The town of Shrewsbury was founded in 1685 by Scottish Presbyterians, who, for a number of years, held services in private homes. John Boyd, the first Presbyterian minister to be ordained in this country, was the itinerant pastor for the area, and held services in Shrewsbury as early as 1705.
Our congregation was formalized in 1732, and the first church building was constructed in 1735, on land deeded to the Presbyterians by Nicholas Brown for the purpose of a church and burial ground. This is the same Nicholas Brown who donated land to Christ Church twenty years earlier. This first building served the congregation until 1800.
The congregation was active in the War of Independence, preaching resistance to the crown and holding meetings to support the cause. One of our pastors, The Rev. Charles McKnight, arranged to lend $600 of the church's money to the new government in support of the revolution; a sum which has never been repaid. Later, he was arrested for preaching sedition and revolution, and was imprisoned for two years, He eventually died from injury and sickness sustained during his imprisonment.
Our original church building burned in 1800, and for the next twenty years Presbyterians held services in Christ Church, next door. During this time we developed such a close association with our Episcopal brethren that we began reciting the Lord's Prayer, using "trespasses" instead of "debts" as is the Presbyterian custom.
The cornerstone for the present building was laid in 1821, and the building was completed the following year. The bell tower was added in the 1840's, the social room in 1895, and the steeple in 1964, making for the familiar silhouette we see today.
And just as we were sheltered by our neighbors, so has this congregation committed itself to providing a haven to various groups, both religious and non-religious, from our surrounding community. We adhere to and have expanded upon the resolution for the construction of our present building, wherein it states: "It will be understood that the Doors of this House shall be opened, when not immediately occupied by the Presbyterians, to all denominations who make Jesus Christ the foundation of their immortal hopes." In more recent years, the local "Society of Friends", Christ Church, and Principe de Paz Presbyterian Church have also shared the shelter of our sanctuary and buildings, as have our friends from Monmouth Reformed Temple, and community groups ranging from the Boy Scouts of America and theatre groups to twelve-step programs, weight loss organizations, and PFLAG.
The corporate seal of our church’s charter, proclaiming “Religious Liberty” is the oldest of any American Presbyterian Church. It depicts a circle containing a burning bush, a symbol of God's revelation and eternal presence, the circle eternity. It is inscribed with the words, "Religious Liberty" with an eight pointed star. (Graphic of Seal)
At the time of its granting, Charters were almost exclusively bestowed upon groups associated with the Church of England, yet John Little, a Ruling Elder in our church, along with two other members of the Monmouth Presbytery, managed to secure the Monmouth County Royal Charter in 1750. This charter recognizes the right of the Presbyterian Church to exist and hold property in Monmouth County. It was granted by Governor Jonathan Belcher in the name of King George II of England. Reference to this seal and charter can be found in The Journal of Presbyterian History, Volume V.
For a more in depth exploration of our Church's rich history, please click here.