diocese of New Jersey, Father Williams was made an Honorary Canon of Trinity Cathedral in Trenton by the Right Reverend Wallace John Gardner. The service of institution was held in Christ Church in 1949.
In 1951, under the direction of Canon Williams, the properties of Christ Church were improved and expanded. The Pulpit and Lectern were moved to their present locations. The organ was completely rebuilt and improved with the organ pipes being placed in a small room above the entrance to the Chancel. During the alterations, a general redecoration of the Church was carried out under the supervision of Mr. Ralph Kurtz, a Vestryman. A new wing was added to the Parish House from plans drawn by Mr. Earl L. Daily, a Vestryman.
Parish Receives First Curate
In the spring of 1954, a Curate, the first in the history of Christ Church, was obtained: The Reverend John Van Sant. This precedent-setting increase in the ministerial staff bore witness to the expanding needs of the church. Following Father Van Sant was been a succession of Curates who have ministered to this parish, and who in the process have found the shape for their future ministries wherever they may have been or will be.
1956 through 2004
In late May 1956, Christ Church celebrated 100 years of continuous services in the Church, and used the occasion to hold a testimonial dinner for Canon Williams.
On Sunday afternoon, November 3, 1957, Canon Williams was honored by his seminary (General Theological Seminary). The honorary degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology was to have been conferred at the commencement exercises of the seminary in May 1957, but because of illness Canon Williams was unable to attend. In response, representatives of the Seminary came to Woodbury, and within the walls of Christ Church paid tribute to this fine pastor and scholar. In the spring of 1960, Canon Williams resigned as Rector of Christ Church, bringing to a close a ministry of loving service that lasted 42 years.
The Vestry then called the Reverend William V. Rauscher as Rector, effective August 1, 1960, and remained so until 1996. During that time the first restoration project was completed, which included the repair and restoration of all buildings. A complete new kitchen in the parish house and the parish office in the rectory were also added.
An assistant’s residence was eventually purchased across from the rectory. A pipe organ and rebuilt organ chamber was finished in 1968, and since then additional ranks were installed.
In 1997, the Reverend Douglas Anderson was called to be Rector. During his time here, the Jubilee Garden was designed and the Christian Education program for the children and adults of Christ Church was reformed. The education wing in the parish house was completely renovated in 2002. Plans are now underway to renovate the remaining portions of the Parish House.
Christ Church Today
In February, 2005, the Reverend Brian K. Burgess, SSC, became the 13th rector of Christ Church. A native of southwest Florida, he previously served as Rector of St. John’s in Brooksville, Florida, and then as Associate Priest and Chaplain of the Parish Day at St. Luke’s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and a Master of Divinity degree (with honors) from the University of the South, School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee, where he was awarded the George Thomas Shettle Prize for Excellence in Liturgical Reading. Father Burgess is a Priest of the Society of the Holy Cross (Societas Sanctae Crucis).
Christ Church is a thriving parish, with over 200 families and many friends. Parishioners worship not only during the Sunday Masses, but during the week at Evening Prayer and the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday Masses. The church also offers opportunities for the community to participate, such as the Advent Ceremony of Lessons and Carols, held in December, and the Feast of Saint Florian Festival, which takes place in May.
In September 2006, Christ Church will celebrate 150 years of worship in Woodbury. We cherish our rich past — and look forward to an ever-brighter future! Why not become part of our parish family?
At Christ Church, our doors are open for you!