DETAILED HISTORY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AT SHREWSBURY NEW JERSEY
Original compiled and edited by Virginia Hammond, Jane MacNutt and Margaret Borden from a previous edition prepared by Richard Nevius and from church records and historical material supplied by Charles Banks, Rev. David McKirachan, and other church members. Additional sources included the Monmouth County Historical Society, History of Monmouth Presbytery (Symmes), Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, and "New Jersey History"
The following history was put together to celebrate this church's 275th Anniversary in 2007 by
Virginia B. Hammond and Alexander J. Wagner
Chapter I Early Struggles (1732 - 1759)
Chapter II Granting of the Charter (1750)
Chapter III Revolutionary Times (1759 - 1783)
Chapter IV We Get a New Church Home (1783 - 1840)
Chapter V One Hundred Years With Regular Pastors (1840 - 1940)
Chapter VI Modern Times (1940 - 1982)
Chapter VII The New Era (1982 - 2007)
Chapter VIII Interesting Features of the Sanctuary & Social Room
Chapter IX The Oldest Corporate Seal
Chapter X The 250th Anniversary Commemorative Communion Token
Chapter XI The 275th Anniversary
CHAPTER I - EARLY STRUGGLES (1732 -1759)
This is the story of that small group of people who founded the Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury and who, together with their successors, have maintained it for more than ten generations. Undaunted by the fluctuations in membership and finances, at times without a building and even reduced for a period to the status of a "mission church," they held on with tenacity and faith. Without them, we would not today be celebrating our 275th Anniversary.
Shrewsbury, at the time of the "Monmouth Patent" in 1665, embraced a large part of Monmouth and Ocean Counties as we know them today. Among its early settlers, the story goes, "were a very pious set of people most like Presbyterian," and "they generally held religious services."
We know, of course, that the Friends Meeting on the comer had its start in 1672 and that Christ Church (Episcopal) was functioning from 1702. (Its present edifice was built in 1769.) Of the three historic religious institutions of Shrewsbury, our Church was the latest to appear. While there apparently was Presbyterian activity in 1705, it is commonly assumed that the construction of a church building in about 1732 marks our beginnings.
It is on record that in 1705 John Boyd was licensed to preach, first by the Court of the King's Bench meeting in Shrewsbury, and later by the Presbytery of Philadelphia. He was the first minister to be ordained by the first Presbytery in this country, and immediately became the itinerant preacher in the Shrewsbury, Freehold, and Middletown areas.
In 1727, Nicholas Brown donated the property on which this Church stands, for the purpose of a meeting house and burial ground. This was the same Nicholas Brown who in 1706 had deeded to the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts" the land on which Christ Church was built. In 1729, John Tennent was asked by Presbytery to serve the existing and needy churches in this area.
It is further known that, from 1705 until 1734, Presbyterian services were conducted by John Boyd (mentioned above), by Joseph Morgan, and by John Tennent, who was one of the four famous sons of the illustrious William Tennent of the Freehold area, whose "Old Tennent Church" is one of our country's famous colonial buildings.
On or about the year 1730, William Tennent (then at Neshaminy, Pennsylvania) created a school in which Presbyterian boys could be educated for the ministry. He built his schoolhouse of logs and soon this institution became known as the "Log-College." This was the beginning of Presbyterian education in this country, and was the germ from which Princeton University sprang. As the “Log-College" became insufficient for the needs, the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) was formed, with patrons and friends of the "Log-College” among its supporters and trustees.
Samuel Blair, born in Ireland in 1712, appears as a student in the "Log-College" in 1732 and was probably the first pupil other than the Tennents' own sons. It is recorded that he was learned in geometry, astronomy, geography and history. Later he became an authority in philosophy and founded a school of his own at Fagg's Manor, Pa. His close association with Princeton is evidenced by the fact that he was a Trustee of the College of New Jersey at the time of his death, and that his son, Samuel Blair Jr., was offered the presidency of the College of New Jersey, withdrawing only in deference to Dr. Witherspoon.
The Rev. Samuel Blair became the first officially designated pastor of our Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury. Authentic records show that he was ordained as a minister on November 9, 1733, and that on May 14, 1734, a call was presented to Rev. Blair by the Moderator of the Presbyterian Churches of Shrewsbury and Middletown. He accepted the call.
During the six years of his ministry, Rev. Blair became associated with such eminent men as Jonathan Edwards, Theodore Frelinghuysen, George Whitfield, and the four Tennents. These men participated in the growth of religious faith and fervor, which has been characterized as the "Great Awakening" by the historians of our Colonial age. He became known throughout this country and in England as the "Incomparable Blair," even though he died at the early age of thirty-nine.
One interesting matter that occurred during his ministry was the establishment by Presbytery of a small church at Shark River, which continued in existence until 1810. This church was in an area formerly served by Shrewsbury and shared with our church the same pastor.
The Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury has just reason to be proud of her heritage in her first pastor, Samuel Blair. He has been judged by the test of time, and the historians have recorded him as among America's greatest religious pioneers. However, it is obvious that he had very human feelings of discouragement, and one cannot help but be moved by the pathetic tone of his letter of resignation on September 5,1739, as stated in the Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society for June, 1913:
"After laboring at Shrewsbury and Shark River for something over five years, he asked to be released for the following reasons, in substance, among others:
It was to be twenty years before the small church at Shrewsbury obtained its second installed minister. In the interval and, indeed, for the balance of the century (except for about twelve years when we had ministers of record), the Presbytery took action to assign supplies to our pulpit. Among these men who served prior to 1759 were:
- William Robinson, another "Log-College" graduate and subsequently a man revered in the religious annals of North Carolina and Virginia;
- Charles McKnight, who was later to be our pastor during the Revolution;
- William Tennent, Jr., who also served as one of the Trustees of the College of New Jersey, and whose name appears in connection with the charter granted by Governor Belcher in 1750;
- Thomas Lewis and James Davenport, graduates of Yale;
- Israel Read, a graduate of the first class of the College of New Jersey;
- James McCrea and Alexander McWhorter. The latter was a Revolutionary patriot who started his ministry in the Shrewsbury church.
CHAPTER II -GRANTING OF THE CHARTER - 1750
In the 1740's trouble arose in the Province of East Jersey when Proprietors sought to enforce their right to lands by evicting "squatters" - those early settlers whose title might or might not be traced to the Indians. The Anglican Proprietors did not look with much favor upon the Presbyterians (Dissenters), and the Presbyterian Congregations in Newark, Elizabethtown, and other areas felt threatened with the loss of their lands. They also suffered harassment while attempting to set up a Presbyterian college. Actual rioting of a serious and prolonged nature occurred between the years 1745 and approximately 1752.
In 1746, John Little, an important member of our church (and later a Lt. Colonel in the French and Indian Wars), approached his Tinton Falls neighbor Governor Lewis Morris, in the hope of obtaining a charter that would legalize our existence in the Province and validate our land-holding. Direct descendants of John Little are still life-long members of our congregation.
Gov. Morris, whom history records as having been more on the side of the Proprietors anyway, died in the same year and the matter fell into abeyance. Governor Belcher, a dissenter himself and a moderating influence, replaced him. Quoting from the actual minutes of the church, in about 1748:
"Upon His Excellency, Governor Belcher’s invitation, the Reverend William Tennent went to Burlington to preach and John Henderson accompanied him. In conversation with the Governor they informed him of the above affair. From whose conversation they took courage again and a Petition and Draught of a Charter prepared and the Petition signed with a large number of persons of the Presbyterian (faith) living and inhabiting the County of Monmouth."
The petition was presented to the Governor and his Council at a meeting in Burlington, N.J., on February 12, 1750, by John Little, Stephen Pangborn, and John Henderson, as appointed Commissioners for the Monmouth Presbytery. At this meeting, Governor Belcher authorized the Attorney General to approve a charter. John Henderson delivered it to the Attorney General in Trenton and he approved it as drawn. Henderson then bore it back to the Governor in Burlington. At a Council meeting on February 21, 1750. the Governor was pleased to sign his name and the Council ordered the Secretary forthwith to affix the Great Seal of the Province. This charter legalized the incorporation of a body to be known as “Trustees of the Presbyterian Church of Monmouth County”, an area which included Shrewsbury as well as other churches in the county. A photostatic copy of this document hangs in our vestibule.
It is commonly believed by those who look back into history that the granting of this charter was to some extent influenced by a man who would be installed nine years later as our second minister, Elihu Spencer. Rev. Spencer was a Yale graduate of the Class of 1746. In 1750 he married Joanna Eaton, daughter of John Eaton for whom Eatontown was named. At the same time, he was pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown and had as a member of his congregation Governor Jonathan Belcher. It does seem quite likely that he may have been of assistance with the granting of the charter, in view of the close contact he had with the Governor and his marital ties to the Shrewsbury area.
CHAPTER III - REVOLUTIONARY TIMES (1759 - 1783)
The Reverend Elihu Spencer became our minister in 1759 and remained until 1765. He then went on to become a prominent figure in the Colonies, and a man of tremendous influence upon the thought and action of our Colonial forebears - a man whom two Governors (one not of his own denomination) appointed to chaplaincies of an arduous character, and whom an enlightened Provincial Congress deemed the fittest instrument they could find for accomplishing a most important and delicate patriotic service.
In 1752, he was registered as one of the Trustees of the College of New Jersey. In 1754, Governor Belcher appointed him as Chaplain of the New Jersey Regiment for the French and Indian War. In 1756, after moving to Jamaica, N.Y., he was appointed by Governor Delancy of that state as Chaplain of the New York Regiment in the same war.
During his occupancy of our pulpit, he issued a letter under the title, "The State of Dissenting Interest in the Middle Colonies of America," an article that attracted great attention and did much to encourage the growing wave of desire for freedom that culminated in the American Revolution.
After the time of his pastorate at Shrewsbury, he ardently espoused the cause of the Colonies, with the result that Tory enemies entered his home at Trenton and burned its contents. Finally, at the behest of the Provincial Congress, he was called to the State of North Carolina in an endeavor to unite the people of that colony in the cause of independence. When Rev. Spencer left Shrewsbury, he left a church that was firmly founded in religious principles and patriotic devotion.
Another eminent patriot, the same Charles McKnight who had supplied our pulpit from 1742 to 1759, became our third official pastor. Rev. McKnight was presented with a call on May 28, 1766, accepted, and remained until shortly before his death in 1778. An intense patriot in an area in which there were many Tories, there went from his congregation into Continental service one colonel, seven captains, and a large number of private soldiers. Both he and his son Richard were seized by the enemy and confined in a British prison ship, and were released only shortly before the father's death on January 1, 1778. At the time of his capture, our Church was seized and the Middletown church, which was also served by him, was burned to the ground.
In the graveyard of Trinity Episcopal Church at the head of Wall Street in New York City, there still stands a memorial tablet which reads: "To the memory of The Reverend Charles McKnight, for many years a beloved Pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Monmouth County, N.J." It is not known just how this tablet came to be set in the Trinity churchyard.
CHAPTER IV - WE GET A NEW CHURCH HOME (1783 -1840)
During and after the Revolution, there was sharp division in our area between Loyalists (Tories) and the Colonial Patriots who fought for independence. Whether or not this was a factor, it is indisputable that our church fell into disrepair both physically and as an organization.
The Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society for June, 1913, states that in 1785 The Rev. Woodhull officiated in the ordination of three elders and three deacons. "Congregation was believed at that time to consist of the six male officers and fourteen females, including eight just received into the Church." The officers who were ordained were Jeremiah Brown, Thomas Little and Samuel Breese (Elders), and Theophilus Little, Garrett Longstreet and Peter Knott (Deacons).
An undated letter addressed to the Presbytery and probably referring to this period mentions "Eighteen years since our old Church crumbled to the dust, during which we were then permitted to listen to supplies in the Episcopal Church."
We do not know the length of time during which our loyal little group held services in the Episcopal Church. A clue is possibly found in a deed dated September 5, 1789, in which the "Seventh Day Baptists Congregation of Shrewsbury, for the sum of fifteen pounds" sold their building in Shrewsbury to our Theophilus Little in behalf of the Presbyterian Congregation of Shrewsbury. Just where this building was situated is not known, but it may be that it served us as a meeting place, if not actually a place of worship.
It is suggested that one product of our close association with our Episcopal brethren at this time was the substitution in our rendition of the "Lord's Prayer" of the word "trespasses" for the customary word "debts." Time made this into a tradition that was maintained for at least 140 years. It was finally abandoned and the use of "debts" resumed in about 1960, to the dismay of many of us.
Among those who supplied our pulpit in this period was Ebenezer Grant, a College of New Jersey graduate in the class of 1796. He must have served us even as an undergraduate, since he is recorded as having been here in 1792 and 1793, and also in the years 1800 and 1802.
Another interesting note about this period is the record of a formal application to the Legislature of the State of New Jersey in the year 1805, for a license to promote a lottery for the purpose of raising money for the construction of a new church building. This application seems to have failed, indicating a change in general and official opinion regarding lotteries since the year 1751, when a similar lottery was conducted for the benefit of Christ Church Episcopal, Shrewsbury, and 1793, when The Presbyterian Congregation at Middletown Point (present day Matawan) conducted a lottery to rebuild their church, which had been burned by the British.
However, the tenacious desire for a new house of worship continued. The official date of concrete inception of this project is June 12, 1821, at a meeting attended by Robert Evelman, Henry Tiebaut, Esq., Richard Wikoff, Robert Drummond, John L. Little, and Samuel Tenbrook. The following resolution was passed: "Whereas, in consequence of the desolation of the Revolutionary War and a long train of other providential circumstances, the Presbyterian Church in Shrewsbury, County of Monmouth, State of New Jersey, has gone to decay and consequently vital piety greatly diminished, a number of persons deeply interested in the temporal and eternal welfare of the families and society in general and feeling the inestimable importance of establishing the preaching of God's Holy Word and the Ordinances of the Gospel in their purity, have agreed to unite their efforts in the name of the great Head of the Church and relying on his blessing, to erect a suitable building for his worship, and they do most ardently and affectionately invite the friends of Zion of whatever denomination to assist them in this most laudable and Christian undertaking."
Further on in this resolution is a most illuminating and important stipulation as follows: "It will be understood that the Doors of this House shall be opened when not immediately occupied by the Presbyterians to all denominations who made Jesus Christ the foundation of their immortal hopes." This stipulation in the year 1821 may well be one of the first evidences of that idea which is growing today toward the brotherhood and unity of Protestant denominations. The Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury has consistently followed this stipulation, and in more recent years its doors have been opened to the services of the local "Society of Friends" when their meetinghouse was under repair. It should also be noted that, during the ministry of The Reverend John R. Collins, our buildings were used by the Monmouth Reform Temple prior to the construction of their own building on Hance Rd.
An interesting sidelight to this resolution is that one subscription list shows the amounts subscribed in dollars, but another subscription list has come to light that is cast in pounds, shillings, and pence. Thus it is evident that this endeavor to erect a new church antedated that of 1821-both because of this factor and also because the subscribers, while among the same families, are of different surnames.
Included, in addition to the subscribers previously mentioned, are well- known Monmouth County names: Applegate, Allen, Breese, Brown, Boyd, Borden, Bell, Byram, Bennett, Bishop, Conover, Chandler, Chadwick, Clark, Croxen, Cowenhoven, Craig, Curtis, DeHeart, DeWise, Doty, Edwards, English, Engles, Evelman, Flemming, Faitoute, Frelingheusen, Hubbard, Hadden, Haight, Hunt, Hallet, Holmes, Hampton, Hutchinson, Hendrickson, Herbert, Hart, Johnson, Knott, LaFetra, Lloyd, Laird, Lippincott, Lefferts, Little, Lane, Longstreet, Morford, MacGregor, Napier, Newman, Parker, Polhemus, Reynolds. Smalley, Statesir, Sansburg, Simpson, Sickles, Stillwell, Spaulding, Smith, Sutphin, Stryker, Staples, Throckmorton, Tower, Taylor, Tunis, Tiebout, Tenbrook, Trafford, Tallman, VanBrunt, VanMater, Vanderveer, Vanuxem, Valentine, VanCleaf, Woodhull, Wikoff, Wykoff, and Wainwright.
The work on the church proceeded. Some contributed timber and supplies; some contributed days of work; some contributed of their substance. Dr. Samuel Tenbrook was evidently the receiver and disburser of all funds.
The cornerstone of a building to be 50 feet in length and 36 feet in breadth was laid on August 29, 1821. The supply pastor at that time (1821-1822) was The Reverend Horace Southward Pratt, who had just graduated from Yale in 1819. According to Symmes' "History of Monmouth Presbytery", Rev. Pratt was sent to Shrewsbury by a "female missionary society" in Princeton. At the laying of the cornerstone, he preached a sermon from 1 Kings 8:28, which (together with the succeeding verse) read as follows:
"Yet have thou respect under the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to hearken unto the cry and unto the prayer which thy servant prayeth before thee today. That thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou has said, My name shall be there; That thou mayest hearken until the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place."
Following the completion of the new house of worship, a call to its ministry was given to The Reverend Nathaniel Alpheus Pratt, the brother of the previous supply pastor. He had graduated from Yale in 1817, and from Princeton Seminary in 1823. He came to Shrewsbury in February 1824 and was ordained here on August 30, 1824, thus becoming our fourth official minister in a period of almost 100 years. Rev. Pratt resigned in 1826 or 1827.
Again the church was reduced to supply pastors, one of the first of whom was The Reverend James Murdock Huntting (Yale, 1820), who served from 1828 to 1831. He was another graduate of Princeton Seminary.
In the years surrounding the construction of the new building and the raising of funds for this purpose, it seems that there was a considerable resurgence of interest among the parishioners and townspeople. But following this, the story is different and the church was again at a low point. The Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society tells us that Mr. Huntting found only II or 12 members, "And the only male member, Dr. Tenbrook, then 'lay a dying.' There were, however, in the area, 5 taverns, 17 rum selling stores, and a racetrack."
The Reverend James Wheelock Woodward (Dartmouth, 1826) took over in 1831, soon after he graduated from Princeton Seminary. He married the daughter of Dr. Samuel Tenbrook, who had been a major participant in the building of the new church, and remained with the congregation until 1840.
CHAPTER V - ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH REGULAR PASTORS (1840 - 1940)
The Reverend Rufus Taylor became our fifth permanent pastor in l840, and continued for twelve years until l852. Things began to improve during his administration, according to a statement of his successor, The Rev. Dr. Thaddeus Wilson. The church greatly increased in membership and was also extensively remodeled and rebuilt. One of the improvements was the addition of the bell tower, no doubt added during this period as a woodcut showing the four corners of Shrewsbury in l844 does not show any such improvement.
We do learn from the Trustees' minutes of a meeting held on January 4, 1845, that "propriety and feasibility of enlarging the edifice (was) also considered and it was resolved that each Trustee take a subscription paper to see what amount could be raised for the purpose, leaving further action till the result of this was ascertained." At a subsequent hearing, it was resolved to add ten feet to the length of the church edifice, and to name Messrs. Edmond Throckmorton, Thomas A. Combs, and E. H. Vanuxen as a committee to see it executed. There is an indication that the entire enlargement was finished in April 1845, at a cost of $414.00.
On October 1, 1842, Anna Parker was admitted to membership on certificate from the First Colored Presbyterian Church of New York City. Her husband, Hercules, was also admitted.
The Shrewsbury Fragment Society, the first women's organization of this church, was founded on September l7, l840. The preamble to its Constitution reads:
"Resolved that in view of the dilapidated state of the church building, we, the undersigned worshippers in said church, do form ourselves into an association, the object of which shall be to aid in improving the appearance of said church in whatever way in our best judgment shall seem most expedient.”
The Constitution also states that any lady contributing 25 cents annually shall be a member and entitled to vote, and that any gentleman contributing 50 cents annually shall be a member but not entitled to vote.
Back in 1779, Benjamin White had built a large house opposite the church. It is now known as 355 Sycamore Avenue, and is a private residence. On January 10, 1853, the church purchased this home and lot from the heirs of Benjamin White for the sum of $1,850. It was later used as a manse.
The Red Bank Presbyterian Church was organized in the year 1892 by 27 members of the Shrewsbury Church. This was the first of two churches of which our own church can claim parenthood. The second was the Eatontown Church, formed at a later date. At the termination of his service in Shrewsbury, Rev. Taylor could list as devoted and loyal communicants a number of families whose names are still familiar to us today: Vanuxem, Drummond, Breese, Denise, Wyckoff, Throckmorton, Byram, Croxan, Trafford, Lippincott, Bell, Tallman, Valentine, Edwards, Smith, Holmes, Borden, Spaulding, Smock, Conover, and Vanderveer. The Session minutes in 1851 also indicate a resolution to take under church care and supervision a parochial school recently opened in the village by Miss Jane B. Douglass, "a member of this church in good and regular standing". An application was to be made to the Board of Education for $75.00 in aid of such a school. Unhappily, this venture never got off the ground.
The Rev. Dr. Thaddeus Wilson became our minister on February 17, 1853, and remained as such for forty-four years, until June 27,1897. Under his care, the church continued its growth. New members and new names were added to the roster, including: Lovett, Getty, Casler, Morris, Corlies, VanKeuren, Foster, Shoemaker, and others. Many of these were old Eatontown families whose names appeared on some of the early colonial records and whose ancestors are buried in our churchyard.
On June 27, 1866, while the church building was undergoing repair work, our service was held in the Orthodox Friends Meeting House.
Around 1860, Dr. Wilson persuaded the congregation of the Shrewsbury Church to inaugurate an evening service in Eatontown. These were continued throughout his pastorate and that of succeeding pastors for many years. In Dr. Wilson's address to Presbytery on October 4, 1892, he does not mention this accomplishment, but he does state, in speaking of his congregation:
"To their faithful and self-denying effort, the church owes much of the prosperity which it has enjoyed. It is but justice to his people to say that while they have not grown rapidly in number yet in the grace of liberality they have grown fourfold. They are ever ready to help whenever the call comes to them.”
Praise of that sort must have been very gratifying to his congregation! Indeed, his last sentence might well have been called the motto of this church, since the willingness to help when needed has characterized its operations to the present day.
In 1895, the rear room (now called the Social Room) was added and the interior of the church remodeled. This was the era when oak was used extensively, and the interior of the church fell victim to the vogue of the time. The kitchen section was not added until about 1910.
Following Dr. Wilson, we were privileged to have The Rev. Dr. Samuel Dobbins Price, who assumed the pastorate on June 15, 1898. He was our seventh official pastor and remained with us until September 8, 1906. Dr. Price later became a Superintendent of the World Sunday School Association and traveled world-wide in the interest of that organization.
On January 1, 1908, The Reverend Dwight L. Parsons came to us as our eighth minister, and remained for eighteen years. He was the father of the late Theodore D. Parsons, noted Red Bank attorney and for some years Attorney General of New Jersey. He was the second Attorney General who was a son of one of our pastors. The other was the Honorable Edmund Wilson, son of Thaddeus.
During the pastorate of Rev. Parsons, two events of importance occurred. World War One broke out and disrupted all lives. A tablet in our vestibule gives the names of 28 young men (attendants and members of this church) who, to quote from a report given to the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, in their humble way shared "in the great conflict and helped by their examples to carry on the traditions of the stalwart group of men and women who, through privation and sacrifice, opened up a new world that they might worship God as they pleased."
Under the chairmanship of John T. Lovett, Sr., a rather distinctive organization was formed, to be called the "Follow-The-Boys-League." Month after month, this group sent letters and packages to our 28 young men as well as those of other denominations. Many of them evidenced, both by letter and word of mouth, their great appreciation for the encouragement given them by these acts of kindness. Included in the group was Miss Bessie Green, one of our members and an Army nurse.
The second event occurred on October 25, 1922, when there was a celebration of the Centennial of the building of the sanctuary. Dignitaries from surrounding churches at Allentown, Cranberry, Tennent, Marlboro, Matawan and Red Bank were present. Historical data was submitted by Mrs. Henry S. White, J. Frank Giffing, and Miss Evaline S. Valentine, who was a descendent of one of the early members of our church. Addresses were given by The Reverend Samuel D. Price, D.D., and The Reverend Maitland Alexander, D.D., Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. Prior to this celebration and leading up to it, The Honorable Edmund Wilson, the Attorney General, had given an historical address which was widely published and a part of which will be quoted later in this history.
Rev. Dwight Parsons retired in 1926 with the title of "Pastor Emeritus." About 1927, the manse at 355 Sycamore Avenue was sold, and a smaller manse was erected on the adjoining property. Following Rev. Parsons, The Reverend J. T. Curtin was called to the pastorate for the years 1926 to 1929. He was a man of great executive ability and a fine preacher. Unfortunately, for reasons of health, he resigned on January 1, 1929. At about that time, the church deeded its Eatontown property to the Eatontown Presbyterian Church. This was for use by our former members who wanted to establish a church of their own after many years of association with us.
The Reverend George Miksch was installed on March 29, 1929 and remained our minister until March 1, 1940. Rev. Miksch was a kind man - a wonderful neighbor and a most solicitous husband and son to a sick wife and aged mother. This was in the depths of the depression, and in spite of all efforts the church suffered a decline in membership and attendance and became financially ailing. In fact, services were held in the Sunday School room (now the Social Room) because of lack of funds to buy coal. The women of the church sold doughnuts and gave church suppers in further efforts to raise money.
During this period, the Jolly Workers (a group of young girls organized and advised by Mrs. G. Harold Nevius) raised funds by fairs, White Elephant tables and such, in quantity sufficient to provide flowers for the sick and to buy Sunday School equipment. At this time, the women's organizations of the church were known as the E. S. Valentine Missionary Society and the Helping Hand Society. Another "going" organization was the Young Peoples Home Missionary Society. The dues were 2 cents a month or 25 cents a year. The Society met monthly; children from all religions attended. There was a business meeting led by the Treasurer, Miss Emma Holmes. As their names were called, the children walked up and paid their 2 cents. This was followed by entertainment. Francis Kodama often played the piano. Then, after a game or two (perhaps musical chairs), refreshments such as oranges or tangerines were enjoyed.
It is apparent that, although this was another of the low points in our history, there were loyal members and much fruitful activity. But now Shrewsbury was changing and expanding in population, as was the whole area.
CHAPTER VI - MODERN TIMES (1940 -1982)
New life began to come into the church when we obtained the services of The Reverend Robert Johnson in 1942. He was installed on April 28, 1944 and remained our pastor of record until 1948, although unfortunately he was called into service at an early date as a Chaplain in the U.S. Navy. A brilliant young man, he was still in his studies at Princeton and Union Theological Seminaries. He showed a great interest in the history of the church and did much research on it. Subsequently he went on to become Dean of the Yale Divinity School.
During his pastorate, the congregation voted that, if a need arose for repairs or replacements in the sanctuary, an effort should be made to restore it to its original appearance. Within a few years, the sanctuary ceiling fell, both furnaces refused to work, and there was a strong need for a new organ. When the worn-out red carpet was removed, the lovely original pine boards appeared; and when the paint was removed from the pews and woodwork, it was found that they had been white with a mahogany top-rail. The golden oak paneling and 1895 pulpit were removed, and by 1951 a new pulpit had been donated and the appearance of the chancel and sanctuary restored as nearly as possible to the original Colonial decor. New furnaces were installed and a modern organ was purchased. (The completion of all this work occurred during the term of our next minister, The Reverend Arthur S. Joice.)
While Rev. Johnson was in the Navy and up until February 12, 1950, the church was well served by a succession of young men. They were not officially installed as our ministers, however. The first was The Reverend James Lundquist, later pastor of a large church in Virginia. He was followed by The Reverend J. Cameron Taylor, under whose direction our vested choir became a more prominent feature of our worship. Then we were served by The Reverend Theodore F. Franklin, who was a stimulating leader. He later went on to postgraduate work at Hartford Theological Seminary. When The Reverend Arthur S. Joice took over in February 1950, our membership was 58. From this point on, we grew and developed continually.
Rev. Joice was an ordained Methodist minister and held a substantial position connected with refugee and relief work at Presbyterian Headquarters in New York City. He was persuaded to transfer to Monmouth Presbytery, and he served as our pastor on a half-time basis, continuing to devote half of his time to his New York position. This made it possible to obtain his services in spite of our limited financial means.
On February 21, 1950, we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the granting of our charter by King George II. The celebration was a great success. Rev. Joice immediately put into motion a drive to obtain the $6,000 necessary for a new organ and to obtain funds for the restoration of the church. The VanVliet property (now our manse) was purchased on June 30, 1952, as well as the land on which our Church House now stands. Since Rev. Joice did not require a manse, the building was renovated and used for Sunday School and meetings of church organizations.
A building campaign made it possible at this time to construct a Church House - a two-story building with a 400-seat auditorium, housing for the Sunday School and church organizations, and adequate kitchen facilities. This building was named "Blair Hall" to honor our distinguished first pastor. The total cost was in the vicinity of $203,000, with a great deal of the interior work and decorating done by members of the church. Of equal interest is the fact that, during this same period when we were making such large expenditures for our own use, our benevolences rose to the point where we stood (in at least one year) first in the U.S.A. in per capita benevolence contributions in Presbyterian Churches with memberships of 200 to 300.
Finally, the demands of his position in the N.Y. Headquarters of the Presbyterian Church forced Rev. Joice to give up his half-time work with us. His resignation was regretfully accepted in October 1958; at just about the time that Blair Hall was finished. The church to which he had ministered for approximately 9 years now had a membership of 504 and appeared to have a future of great promise.
The Reverend John R. Collins then became our minister, from 1958 to 1965. His became the first pastor's family to reside in the "VanVliet" house, our present manse. This old Shrewsbury house thus became a home once again, after use as a Sunday School and meeting place for organizations. A strongly idealistic man, Rev. Collins was nonetheless endowed with a rich sense of humor. He had a deep commitment to the cause of human rights and to ecumenism. Indeed, at times he seemed impatient with the Christian Church because of the little progress it was making in the directions of international amity and furtherance of the brotherhood of man at home. At this time, he was chairman of the Synod Committee on Mission and Relations.
In 1959, we opened the doors of both our sanctuary and church house to members of the newly organized Monmouth Reform Temple and their first Rabbi, Richard Steinbrink. They shared our facilities for the eight years from September, I 1959, to March 1967, when they were able to move into their new Temple on Hance Avenue in Tinton Falls. Thus was established a friendship between the two congregations which has endured to the present day.
The young people were especially attracted to Rev. and Mrs. Collins, who led groups of them on expeditions to Mexico and to Nova Scotia---trips that they will long remember. Also, Mary Elizabeth Collins was an accomplished harpist and on occasion added her lovely music to our services.
During the pastorates of both Rev. Joice and Rev. Collins, our congregation benefited from its association with Mrs. Gertrude Muyskens. "Trudy," as she was affectionately called, assisted both ministers with pastoral calling. Her warm personality and welcome attracted many newcomers to the church.
After Rev. Collins left in 1965 to pursue ecumenical church work in Hong Kong, we were happy to obtain the services of The Reverend James R. Steele. He came to us in 1966 from a teaching position in the speech department of Princeton Theological Seminary. This experience was reflected in the delivery of his sermons and in his ability to dramatize Bible stories so that they lingered on in our minds.
Shortly after the beginning of his pastorate, the church acquired the small rear residence now referred to as the "mini-manse." Rev. Steele was able to make ours a "teaching church," which in September 1969, enabled us to hire Don Lewis as a resident "intern," understudying the minister and assisting him in pastoral duties. The mini-manse was rehabilitated to serve as his living quarters. We enjoyed the presence of a succession of "interns" (among them one young lady), until May 1975. For financial reasons, the program of "interns" then had to be discontinued, but their work was continued by certain selected undergraduate seminarians who came from Princeton each Sunday to assist in the worship service, pastoral calling, and direction of young people's organizations. This practice ended when the seminary discontinued this program also.
In 1967, the National Church launched its "Fifty Million Fund", a campaign in which we were pleased to take part. Then on February 15, 1974, a raging fire utterly destroyed Blair Hall, our Church House. This was a major tragedy for all of us. Invaluable records were lost; the minister had to move his office into the sanctuary building; organizations were hampered, and the Sunday School was totally disrupted. We carried on, however, with the help of kind offers of space made to us by our Episcopalian neighbors and the Friends Meeting across the street.
A Building Fund Campaign followed. This, with the aid of a good insurance settlement, made it possible for a modern one-story structure to rise from the ashes. It was completed during 1976 at a cost of $456,000. The new building featured air-conditioned administrative offices, a conference room, modern kitchen, and a large auditorium convertible into classrooms by the use of movable partitions. The kitchen was fully equipped through the kindness of the Presbyterian Women. As time went on, payments received from outside organizations for the use of our facilities helped to reduce our operating costs.
During Rev. Steele's pastorate, steps were taken to "peel off' from our rolls somewhere in excess of two hundred members, including families who had moved away, children who had grown up and settled elsewhere, and members who had simply drifted away. These numbers had accumulated since 1950 and were costing us ever-increasing amounts for the per capita assessments of the General Assembly. By the end of this process, our numbers were down to about 450. In 1966, the Sunday School rolls, exclusive of Cradle Roll, numbered some 211 children. As the birth rate declined, the enrollment dropped to less than 50 and the children's contributions declined by two-thirds.
Rev. Steele left our church on October 31, 1977 for a pastorate in Bloomington, Indiana. He was succeeded on September 15, 1978, by The Reverend (later Doctor) David P. Muyskens, who came to us from a church in Fayetteville, N.Y. The manse had once again been renovated with a new heating system and modernized wiring and plumbing. Sad to say, however, three and a half months later the manse caught fire from an overheated furnace and was made uninhabitable. The Muyskens family lived in a rented home at 56 Silverbrook Road in Shrewsbury until the completion of extensive repairs.
Then, in 1979, came the campaign for the Major Mission Fund of the National Church. Our congregation pledged $22,000. Another new development at this time was the engagement of Juan Rivera as our first resident sexton. He rented the mini-manse as home for his family, and his presence for a number of hours weekly quickly made itself felt in better maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Also in 1979, a new gas-burning heating system was installed in the sanctuary and storm windows were fitted over the stained glass ones. The church chimes were rehabilitated and put into working order, and both the exterior and interior of the sanctuary were painted.
In October 1982, the church celebrated the 250th anniversary of its founding by presenting a special costumed colonial service, presided over by The Rev. Drs. Joice and Muyskens and church members portraying earlier ministers. Commemorative communion tokens were struck in honor of this event.
In 1985, the Social Room behind the sanctuary was remodeled and renovated. A new kitchen and an additional restroom were constructed, and special closets installed to accommodate the choirs' music and robes. The old oak and glass kitchen cabinet that dated from the 1890s was removed and re-installed in the Church House, where it now serves to display church memorabilia. Several years later, a ramp was constructed on the west side of the sanctuary to provide easier access for the physically disadvantaged.
When the Church House was rebuilt after the fire in 1974, the open classroom concept was in vogue. Over time, dissatisfaction arose with this arrangement, and in 1990 the decision was made to add a second story to the building. This provided 6 classrooms, an office for the Director of Christian Education, and extra closet space. The entire project included improvements in heating and air conditioning, elevator access to the second floor, and an additional bathroom for the handicapped. The work was completed and dedicated in September 1992.
Dr. Muyskens retired in February 1994, after serving for 16 years as our pastor. He was subsequently designated Pastor Emeritus by action of the congregation.
CHAPTER VII - THE NEW ERA
In March 1994, following Dr. Muyskens' retirement, the Session called The Rev. Dr. Peter Durkee from a church in Rochester, NY, to serve as our Interim Pastor. Dr, Durkee led us through the transition from April, 1994 until August, 1995. Under his guidance, the congregation executed a mission study in the YCAIM (Your Church and Its Mission) format. Included in its recommendations were a change from bicameral to unicameral government, reorganization of the Board of Deacons, and implementation of a maintenance plan.
After diligent work by a Pastoral Search Committee, The Rev. C. David McKirachan was called to be the 16th pastor of our congregation. He had previously served congregations in Irvington and Rockaway, NJ. Rev. McKirachan accepted the call on August 20.
In 1995, extensive remodeling commenced on the manse, beginning with reconstruction of the kitchen (in the oldest part of the house) and followed by refurbishing of other areas indoors and out. In 1998, gifts from the Memorial Fund were used to purchase a set of handbells.
In 1998, plans were drawn up for reconstruction of the Church House parking lot, and presented to the congregation for approval. This was promptly granted, but overcoming the objections of a few neighbors and obtaining approvals from the Borough Engineer and Board of Adjustment resulted in delays for a period of years. Construction was finally started in the spring of 2006. The work included installation of drainage, curbing, new lighting, landscaping, and asphalt paving - at a cost of $325,000.
Meanwhile, the narthex of the sanctuary was renovated in 2001, using memorial funds. The Renaissance oil painting ("Adoration," attributed to the School of Jacopo Bassano) was restored, and lights were installed around the stained glass windows at the front of the church to illuminate them at night.
Our Director of Christian Education, Kathi Heath, brought many creative ideas to our Christian Education program. Our Church School has grown, and our Vacation Bible School reaches out not only to our own children but to all children in our neighborhood and other local churches. In May, 2006, Mrs. Heath graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary with Masters degrees in Divinity and Christian Education. When Rev. Foster ("Skip") Wilson retired from the pastorate at the Rumson Presbyterian Church, we were pleased to have him and his wife, Mary Ellen, choose to attend our church. Although Rev. Wilson remained a member of Monmouth Presbytery, he supported our church's activities and often filled our pulpit in Rev. McKirachan's absence. Mary Ellen Wilson became an active member of our congregation and joined the Chancel Choir.
Over the years, our church has steadfastly supported a variety of mission programs, both locally and internationally. Funds for this have come from the mission portion of the operating budget, from the proceeds of designated fundraisers, and from funds raised by various church organizations. The Presbyterian Women continue to sponsor two major events annually - the Strawberry Festival in June and the Christmas Bazaar in December. A third major event, the Antiques Show and Sales (co-sponsored with the women of Christ Church) was presented every September for 34 years, until it was discontinued with the final event in September 2004.
Three Circles - Mission Belles, Dorcas, and Mom's - meet regularly and satisfy a variety of needs and interests. The Men's Club meets monthly at a Prayer Breakfast and provides assistance with many needs and projects. Junior and Senior High Fellowships meet and participate in off-site mission projects and fellowship activities. The church continues to sponsor Boy Scout Troop 50,[***LINK???] and church members provide support to community outreach programs including Lunch Break, Epiphany House, Spring House, the Parker Clinic, and the Center in Asbury Park.
A continuing source of satisfaction over the years has been our relationship with the Monmouth Reform Temple. The two congregations have continued to share each other's joys and sorrows and to meet for joint worship each year on Thanksgiving Eve, enjoying a warm bond of fellowship. [***LINK***]
During Rev. McKirachan's pastorate, opportunities for fellowship and spiritual growth within the church community continued to expand. The Bell Choir has been added; lay leaders have been trained to assist in worship; and there are plans to add more contemporary types of worship and to remove some pews to provide better handicapped seating in the sanctuary. There are new opportunities for adult education, biannual adult retreats, and devotional booklets written by members to deepen our spirituality. We have broadened our understanding by conducting symposiums on controversial issues, including Islam and Same Sex Relationships. Mission studies have helped us to examine our efforts and discern God's call for us as we move into a new day.
The events of September 11, 2001 led Rev. McKirachan to serve with emergency workers at Ground Zero and to minister to victims' families. He is presently chaplain of the Shrewsbury Fire Company. During his time here, he has also published two books, I Happened Upon a Miracle and A Year of Wonder. In 2005, the congregation recognized Rev. McKirachan's ten years of ministry here with a celebration and the presentation of a gift-a trip to the Holy Land.NEED A HISTORY UPDATE - INCUDING...
- new organ
- construction in sanctuary to fix foundation
- services held in church house
- 275th celebration
- A/V system
- staff churn
- stuff generally from McKirichan reign 2001-June 2016
CHAPTER VIII - INTERESTING FEATURES OF THE SANCTUARY & SOCIAL ROOM
We should all be aware that many of the most interesting features of the sanctuary and social room have been given as gifts, only a few of which can be listed below. There have been many others---less tangible but none the less important---that have preserved and enhanced our worship and our properties.
The pulpit, given on April 1, 1951, in memory of Robert Rue Campbell, a junior deacon of the Church, who gave his life in the service of his country at Anzio, Italy, on May 23, 1944, given by his grandmother, Mrs. Jacob B. Rue.
The Baptismal font, given in memory of Norman Kirk Stofflet, who also died in the service of his country, given by his widow, Virginia Hammond.
The organ, dedicated in 1951, given by a number of contributors to a Special Organ Fund.
The organ chimes, given in memory of Robert Rue Campbell by his mother, Mrs. Bruce Campbell.
The lighting fixtures, given on October 31, 1951, in memory of Harry G. Borden by his wife, Sallie H. Borden.
The steeple, erected in 1964, given in memory of Elizabeth Borden Nevius by her husband, G. Harold Nevius.
The cross above the pulpit, given on June 22, 1952 in memory of Betsy Anson by Mary Ann Jerez. The communion table, given in memory of John F. Montgomery by his widow, Virginia Hammond.
The guest book stand in the vestibule, given by the Grathwol family.
The church flag and American flag, given by numerous friends over the years.
The oil painting in the vestibule, given by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Petzel.
CHAPTER IX - THE OLDEST CORPORATE SEAL
Our seal appears on the masthead of the Towne Crier and in the embroidered replica on display in the foyer of the Church House. In Blair Hall (the original Church House), a replica of the seal was centered in the tile floor of the foyer. After Blair Hall was destroyed by fire and the tiles were ruined, the design was re-created by Caron Sharp (then a member), and the replica was made and hung. The embroidery was done by Caron, Wanda Fitzpatrick, Virginia Darrah, and Christine Strahle, with materials given by Bill and Jane MacNutt.
However, most of us know very little about the significance of the emblem that we call our Church Seal. All records describing its origin and design have been lost, and the seal itself would have been lost except for the 1896 discovery of an old deed which had a dimly raised impression of an old wax seal. This deed bore a piece of thin paper cut into an eight-pointed star, and on this paper had been overlaid the impression of the round seal with the "bush" and the circular motto, "Religious Liberty." The seal that we use in the Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury is a slight modification of the original.
A more historically accurate version appears on the obverse of the 250th Anniversary Commemorative Communion Token.
What is the significance of the seal, with its "bush" and motto? We know that the seal belonged to four churches that constituted the "Presbyterian Church of Monmouth County": Shrewsbury, Freehold (Old Tennent), Cranbury, and Allentown. Beyond that, opinions differ as to the nature of the seal. In the May 27, 1896 issue of "The Presbyterian," The Rev. Henry C. McCook speculated that the “bush” was a crude version of the seal of the Scotch Kirk (Church of Scotland), which consisted of a burning bush and the motto "nec tamen consumebatur" (nevertheless, it was not consumed), symbolizing the indestructible nature of the church. Rev. McCook also felt that the motto "Religious Liberty" reflected the fact that the earliest Presbyterians in Monmouth County were the Scotch settlers of Freehold who suffered in the bloody persecutions of Charles II of England.
It is the oldest known corporate seal of any American Presbyterian Church, and probably dates back to shortly after the royal charter of incorporation was granted under Governor Belcher in 1750. If the eight-pointed star has any special significance, perhaps it represents the flames of the burning bush, thus supporting Rev. McCook's theory. It somehow seems fitting that this should represent the burning bush, for despite the trials of history, the seal and this church have endured through the years.o
CHAPTER X - 250th ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATIVE COMMUNION TOKEN
Presbyterian communion tokens were used from the early days of the faith until the mid-1800's. In those times, the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was celebrated infrequently and was restricted to members of the church who were deemed to be leading upstanding Christian lives.
Those who wished to partake would meet with the minister or the elders on Friday or Saturday for a "preparatory service," at which they were examined about their knowledge of the faith. Each person who passed the examination was given a small piece of metal---the Communion token (or "ticket,") which served as proof of eligibility to receive the Lord's Supper.
In 1982, The Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury struck a commemorative communion token as part of its 250th anniversary celebration. The obverse side of these tokens shows our corporate seal with the dates 1732 - 1982 to mark the anniversary. The reverse side shows the communion table used for the Lord's Supper. Around the central design is a circle, a symbol used on early communion tokens to signify completeness and never-ending joy in Jesus Christ. The verse below was chosen because it appeared on an early Covenanter communion token. The tokens were issued in three materials: sterling silver, nickel silver, and antiqued nickel silver.
CHAPTER XI - 275th ANNIVERSARY