The Reverend Clarence Sickles (1953 -1965)
The place was Eagles Nest Camp In Delaware and the date was late August, 1953. I learned of the sudden and untimely death of the Vicar of St. James, the Rev. Clarence Buchanan. I had known about St. James through two previous Vicars -- Fathers Sydney Grant and George Palmer -- and was immediately drawn to wanting to serve as the priest in that place. My desire was made known to our Bishop, then the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Washburn.
Bishop Washburn responded to my expression of interest. After a long interview and time spent with Reginald Hart, Warden, and Executive Committee members Dr. Ernest Dalton and Alan Painter, Bishop Washburn called me to be the Vicar at St. James Church In Hackettstown.
Because I was only in my third year as Curate at Christ Church, New Brunswick and Chaplain to Episcopal students at Rutgers University, I thought my tenure in this position too short and declined the call. After two calls and two refusals for what I thought were the right reasons, I was convinced that St. James was the place God wanted me to be. So, on December 15, 1953, Clarence and Jean Sickles and Mary, Martha and Mark, moved into the Vicarage in Hackettstown.
It was a cold December and although a new oil burner was installed, the house was drafty and uncomfortable. Feeble efforts to insulate it on the inside walls (most impractical) proved to be of no help. Eventually, new casement windows were installed and aluminum siding put on the vicarage. From then on, the house was warm and comfortable and conducive to adding Michael, Margaret, Martin and Monica to the vicarage family. (Matthew arrived later.)
When I became the Vicar of St. James, I was also the Vicar of Christ Church In Stanhope and St. Peter's in Mt. Arlington. Lay Reader James Churchhlll supervised the church school, kept the property in shape and conducted all the services except the two Eucharist's on the third and fourth Sundays at 11 a.m., when I would be present. I was equally as fortunate at St. James, where another outstanding layreader, Douglas Stewart, supervised the church school and conducted the 9:30 service every Sunday. Dr. Ernest Dalton completed the team with his part in conducting Morning Prayer Service at 11 a.m. at St. James while I was officiating at Mt. Arlington. Every Sunday, I was at Christ Church, Stanhope for Eucharist at 9 a.m. The 8 a.m. Sunday Eucharist at St. James completed my Sunday Service schedule.
After two successful years and growth in each place, Bishop Washburn appointed me as the full-time Vicar at St. James Church. As Father Brant was to discover later, St. James was always a parish, so my correct title should have been Rector and not Vicar. But, I assure you, that in no way deterred the advancement of the Kingdom of God in Hackettstown.
Father Buchanan had developed a strong Executive Committee and I was fortunate to inherit this group as a foundation for future building at St. James, both in the physical and spiritual sense. One needed renovation was the repair of the many broken and cracked windows in the church building. I received a bid of $1,250 to repair all the windows, but Doug Stewart knew how to repair leaded glass and offered to do so if someone would bring the windows to his house. One Monday, on my so-called day off, I removed a large Chancel window with the help of my wife, Jean, and took it to Doug's house. True to his word, he repaired the window; I re-installed it and removed yet another to follow the same procedure. Between November and March of a year in the late 50's, all the windows were repaired. If you will notice the window on the vicarage side near the front, you will see several panes of lighter colored glass. Being a perfectionist, I argued with Doug that this was a second-best job. Doug's decision, for practical reasons, prevailed, and I never cease to think of Doug's wonderful dedication to St. James and my need to avoid striving for perfection every time I look at that window and the lighter colored panes of glass.
On the occasion of our 100th anniversary, the people of St. James raised about $6,000 to rebuild the church tower, which was deteriorating badly. We were pleased with the way the church was becoming one of the better kept buildings in Hackettstown, and we wanted to keep it that way. Time goes quickly, and now the tower needs rebuilding again.
Other significant renovations were made to the church and the church property in the late 1950's. A new oil burner was installed in the church, the church and vicarage each received a new roof, the Estey pump-type organ with improvision to eliminate mechanical pumping was replaced with an Allen electronic organ and the present retaining wall was constructed around the church. This wall produced an interesting result; the wall on Moore Street is parallel to the street but the wall on Washington Street is placed at a right angle to the Moore Street wall. Because the wall on Washington Street is not parallel to the street, one can see that a continuation of the wall would soon have it in the street. Actually, who would notice such a thing? It is of no consequence other than as a conversation piece.
Although I do not recall the exact year (short of in the early 60's), I remember with delight when we became a self-supporting church; up to this time, St. James relied on the Diocese for financial assistance. I did, however, have to resort to persuasion to achieve the self-supporting status goal. The Executive Committee was concerned that a sudden break from Diocesan support would leave us in an insecure position if parish contributions faltered. I was convinced they would not yet I asked Bishop Leland Stark to put aside $1,000 for St. James use -- to be available without question -- should the money be needed for operational budget expenses for that year. With some careful explaining, the Bishop agreed. That year we did not need the $1,000 but the next year the Executive Committee wanted the same safety-valve arrangement. Again, the Bishop agreed and, again the second year, St. James did not need the money. After that, all concerned were confident we could make it on our own, thanks be to God.
On the Fourth of July, 1959, my daughter Martha and I were discussing this special day in our country's history. Martha said that it did not seem very important because there was no celebration. That year, we made a July 4th celebration part of the summer Church School program and continued the celebration each year until Heath Village took over the project in 1966. St. James Church, therefore, can be given credit for the observance of Independence Day in the Hackettstown area.
Two specific holy days stand out in my mind as being of special significance in the spiritual life of St. James during my tenure. One was Christmas Eve Eucharist at 11:30 p.m. There was no other service on Christmas Eve then, so the congregation was usually a large one. In those days there were six large, brass candle holders and four branch candle holders on the altar. After Communions were made, the lights were put out and all sang "Silent Night". It was a beautiful experience and my children still talk about it.
It was the custom of St. James Church to have the Three Hour Service on Good Friday. Each church in town seemed to make a special contribution to the spiritual life of the community, and this was St. James' contribution. It was my responsibility to prepare eight sermons (one introductory and the others on the seven words from the Cross) for Good Friday, and to conduct the Service with the help of a lay reader. Layreader Thomas Carnahan was particularly helpful at that time. Not only would members of other churches attend but their clergy as well. I think having the Good Friday Service an ecumenical endeavor is an improvement although I do like the consistency evident when one person does all the preaching.
It is hard to single out specific individuals' service to St. James parish because so many people did so much, but I do recall the outstanding choir program instituted by Mrs. Christine Harvey in the late 1950's and early 1960's. She developed choirs utilizing both children and adults which made an outstanding contribution to the Services at St. James. It was a turning point in our worship experience.
There were three Services each Sunday at St. James when I was the Vicar. The early Eucharist was at 8 a.m. with a short homily. The family Service was at 9:15 a.m. and provided the Eucharist on the second, fourth and other Sundays, and Morning Prayer on the first and third Sundays. I prepared my own Church School lessons and, while the children were in class after the Eucharist, I would instruct the adults in the vicarage using the same lesson the children were using. In this way, the parents could communicate with their children about the Church School lesson for the day. The third Service was at 11 a.m. with the adult choir and the order of service was Holy Communion on the first, third and other Sundays and Morning Prayer the second and fourth Sundays. It seemed to work out quite well and pleased the "varieties of religious experience" which Episcopalians had in those days.
Another highlight for me was the occasion of my tenth anniversary as Vicar of St. James in 1963. Warden Dick Kramer spearheaded a pleasant celebration which included the parish giving me a set of purple Eucharistic vestments and an Accutron watch. The watch runs on a battery and is a life-saver since I invariably forget to wind a watch and must always suffer the consequences.
It was in 1959 that the idea for Heath Village developed. I had a special soft spot in my heart for the elderly which developed through my weekly visits to celebrate the Eucharist at Warren Haven for Miss Mattie Poyer, a faithful member of St. James and the Altar Guild. When she told me of her need to go to Warren Haven, I remarked, "You have been faithful in your service to and worship at St. James. If you go to Warren Haven, St. James will come to you." I continued this mission for the remainder of my time as Vicar.
Our attempt to start a housing project for the elderly began with the purchase of the house at 321 Washington Street (my present home) to be used as a residence for older people. We could not raise the money for that building but pressed on, hoping and praying that our idea would materialize. In 1962, the Heath Village Corporation was formed and I was the first president, layreader Robert Branch was vice-president and the Rev. Robert H. Maitland, Jr., rector of Our Savior in Denville was the secretary.
The next step was to engage the services of the Robert Chuchrow Construction Company of New York. With Hugh Moore, Jr. (of the family of Dixie Cup fame), we obtained an FHA 231 insured mortgage and broke ground for Heath Village on March 24, 1965. The cornerstone laying ceremony took place on April 30, 1966 with the formal opening of Heath Village in October of 1966. With literally no money, through the grace of God and the inspiration and guidance of our Lord, a small group of ordinary people were able to build a magnificent project like Heath Village at a cost of 2.6 million dollars. "If you have faith, you can move mountains," our Lord tells me. Why do we not take more advantage of this directive?
In August of 1963 I became the part-time Executive Director of Heath Village and used half of the salary to engage the services of the Rev. Ernest Maguire so that St. James could have a full-time ministry. Father Maguire looked just like Friar Tuck. He was a roly-poly, jovial priest in his late fifties and was a magnificent preacher. Unfortunately, he died suddenly. A young priest just out of seminary -- the Rev. Robert Hall -- came as curate. It was an interesting contrast, and Father Hall made many of us realize we were really "dated". His ministry, needless to say, was a highlight for the young people.
During my years at St. James, Bishop Benjamin Washburn, Bishop Leland Stark, Bishop Donald MacAdle and Bishop George Rath served as our "Fathers In God". Each one supported fully the work at St. James and provided strength, inspiration and God's loving care to its priest and parish family. Our Wardens -- Ernie Dalton, Reginald Hart, Warren Bassette and Richard Kramer -- brought superb lay leadership to the parish and served as an effective intermediary between priest and people.
Fortunate is the man who has a good wife to support him and keep him on a sound and realistic path of pursuit. Jean Slckles was such a wife. She had the extraordinary ability to be a substantial! part of parish life yet never give the impression that she was doing other than what would be expected of any other member of the parish -- no more and no less. I thank God for her and for my children, whose vicarage experiences only they could relate.
It is a new world for us (and especially we older people) in the great institutions -- the State, the Family and the Church. Big changes have come and bigger changes will come, but our hope and strength is rooted in the words of St. Peter 1:25: ". . . the word of the Lord endureth for ever."
Acknowledgments The Ven. Sydney E. Grant The Rev. Arthur Wing III