The Reverend Arthur Wing, III (1965 - 1969)
The late 1960's were turbulent times. Although nearly twenty years have passed since my tenure in St. James, Hackettstown (from the Fall of 1965 to the Fall of 1969), I can still feel my pulse rate rise and my adrenaline start to flow when I think back to things that happened then. The country was at war in Viet Nam and in the inner cities. The "Immoral War" and Civil Rights were national preoccupation's. Everyone felt strongly about these issues.
The church had come to realize the need to speak out on the issues of war, especially about the war in Viet Nam. Counseling was offered to those facing the prospect of the draft; information about conscientious objection was distributed to all parishes; position papers and copies of National Convention resolutions regarding the war were distributed. Young people were faced with the prospect of the draft, prison, or flight to another country (usually Canada or Sweden). Families were split into opposing factions. Bishop Leland Stark sent each parish copies of his convention address in which he stated his conviction about the immorality of the war and our part in it. When that letter was posted on the bulletin board in the vestibule of St. James Church, it was torn down and thrown on the floor.
Closer to home (too close, some thought), the country seemed split on the issue of Civil Rights. Again, the church had to speak out in support of the poor, disenfranchised members of our society. Certainly, not all church people believed that what was being said and done was right.
After the first riots in Newark, a group of clergy in the Diocese formed a task force which could go into Newark in the event of problems there. The members of the group were to provide a presence in the police stations of the inner city so that there would be some witness to the civil rights of any person arrested.
I spent one very frightening night in a police station in Newark while fires were set and people looted and order generally broke down. This experience so impressed me that I tried to share the pain and anguish on Good Friday of that year. The meditation attempted to show the various groups at the Crucifixion in juxtaposition to the groups I had witnessed in Newark. Several parishioners walked out of the three-hour service as a result, but others told me they found the meditation the best sermon they had heard me preach.
The feelings of anger, fear and frustration were strong and there was the constant danger of overreaction. Upon returning from vacation one year, I remember being told by a leading member of the congregation that he had a loaded gun by his bed and, "No damn n ------'d better come on my property; I'll kill him.''
Into the hopper of hyper feelings came potential changes in the worship services. A variety of proposed changes were published by the national church and we tried most of them. The sense that what we loved and knew by heart was about to be destroyed raised more strong feelings. Many of us wondered what we could hold on to and where we could find relief from the barrage of demanding emotions.
Those days were exciting!
In spite of the turbulence in the work, the church continued to respond to human need. St. James continued to reach out within the local community to offer its resources to others. The Parish Hall was used by the Orthodox Church for suppers and social events and during the week by an elementary school class taught by Charles Bollinger.
Many groups within the parish continued to function as the life of the parish went on. Since being asked to write a chapter for the history of St. James Church., I have been remembering faces and events which had lain quietly in my memory for nearly twenty years. The task assigned has been both joy and sorrow full. The images from the past are so filled with feeling that it is hard to write them down. It is also difficult to tie the various events and people together in other than a chronological list, and it is impossible to report all that went on. These, then, are some of my memories.
I started a list of friends and adversaries but will not share it; there are bound to be omissions, and some of the names have slipped away although the faces remain. Many of the folks we came to know in St. James are still among our good friends, and most of the saints at St. James -- even those with whom I fought -- feel like friends to me now.
There were the teenagers struggling to make sense of the world around then, -- a world which made little sense to many of their parents. Several of the teens were not from the parish; but for them, the youth dances in the parish hall and the weekly coffee hours were an important activity. Others of the youth were concerned for the "little kids" and were willing to assist in the Church School. There was a constant tension between the need for teachers and assistants and the conviction that teens needed to be a regular part of the worshipping community. Timing is so important; the problem of when to have worship and when to have church school still haunts me. There were YPF meetings and attempts to be relevant in discussions and activities.
Church School was another group of faithful folk, especially the staff. Every year the task of recruiting teachers had to be faced, but the faithful few always came through. Although meeting in the dark, old bottling plant and in the rather inadequate kitchen, the Word was shared, children learned and created colorful reminders of happy times. Erica Frank, Vera Howell, Jane and Bud Loret, Joyce Botsford, Ernie Dalton, Valerie Dudiak, Ellen Nerbak and others earned themselves places in the hearts of many of the children and, I'm sure, "stars in their crowns."
There were many other groups which were important to our life, too. The Vestry with its constant concern for the finances; the Wardens Warren Bassett and Dick Kramer with their constant concern for what the Vicar would or would not do next; the Altar Guild (which never seemed to falter) kept the altar dressed in dignity and beauty with amazing grace. There were a few young women from Centenary who came to Sunday Services and a smaller number of them who became part of our life. One of the students shared our summer vacation in Massachusetts as a mother's helper with our three small fry.
Another of the keys to the past are "knocks at the door." Mrs. Kunpicki, bless her, a woman whose age I never did figure out, who spoke very broken English and, I suppose, better Polish, knocked at the back door of the Vicarage shortly after we had moved in. She presented me with a bag of vegetables from her garden and then she kissed my hand!!! I was flabbergasted and almost ready to move out again, but what a lovely lady she was, sharing what she had with a new neighbor. Her simple faith and her sense of honor due the Priest still touches me.
There were also knocks on the front door. Somehow, even though we were a block off the main drag, "gentlemen of the road'' found us with great regularity. I suspected there was a guidebook for those hitch-hiking east or west which included a notation about 214 Washington Street, Hackettstown, New Jersey being an easy mark. It took only a few such knocks with their touching stories to help me shift my reaction from doling out money to being prepared to meet a variety of needs. The stationery store next to the movies sold bus tickets, Fr. Constantine Costello could provide footwear from his store and both the supermarket and the drug store agreed to assist. A phone call and a short note to the proprietor would requisition necessities for visitors passing through, or for others in need. The guidebook must have been changed to show that catfood and other necessities were available, but no money!
"Journey In Faith", an educational program in ten sessions, became the annual Inquirers' Class. It was during the first or second session one year that a stranger knocked at the door and stepped into the living-room at the Vicarage asking, "Is this the place?" Joan Wing answered, "This is the place!" Gene Stickel became a part of the course and part of our life.
Not all needs could be met at the door, however. Other more complex situations which needed attention presented themselves; "patterning" for two youngsters together with support for their families; transportation to hospitals and physicians in Easton, Phillipsburg, Morristown and Denville; occasional babysitting while parents had to be away; shopping trips for shut-in's; preparation of food for recently hospitalized persons. As a means of dealing with such situations, a group of sensitive folks from the Christian community in Hackettstown gathered information about and then started a chapter of FISH. Some of the prime movers were from St. James. Vera Howel, Bud and Jane Loret, Jean and Tom Higgins, Dot Hullinger, Ken and Ellen Nerbak, and Valerie Dudlak were involved in making the fish swim.
Another of my keys to the past is the Choir. "Joyful Noise" describes for me what happened (most of the time) when the choir or augmented choir led our music. With Muriel Walter as Organist and Choir Director, a group of singers gathered; Peter Cain, Gene Stickel, Erica Frank, Ed Askew and several members of the Higgins family were among those who shared a love of music and a willingness to offer it to the Lord. The musical offerings were not without their critics. When the church reverberated with strains of "We sail a ship with a man named Jonah", "Kun Bay Ya", "Leaning on the Everlasting Arm", and music from "Jesus Christ, Superstar", there were some who thought this was too far to go. It seemed good to share songs from the popular field as well as scan of the glorious Baptist hymns which are not part of our Episcopal heritage.
When Heath Village opened its doors and people began to fill the rooms and cottages up on Route 24, St. James was blessed with an influx of new, active, mature members. Episcopalians recognized a good thing when they saw it in a place like Heath Village. It became clear that there were residents both in Heath Village and in The House of the Good Shepherd who would like to meet regularly for discussions of current events. Our weekly topics ranged from events reported in the news of national and international importance to concern about the proposed changes in the Prayer Book to local elections and the lives of the Saints. The value of sharing information and ideas became clear and I quickly found that what started out as "taking something to them'' became a most valued chance for me to learn from others I also found that age is not the determinate to one's political persuasion. The groups contained liberals, conservatives, and a number of in-between-ers who were open to both positions.
Although, St. James Church was a small congregation, it shared all the joys, frustrations and ups and downs of the times.
The Christmas Eve of the SNOW was an important event for me. That particular December 24th, snow began to fall in the afternoon. "Oh," we thought, "How nice; a white Christmas." The snow fell and fell and the plows were out cleaning the streets. By 10:00 p.m., however, they were only plowing a one-car width lane on Washington Street and, by the time of our midnight celebration, the streets were closed. Only the faithful from a few blocks around the church building were able to fight their way through the deep snow, but the small congregation knew the presence of Christ in a very special way that year. The joy felt and the fervor of the singing announced that the Lord Had Come.
At times over the past 15 years I have been frustrated by lack of attendance at some event or other and I remember that small isn't bad. St. James -- though a small congregation -- has had a very large influence in my life.
God bless you all.
Acknowledgments The Ven. Sydney E. Grant The Rev. Arthur Wing III