Christ Church, New Brunswick, New Jersey

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Christ Church
The Rector, Church Wardens, and Vestrymen of Christ Church in the City of New Brunswick[1]
Christ Episcopal Church
Christ Church is located in Middlesex County, New Jersey
Christ Church
Christ Church
Location of Christ Church
Middlesex County, NJ
Location New Brunswick, New Jersey
Country United States
Denomination Episcopal
Churchmanship Anglican Communion
Weekly attendance 145 (2014)[1]
Website Christ Church New Brunswick
Founded 1761 (1761)[2]
Events Third public reading of the Declaration of Independence (which occurred in New Brunswick, July 8, 1776[3]
Associated people Brigadier General Anthony White, Patriot
John Antill, 2nd Battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers (a Loyalist force)
Status Church
Functional status Active
Architect(s) Philip French (1750 original)[3]
Henry Dudley & Frederick Wills (1852 rebuild)[2][3]
Architectural type Mission parish[3]
Years built 1742–49[3]
Groundbreaking 1742[3]
Completed 1750[3]
Number of spires 1
Materials Sandstone rubble while the stone tower is composed of irregularly sized shaley sandstone rubble with a copper roof[2]
Episcopal area Episcopal Church in the United States of America
Diocese Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey
Province Province II
Bishop(s) William H. Stokes
Rector Reverend Joanna P. Hollis[4]
Assistant Reverend Joan Fleming[5]
Deacon(s) Venerable Pete S. Cornell[6] (Archdeacon for Deacons)
Organist(s) John Sheridan, DMA[5]
Churchwarden(s) Paul Ambos[5]
Business manager Jonathan Gloster[5]
Youth ministry coordinator Andrew Murphy[4]
Music group(s) Andrea Cunnell[4]
Parish administrator Julia Utz, BM, MFA[5]
Christ Episcopal Church
Historic American Buildings Survey Nathaniel R. Ewan, Photographer September 15, 1937 EXTERIOR - SOUTH ELEVATION - Christ Episcopal Church, New Brunswick, Middlesex County, NJ HABS NJ,12-NEBRU,1-5.tif
Christ Church, from 1937 Buildings Survey
Location New Brunswick, New Jersey
Coordinates 40°29′44.03″N 74°26′36.55″W / 40.4955639°N 74.4434861°W / 40.4955639; -74.4434861Coordinates: 40°29′44.03″N 74°26′36.55″W / 40.4955639°N 74.4434861°W / 40.4955639; -74.4434861
Area 1.1 acres (0.45 ha)
Built 1750 (1750)
NRHP reference # 89000994[2]
NJRHP # 1857[7]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP July 28, 1989 (1989-07-28)[2]
Designated NJRHP June 20, 1989 (1989-06-20)

Christ Church or Christ Episcopal Church is a historic Episcopal church in New Brunswick, Middlesex County, New Jersey.


In 1701 English minister Thomas Bray formed the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) to minister to the new English settlers. In 1711 a group of Anglicans were holding service in an old broken down townhouse in Piscataway that they shared with a group of Baptists. Under the influence of William Skinner, an SPG minister, in 1717 a timber frame church was built, which was completed in 1724, to replace the broken down townhouse. St. James Parish in Piscataway continued to grow, including members from higher up the Raritan River in New Brunswick. The demand was so great that a group gathered in 1742 to construct another church, to be called Christ Church, on the New Brunswick side of the River.[3]

Although construction began in 1742, title to the land was not obtained until 1745. This was because one of the original church planners was Philip French, who was the largest land owner in New Brunswick. French did not believe in selling land, but for public buildings that would benefit the community he did provide land leases at nominal rates. For the land to build Christ Church, he charged a yearly rent of “one peppercorn a year, only if asked.” The lease for the land is still on display in the Rector’s office at Christ Church. Throughout the early years, Christ Church remained a mission parish. It would not receive a royal charter as an independent parish until 1761.[3]

Pre- and Post-American Revolution[edit]

While it was believed that the parish was fully behind fight for independence, the reality is that during the Revolution the parish was quite conflicted. Figures such as Col. John Nielson, and Brigadier General Anthony White did, in fact, fight on behalf of the Patriots. But the church also contained its share of Loyalists, such as John Antill, who fought with the 2nd Battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers (a Loyalist force).[8]

One figure caught in the middle was the Rector, the Rev. Abraham Beach. Beach sympathized with the Patriots aims, but could not support rebellion as a means to the end. Moreover, as an Anglican cleric, he had taken oaths to support the Crown, and the liturgy included prayers for the King. One morning as he was preparing for service he was threatened with death if he offered such prayers, as a result of which he decided to close the church for the duration of the war. Being a faithful cleric and a moderate at heart, he continued his ministry even during the war, worshiping in the homes of sympathetic parishioners, and often deleting the prayers for the King if he thought such would offend delicate sensibilities.[3]

Following the war, the political energies of the newly independent states were focused on forming “a more perfect union,” first in the Articles of Confederation, later in the Constitution of the United States of America. The newly independent daughter churches of the Church of England also sought “a more perfect union,” and foremost in the leadership was the same Abraham Beach. In the winter of 1783/84 he corresponded with William White (later the first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church[9]) and other clergy in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York soliciting a gathering to “consider the state of the church.” He extended an invitation to meet at Christ Church May 11, 1784.[10][11] The outgrowth of that meeting was a call for another meeting in October 1784 with representatives from all thirteen states to consider a general convention to manage the affairs of the newly independent church. The First General Convention met in September 1785, leading to the current shape of the church we now know: with equal voice and vote for bishops, clergy and laity, the beginnings of an American Book of Common Prayer, and our own national Constitution and Canons.

New era[edit]

The church was so comfortable financially that in 1852 the parish tore down its 100-year-old structure and enlarged it, using (in part) many of the stones from the first building. It was Elisha Brooks Joyce, successor of pastorate Alfred Stubbs, that we owe a distinguishing feature of parish life still active today – the parish choir. Organ music has been part of parish life almost from the beginning, as was a parish choir, although from available records the quality of the early music program was not high. It is said that shortly after he became rector, Elisha Brooks Joyce received complaints about the quality of the music, so that he appointed George Wilmot, the parish’s first professional chorister. A decade later Wilmot was appointed the first music director and in 1893 he established a formally vested men’s and boys’ choir, which first performed for the Easter Service in 1894. The present Christ Church music program inherits the legacy established by Wilmot.[3]

Joyce also supervised the construction of the Parish House on Paterson Street, still in use today. But the construction placed the parish deeply in debt, a debt passed on to his successor, Herbert Parrish. Father Parrish was a man of substantial financial acumen. During Joyce’s final illness, Parrish served as supply clergy. Parish records indicate even during the interim, he admonished parish leaders as to how the church’s finances were handled. After his election as rector, he worked with William Hopkins Leupp and James Parsons to establish an “endowment fund” for the parish. By the time he left after his 13-year pastorate, the previously debt-ridden parish had an investment fund totaling $250,000, a fund that enabled the parish to survive the Depression far more easily than more financially strapped churches.[3]

Parrish also was committed to Sunday Schools as essential to faith development. This is most clearly seen in the establishment of the Highland Park Sunday School in 1921 (supported by funding from the will of William Leupp), which in time led to the founding of All Saints Episcopal Church in Highland Park, New Jersey. He was also instrumental in the development of still another Episcopal parish in New Brunswick, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.[3]

Modern era[edit]

Parrish’s successor, Walter Stowe, served the second longest pastorate in the church’s history, 37 years (1929–66). It could also be argued that it was the second most tumultuous period (after the American Revolution). During his pastorate Stowe had to contend with the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the beginnings of the Viet Nam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the beginning of white flight to the suburbs. Due to Fr. Parrish’s investment fund, the parish weathered the Depression relatively easily, but the Second World War was harder to avoid. The memorials around the building testify to the impact of the war on the parish. From all available evidence, at least 120 young men served in the war, of whom 10 never returned.[3]

Following the war Stowe was instrumental in establishing the Episcopal chaplaincy at Rutgers. In 1949 two Episcopal members of the Rutgers’ community, Clarence A. Lambelet (Professor of Engineering) and Jane Conlin (a senior at Douglass College, the Rutgers’ College for Women) set out to organize a Canterbury Club for 400 Episcopal students at Rutgers. They approached Stowe with the idea. The rector gave his backing to the plan and approached the Procter Foundation for financial support. With such support Clarence W. Sickles, a new curate, was hired for Christ Church, who began his service to both the church and the Episcopal ministry in September 1951.[3]

Stowe’s immediate successor, Charles Gomph Newbery, came to Christ Church from All Saints Church in Princeton, but only remained three years (1966–69). Reflecting the liturgical changes that were occurring elsewhere in the church, Fr. Newbery instituted a number of changes in the worship space. A freestanding altar was installed, and the semi-circular choir stalls were built in the chancel. The Clarke Chapel was established, and the old altar moved there. The sacristy was also added. The current shape of the church is attributable to him. Given the social upheavals of the day, he also established an outreach to the neighborhood, beginning an English as a Second Language program.[3]

Area influence[edit]

Area information sign


For most of the 19th and the early 20th centuries Christ Church was an establishment church. It could be described truthfully as the “Johnson and Johnson Church.” Among its members were James Wood Johnson (co-founder of Johnson and Johnson), Frederick Kilmer (father of poet Joyce Kilmer and research chemist for Johnson and Johnson), and Walter Williams (the President of Johnson and Johnson International). Other members were part of the economic and political elite (such as Nicholas Gouveneur Rutgers, President of the New Brunswick Savings Bank; Grace Wells, founder of what is now Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, and Fred Devoe, former Speaker of the New Jersey Assembly). The present parish is less politically connected and more solidly middle class.[3]

Race and the church[edit]

For much of its history Christ Church saw itself as a White church. In its earliest days, Black slaves were evangelized, but baptism did nothing to emancipate them. Existing parish records include 26 baptisms of known slaves, owned by parish members (including two rectors, Abraham Beach and John Croes). There may, of course, have been others, but records do not exist.

Blacks were members of the church but they were not seated with the Whites.[12] In the 19th and early 20th centuries, blacks were seated in the gallery, along with those who could not afford pew rents. When pew rents were abolished in the early 1920s,[13] the decision was made to relocate the organ from the chancel to the gallery, displacing the Black members of the church. Taking that as an indication they were not particularly welcome, the displaced African American members formed their own parish, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in New Brunswick, a predominantly Afro-Anglican mission, which still exists.[14]

The racial nature of the parish did not change much for half a century, but beginning in the mid-1970s, the composition of the church would be transformed. Blacks who moved into the city from other areas (including many from the Caribbean and Africa) joined the church. The church during this period has been described as not particularly welcoming to newcomers, but this was especially so for persons of color. Some parish members would not shake their hands during the peace, and all but told them their place was at St. Alban’s.

Two persons in particular helped to change this dynamic. One was Father Martin Gutwein, a curate under Fr. Frank Carthy, who had served in the Peace Corps and knew the family members of some of the new members and made them feel welcome. With his acceptance, some of the veteran members of the parish invited more and more of the newcomers into existing parish ministries.

The most significant person, however, was arguably Joan Fleming, who decided to tackle the racial tension in the church head on. She exercised a regular ministry of parish visitation, and deliberately extended invitations to all, White and Black alike. She created programming to address the heritage of all, Italian Night, International Night and a Celebration of Black Heritage (the latter one being an ongoing parish event 20 years later). Her diocesan initiative, “Unlearning Racism,” was first offered at Christ Church. Strides were also made in the liturgy, as music from Lift Every Voice and Sing II was incorporated alongside the classical repertoire that had been a part of Christ Church’s life during the interim rectorship of Robert Shearer. Also, under Mother Deborah Meister, a Jazz Vespers service was occasionally offered.

In 1953, a full year before the Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision by the Supreme Court, Martin Luther King, Jr. was quoted as saying, “11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.”[15]

Notable burials[edit]

Christ Church Graveyard
Christ Church Churchyard, New Brunswick, NJ - Beach family graves.jpg
Reverend Abraham Beach gravesite
Established 1754 (1754)
Location New Brunswick, New Jersey
Country United States
Type Church
Owned by Christ Church New Brunswick
No. of interments 1,253
Website Christ Church New Brunswick Churchyard
Find a Grave Christ Church Graveyard


  1. ^ a b "2014 Annual Report, Part 1" (PDF). Christ Church. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form". National Park Service. 20 June 1989. pp. 1–15. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "History of the Parish". Christ Church. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c "The Vestry". Christ Church. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Clergy & Staff". Christ Church. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  6. ^ "New Brunswick - Christ Church (Parish)". Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  7. ^ "New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places" (PDF). NJ DEP - Historic Preservation Office. State of New Jersey. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 November 2014. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  8. ^ Xelsox, William (1899). Edward Antill, a New York merchant of the seventeenth century, and his descendants : Edward Antill, 2d, of Piscataway, New Jersey, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Antill, 3d, of Quebec and Montreal, Dr. Lewis Antill, of Perth Amboy, and Major John Antill, of New York. Paterson, NJ: The Press Printing and Publishing Co. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  9. ^ "Past Presiding Bishops". The Episcopal Church. The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  10. ^ Episcopal Church (1890). "Annual Convention". Proceedings of the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New Jersey. New York Public Library: Diocese of New Jersey: 57. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  11. ^ American Society of Church History (1912). Papers of the American Society of Church History. New York Public Library: G.P. Putnam's Sons. p. 70. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  12. ^ ""The Black Church," A Brief History". African American Registry. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  13. ^ Collins, Leo W. (2005). "The 1920s - Religion". This is Our Church. Leo Collins. p. 102. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  14. ^ "Absalom Jones Celebration" (PDF). Need to Know! News. Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. 17 February 2008. p. 1. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  15. ^ Caldwell, Rev. Gil (8 January 2015). "A reflection on the Just Resolution of the complaint against Bishop Melvin Talbert". RMNBlog. Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). Archived from the original on 11 January 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Garden & Graveyard". Christ Church. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  17. ^ "Rev John Croes". Find A Grave. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  18. ^ "Capt Isaac D. Fisher". Find A Grave. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  19. ^ "Anthony Walton White". Find A Grave. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "Adm Charles Stuart Boggs". Find A Grave. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  21. ^ "Lieut Robert Boggs". Find A Grave. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 

External links[edit]