Dec 10, 2019

Christ Church Celebrates Milestone Anniversary

By Lori Draz

Reverend Lisa Mitchell, Bishop William Stokes and Robert Kelly with the Vinegar Bible

The intersection of Route 35 and Sycamore Avenue is one of the most historic in the county and equally one of the most spiritual. Not only will you see the Allen House Tavern and Meeting House, the corner is also occupied by one of the few Quaker churches in New Jersey and one of the most iconic Shrewsbury sights, the white church and graveyard of Christ Church. More than a historic building, this active and welcoming Episcopalian Church is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the setting of its cornerstone this year.

The story of Christ Church began in 1702 in the home of Lewis Morris, who would serve as the royal governor of New Jersey. Morris requested a missionary be sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In 1706, the parish acquired land for use as a graveyard which has stones dating back to 1719. The official charter was granted in 1738 by King George II, and that document is on display in the church today. In 1739, William Leeds Jr. bequeathed 439 acres to the church to serve as a glebe, or income-producing farm. This property was in Lincroft, formerly known as Leedsville. After about 25 years the congregation needed a new church, which they wanted to fund with a lottery. Lotteries were illegal, but the Jersey spirit was alive even then, and they took to the water, holding lotteries on Biles Island in the Delaware River and in Sandy Hook Bay. The new church was constructed from 1769 to 1774.

 

Patriot soldiers used the church as barracks during the American Revolution. At that time, the church was Anglican and therefore was considered British, making it a target for the patriots. The soldiers shot at the pulpit and at the orb and crown on the steeple, and you can see the damaged orb with an embedded musket ball during your visit.

The church in fact has many historical artifacts, and the Parish Historian Bob Kelly is proud to share stories about them. Also on display are two pewter alms basins which were given to the church by King George II in 1738.

Other items owned by the church are a silver communion service set given to the church by Queen Anne in 1708. The service consists of two silver pieces including a chalice inscribed “Christ Church Shrewsbury.”

The church also has an impressive 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 Majestyโ€™s Customs in New York. The Vinegar Bible earned its name due to the misprinting of the Parable of the Vineyard. The book was in use until 1916 and is now on permanent display in the church.

The Tower clock was added 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.
The cemetery is equally fascinating and also celebrating a big anniversary; itโ€™s 300 years old this year. Among the graves of the early settlers and parishioners, you will find Judge John F. Grimke, who was a colonel in the American Revolution and served as Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

You will also meet Benjamin Lippincott, a true entrepreneur of his time. Lippincott headed west to become a purveyor of goods to a growing nation. He ultimately became a pioneer of the state of California, but returned to join many family members in the Christ Church graveyard.

One of the most prominent grave markers is that of E. C. Hazard, know to everyone as the Ketchup King. At one time, Hazardโ€™s manufacturing plant had made Shrewsbury the ketchup capital of the nation.

A more recent grave is that of J. Louise Jost, the founder of the Shrewsbury Historical Society and the curious part of her grave lies just below the surface. While her headstone is in correct alignment, Jost broke with tradition and had her grave set at an angle so that she would be able to keep her eye on the societyโ€™s headquarters which are catty-corner across Route 35.
Rector Lisa S. Mitchell warmly welcomes everyone to Christ Church, whether to wander or worship. Christ Church is located at 380 Sycamore Ave. in Shrewsbury. Call 732-741-2220 or visit ChristChurchShrewsbury.org.