Who We Are
A Brief History
ST. JAMES', THE EARLY HISTORY
On Sunday, December 19th, 1858, a Protestant Episcopal Church was organized in Hackettstown under the name of St. James' Church. The land chosen for the building was on the corner of Washington and Moore Streets. The cornerstone for the new church was laid on Tuesday, April 26, 1859. The Rev. Mr. Hoffman, of Burlington, laid the stone and Bishop Doane preached in the evening. Unfortunately, the Bishop died suddenly the next day.
The Gazette gave an account of the destruction of the newly constructed frame and tower of the church during a "violent storm" early that summer. The church was rebuilt and dedicated that same year.
The church prospered when Schooley's Mountain was a summer resort, but later the congregation was not able to keep up with the expenses. It was sold in 1887 to Sheriff Van Campen. For the next ten years it was used as a theatre known as Vernon Hall.
In 1896, The Rev. William Mitcham came to Hackettstown and under his leadership St. James' was able to raise enough money to buy back the church building. The sanctuary was formally restored and purified on April 30, 1900. Bishop Starkey presided over the service on a beautiful spring morning. After the service, a luncheon was served to the one hundred guests by caterer Thomas B. Howell.
The history of St. James' Episcopal Church written over the past 150 years is full of strange stories, storms, struggles and steadfast faith. The more recent story of St. James' Church, which brings us to this day 150 years later, is not only a story of a building project. The spiritual development of the community has not been neglected. We are not just constructing a building, we are following the call of Jesus Christ to be his body in the world. Because we had no space for the fellowship of coffee hour during construction, the chapel was utilized as the coffee hour space, with spillover into the sanctuary. It was much more difficult to pull this off, especially when carrying the coffee from Mitcham House to the chapel involved a trip halfway around the block. But it was important for us to gather in fellowship around food as regularly as we gather around the altar to be fed by God.
We did not neglect our commitment to outreach during this two-year construction period. Although we were unable to host large meetings for community groups, we continued to make our small space available without cost to groups that needed it, such as The Warren County Sexual Assault and Rape Crisis Center and Literacy Volunteers of America.
The people of St. James' are a people of strong commitment to the vision of this place. When the call went out for people to help paint the parish hall, twenty people showed up on a Saturday. People arrive at church with bags of groceries for the Lord's Pantry at Trinity United Methodist Church. Once a month, we visit the Arc group home in Hackettstown to socialize with the women and do craft activities with them. They are guests at our events. Teenagers spend 30 hours without food to raise an average of $1000 a year to help fight hunger in our neighborhoods and around the world. They spend a week each summer in Appalachia repairing homes. Our ministry to the deaf and hard of hearing has attracted not only people with hearing loss to our community, but has become a place of training for sign language interpreters. Our Sunday School children visit the House of the Good Shepherd and collect goods for Family Promise, the Warren County homeless shelter program. Vestry members spend hours directing the administrative and financial, as well as the spiritual life and health of the parish.
We may not have politically powerful members in our congregation; we may not have folks who have the ear of the decision makers in government; we may not have members with great wealth. What we do have is faithful people who give to the point of sacrifice of their money, their time, and their skill. The most valuable gift in this community is the joy that is present in the lives of the people. We have a wonderful sense of the absurd, primarily because of some of the more unusual parts of our story, most concerning structures. We also share, perhaps because it is needed desperately, a wonderful sense of humor. Of our two senior leaders, the wardens, each has a catch phrase. Senior Warden Dawn Modugno's phrase is repeated each time we embark on a new adventure: "How hard could it be?" Junior Warden Greg Malejko, also Chair of the Finance Committee, on the day we entered into a $750,000 mortgage, said "Now the fun begins!" The joy we share runs even deeper than sense of humor and sense of the absurd, to solid bedrock (which thankfully we did not strike during excavation of the new building). It is a bedrock of faith. We are deeply blessed. - Cathy Deats, April 26,2009 at the Dedication of the Open Doors Parish Hall and Sesquicentennial of the laying of the cornerstone of St. James', April 26, 1859