The Reverend George H. Brant (1969 - 1986)
It wasn't that I did not want to come to St. James, Hackettstown. It was that I did not want to leave Mexico. I had fallen in love with Mexico. I had gotten caught up in the work of The Church there. I was becoming more fluent in Spanish and Mexico was becoming -- in a real sense -- "home" to me. It was all very exciting.
The national church was going through a budget crisis brought on by certain policies effected by General Convention. Many people did not agree with those policies and they showed their disagreement by not sharing in the offertory plate. The first part of the national church budget that was adversely effected was foreign missionary work. A number of the missionaries abroad had to be repatriated; I was one of those. The young Mexican priest with whom I shared a joint ministry in both languages in Monterrey was able to take over, and so I arrived back in New York without work and without a position. I was bewildered to learn from first-hand experience that there were no vacancies in the church because of a plurality of clergy. I was beginning to consider secular work while my wife and I lived in a one-room efficiency apartment on 80th street just off Broadway, in New York. It was quite a comedown from the lovely house in Colonia del Valle, a suburb of Monterrey, where the riotously purple bougainvillea grew all over the garden walls and a banana tree stood outside the kitchen window, to say nothing of the lime and fig trees in the backyard which looked out on the Sierra Madres Orientales Mountains.
Mr. Richard Kramer (who had been a member of St. John's, Dover when I was rector there and was now a Warden of St. James', Hackettstown) heard that I was back from Mexico and looking for work. St. James had just become vacant and he approached me about becoming St. James' parish priest. I had known St. James, Hackettstown and had visited it when Fr. Sickles was Vicar. On one occasion, I brought St. John's church choir to St. James on Fr. Sickles invitation to sing a Folk Mass late in the 1950's. St. James, therefore, was not exactly new or unknown to me, but I never expected to become its vicar and, eventually, its rector. I responded to Mr. Kramer's suggestion and met with St. James' Executive Committee; I was then called to become the Vicar. I began my ministry in September of 1969.
It was quite a time. The American Church was beginning to go through some difficult changes regarding the Prayer Book revision having just survived something called "Sensitivity Training", which, to my surprise, was geared subjectively rather than objectively. It was in the area of, "I'm OK, You're OK" and seemed to me to reflect Americans preoccupation with itself. The National doubt, because of Viet Nam did not help the situation. St. James, Hackettstown reflected all the tensions not only of the national church but of the nation as well. This tension contributed to division within the parochial family. Something had to be done about the division.
It was in the early Fall of 1969 that some Episcopal women in Heath Village (led by that indomitable dowager Mary McNary) decided that St. James needed to have a Parish Fair. Not only would that help get the parish working together but it would help raise some necessary monies which, at the time, were somewhat lacking. In November of that year, St. James -- with a resurrected ECW -- had a Parish Fair and Lunch, which featured "Maude Mason's Chicken Soup" and realized something around $1,000.
The parish began to grow slowly and families with children began seeking out St. James. The parish house, which was then one room with a type of shed at one end for a kitchen, left a lot to be desired; and there was simply not enough room for classes. I remember one Sunday when a new family with children came to church and, when they saw the facilities provided by St. James for Sunday School classes, decided to go elsewhere. Something had to be done about the inadequacies of the parish house, and this "something" proved to be a blessing in disguise. Even though the money needed would be about $40,000 which, to the parish looked not unlike the national debt, the working together necessary to effect the enlargement and renovation of the parish house proved to be the cement to hold the parish family together and the means of removing former differences reflected here by the total national scene in those days.
I appointed Mr. Andrew Andreeko to preside over the parish house enlargement and renovation and, in due time, it was finished and blessed by Bishop Rath. What a great day when the parish began using the new building! The architect who drew up the designs was so impressed with the Shakespearean effect in the parish hall itself that he left it intact. The new split level and kitchen were, however, fully modernized. The only thing we lost in the process was a garage, which was located where the split level is now. It was decided to provide a garage sometime in the future. That "future'' still remains ahead of us.
The church continued to grow and the spacious conditions of the new parish house began to appear inadequate, especially Sunday mornings during Sunday School period. The vestry has considered -- from time to time -- appropriating the rectory as an extension of the parish and relocation of the rector in some other area. This plan has enjoyed an on-again, off-again history, and it zig-zag process is directly reflected in the financial status of the parish. Because the zag has prevailed more than the zig, the idea still remains an idea; It was repeated once again during the 1984 Annual Meeting. The pressure for this motion still emanates from the crowded conditions on Sunday morning during Sunday School sessions and remains a third phase part of the overall building program for St. James.
Because the parish continued to grow, the conditions within the nave of the church became overcrowded and it was decided that something had to be done about that. Plans were drawn up to renovate the interior of the church, to enlarge the seating capacity by one third, and to simplify the whole west end of the church where the altar is located. The lighting system was also modernized, as was the heating system. I appointed the Junior Warden, Mr. Peter Jordan, to preside over this work. During the process of renovation, Sunday morning services were held in the parish hall. The Lady Chapel was only being repainted, so weekday Services continued to be held there.
It was an exciting Sunday when we held the first Services in the newly renovated church. Everything was spanking new -- rugs, some pews, the paint, the colors. The simplicity of the liturgical "east end" (that is, the west end) was a joy to behold as the Eucharist was celebrated in thanksgiving at the free-standing altar. The total cost of that renovation was about $55,000, and that bill (as well as the $40,000 debt on the parish house) was paid in full in three years.
In 1973 -- inspired by a suggestion published by the House of Bishops that Episcopal parishes seek covenant agreements with Roman Catholic parishes and thus attempt to bring the Anglican Roman Catholic global conversations down to grass-roots level -- I wrote a letter to the pastor of the Roman Catholic parish of Our Lady of the Mountain in Schooley's Mountain that our two parishes consider entering into a covenant agreement.
This was not something new. As a matter of fact, having arrived from Mexico where I worked closely with Bishop Romero who was in charge of ecumenical relations in Mexico, I was anxious to continue ecumenical work here in Hackettstown. It is not widely known, but I had first approached the Methodist Minister in town about same sort of covenant agreement and had sought out the local Roman Catholic priest and the Presbyterian church regarding the same type of agreement, but not one of them had any interest in it. I was soon to learn that Ecumenism was not one of the main interests of Christians in Hackettstown. It was for this reason that I approached Fr. George Dudak of Our Lady of the Mountain about a proposal.
Fr. George, as he is affectionately known, was very interested. The fact that he had come from Peru after a few years there the same time I came from Mexico resulted in our having something in common. We both agreed to pursue the idea of a Covenant Agreement and each of us went to our local parish authorities. He read my letter to his parish council and the idea was passed with but one negative vote. I approached my Executive Committee with the idea and it passed despite three negative votes. During 1973, the lay committee appointed by the clergy from both parishes met several times to draw up the covenant agreement. This agreement was submitted both to the Episcopal Bishop, Rt. Rev. George Rath, and the Roman Catholic Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Casey, for their study. Both prelates signed the Agreement and on Advent Sunday in 1974, a joint Service was held in The Church of Our Lady of the Mountain at 4PM, where the Covenant Agreement was signed in the presence of Bishop Rath and Monsignor Haas, who represented Bishop Casey who was ill at the time.
The Covenant captured headlines in the New York Times in Monday's edition. Our two parishes were the first Episcopal and Roman Catholic parishes in the whole state of New Jersey to sign and undertake such a Covenant Agreement. During the 10 years the agreement has been in effect, the two "sister" parishes have done many things together. We have undertaken studies and, one Lenten season, sponsored a study of the Reformation, engaging the services of other clergy such as the Lutheran Pastor who discussed Luther and the Presbyterian Pastor who discussed Calvin. I led a study of the Anglican reformation and Fr. George led a study of the Counter reformation. During several Lents, the two parishes sponsored paschal suppers either in St. James' parish house or Our Lady of the Mountain's parish hall. The two parishes have had picnics together. The climax of this relationship was effected on Pentecost Sunday in 1980 when Fr. George and I celebrated the Eucharist on adjacent card tables in Schooley's Mountain Park. The liturgies of the two churches are so very similar that there was little difficulty in the logistics of such a Service. The 200 people in the congregation that morning wondered, afterwards, why we are separate. That, in fact, has been the major result of the experience of the covenant agreement these past 10 years; it is difficult to justify our separation. It reflects the answer to a question I posed to the Rev. Hans Kung during his address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Newark several years ago. My question was" "Fr. Kung, you consider yourself a Catholic of Roman Obedience and I consider myself, a Catholic of Anglican Obedience. What is the difference?" His reply was, "On the parish level, there is no difference." Our joint experience with Our Lady of the Mountain reflects this.
At the moment, the Covenant Agreement still exists, but its workings are, as it were, on hold. The two parishes do not know what to do next other than continue to pray for each other and each other's bishops, as is done Sunday by Sunday at both altars. Both being parishes under obedience, we seem to be waiting for some movement from the Hierarchy; we seem to have gone as far as we can alone. But the last 10 years' experience indicates that what happened during the 16th Century has little to do with the 20th Century, and during the 400 years of separation of Rome and Canterbury, the Holy Spirit has showered on us certain riches and graces which we may now wish us -- in our ecumenical evolution -- to share with one another. Both Fr. George and I are prepared to speak on this point on request.
A number of years ago, I persuaded the Vestry to earmark all bequests for expenditure for miscellaneous items. The parish needed a new organ so I appointed a committee to look into the matter and it was decided that an Allen Computer Organ (which simulates a 40-rank pipe organ) would be best for a parish of our size and make-up. This instrument cost $22,000; the bequests to date totaled about $15,000. This money, plus other donations, soon equaled the required amount, and the organ was paid for in full. The evening we had a special service and contracted for an organist employed by the Allen Company to show off the possibilities of the new organ was a high point in the life of the parish. The new organ was an acquisition the parish had long anticipated and could now rejoice over as the condition of the music improved.
Dr. Ernest Dalton, in researching old documents in Belvidere, came across records that indicated St. James was created a parish in 1859 and that that status had never been abrogated. I made a trip to Belvidere to do some research and was able to verify Dr. Dalton's statement. It was true that St. James was created a parish on May 25, 1859, and entered as such into union with the then Diocese of New Jersey. This status has never been abrogated. St. James, therefore, was and has always been a parish. When we applied for parish status, I was obliged to inform the Bishop and the Diocesan authorities that St. James was indeed a parish and had never been anything else because that status had never been changed. The calling of St. James as a "Preaching Station" and a "Mission" was, therefore, incorrect. When the Rt. Rev. John Spong, DD, Bishop of Newark, visited St. James on February 26, 1980, he recognized St. James' parish status and did not create St. James as such. To celebrate that event, I invited Fr. Wing and Fr. Sickles -- two previous Rectors -- to be present and to co-celebrate with Bishop Spong and me at the Eucharist that evening. In view of the Covenant Agreement with Our Lady of the Mountain, I invited Fr. George to give the homily and the Rev. Bruce Wills, Pastor of the Trinity Methodist Church, to take part in the Service. Historically, the Methodists had permitted Episcopalians in Hackettstown to use the Methodist Church for Services before we had our own church built in 1859. Even though St. James had been called a mission de Jure, it had de facto been a parish for years, going back to Fr. Sickles time, since the parish had always paid its bills and had received no continued support from the Diocese. It was a happy day to have one's ecclesiological maturity "recognized".
As I re-read this chapter, I noted that the almost fifteen years that I have been in St. James appears to have been concerned with building, even though, personally, I am unable to hammer a nail straight. The building that went on is a tangible reflection of the growth and evolution of the parish. More people began to attend church and become active in the parish community. This required providing space to accommodate the growth. The improvement of the buildings has been a sacramental thing -- an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The altar is, in truth, the dynamo of the parish community, and, from the altar comes the grace and spiritual power to undertake for God what He calls the members and adherents of St. James church to for His glory.
Through the years of my ministry, St. James has been blessed with vestries who were not afraid to branch out into the deep. Convinced of what needed to he done, they embraced the challenges and committed the parish community to undertake the necessary work. Not only did the vestries and people, take on these added challenges, they also faithfully maintained their rightful share -- year by year -- of their share of extra-parochial responsibilities in support of the Diocese and the National Church. The resilience and resourcefulness of the parish community of St. James is a factor of considerable strength and resolve.
My wife, Josephine, has been an indefatigable helpmate in my ministry. Not only has she bestowed upon the parish her unique abilities but she has enthusiastically and empathetically embraced the whole life of St. James Parish. Her friendliness is an enrichment about which so many have often spoken. "Jo, what do you think about this idea?" has been a frequent question in the rectory. The answers to those questions have been invaluable.
Through the years, St. James parish has become a microcosm of what parishes in the nation are destined to become because of population trends. Because of the advances of medicine and the reduced birth rate, the aging population is the fastest growing group in the country. St. James -- situated as it is near two retirement communities as well as government-assisted housing -- exhibits this national trend. Because young couples with children are moving to this part of the state to live, this segment of the population is also growing. In fact, in St. James, it comprises the largest part of the parish community, with the senior citizens coming in a close second. St. James, therefore, reflects -- in the present -- the future trends of the nation in regards to the population. The 10 a.m. Eucharist each Sunday is indeed a "family Mass", not because the Service is geared to children but because the congregation spans the intergenerational gap from infants to great grandparents -- all celebrating the Eucharist together.
As the first part of this booklet indicates, the founders of St. James parish came from the Catholic school within Anglicanism.. Fr. Mitchum, the parish priest in St. James for 31 years, was an old-fashioned Anglo-Catholic priest, and the effects of his long and faithful ministry linger. Since that time, however, the churchmanship of St. James has taken a middle position eschewing both extremes and demonstrates, in this way, another of the national trends of the Episcopal Church. Thus, members of this parish community have not been afraid to be pioneers, which is phenomenal since the parish exists in a rather conservative environment. There is a certain excitement in being fools for Christ's sake, and the members of the parish community of St. James, Hackettstown have experienced, on several occasions in the last few years, that excitement.
And now, as we celebrate the 125th year of the existence of this parish community, the parish has undertaken yet more outward and visible signs of the inauguration of a Restoration Fund in order to pay for the rebuilding of the church steeple (which dry rot threatens to destroy) and for the removal of all exterior wood from the church and replacing it with new wood and paint. It is this conviction of the parish commonalty that we have received the inheritance of this beautiful house of God from those who have gone before us, as they bequeathed us the parish. We hope to be able to pass both on to those who come after us so that they -- with resolve -- continue the parish's ministry in the service of Jesus Christ in this part of the Lord's vineyard where He has placed this parish community.
Acknowledgments The Ven. Sydney E. Grant The Rev. Arthur Wing III