Our story began in 1789
The history of St. John's Parish is a reflection of the history of our country from Revolutionary times to the present, born out of the desire of local farmers, shopkeepers and craftsmen to establish a place to worship God with their families. At a meeting held on November 14, 1789, St. John's Church at the Head of Timber Creek was established under the denomination of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America. Records of that first meeting, as well as a list of financial and gift contributions from area residents, have become treasured artifacts of St. John's beginnings.
Monies collected were not adequate to complete the original red cedar church that was raised in August of 1790. Aaron Chew, a local war hero, was charged with seeking more funds. In addition to local residents, Mr. Chew sought the help of friends from the Revolutionary War, many of whom were members of the Congress that was meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, our nation's capital at the time. This list of contributors reads like a WHO'S WHO of the early history of our country. Among the contributors were three signers of the Declaration of Independence, the first Speaker of the House of Representatives, a future Director of the U.S. Mint and several early state governors and U.S. congressional representatives. George Washington and James Madison round out this distinguished list.
Early records indicated that the Rev. Levi Heath had charge of St. John's, along with two other congregations, from 1789 to 1794, after which itinerant missionary priests were assigned by the Bishop to come as often as possible. From 1836 to 1850, the Rev. Hiram R. Harrold was rector of the church.
The nineteenth century
Following 1850, the church began a period of decline, even closing for a time. St. Paul's, in what is now the city of Camden, was responsible for the revival of St. John's around 1860. A Sunday School, which grew to one hundred pupils, was formed by two ladies from St. Paul's. That church's rector, the Rev. Joseph F. Garrison, held monthly services at St John's for about ten years.
Church of St. John the Evangelist
The Rev. Gustavus Murray, rector of Grace Church, Haddonfield, began serving our congregation about 1872. His ten-year tenure saw substantial growth within the church. St. John's Guild was founded and a new church building was constructed during Rev. Murray's service. Plans for the new church were drawn by noted Philadelphia architect, George Watson Hewitt. Edmund Brewer, a local shipbuilder, donated the stone that was brought from a quarry in Pennsylvania on his scows. Area residents then carried the stone by wagon from the landing to the building site. The new church would stand in front of the 1790 church. The Right Reverend John Scarborough, Bishop of New Jersey, laid the cornerstone on November 14, 1880. He also consecrated the handsome stone structure on November 9, 1881. When the old church was torn down, its wood was used in the construction of carriage sheds across the street.
The Rev. William Matthias became the first resident rector here on November 1, 1883. During his service, a rectory was built in 1885, on a lot opposite the church. This land was deeded by Richard H. Herring, a former New Jersey State Senator. Miss E. Montgomery raised most of the money for this structure, as well as for the new church.
The early twentieth century
St. John's church yard
The next 30 years represented a period of slow growth. The congregation, made up of people of small means, struggled to keep up the church properties and their pledges. From March 1, 1913 until November 1, 1917, the Rev. Samuel Hanger served the parish. These years began a period of new life for the church. In 1915, the current parish hall was built opposite the church, through the generosity of Miss Diadema Perce.
July 1927 brought the Rev. Charles Wheeler Coit to St. John's. His ministry was during the period of the Depression and he was indeed a servant of, and for, the people in those difficult days. During the Depression, the church suffered another decline and became financially dependent on the Diocese. The Diocese also supplied us with clergy during this time. Despite these conditions, necessary renovations were made in the church and parish hall by the parishioners.
The arrival of the Rev. Frank Bloxham and his family in 1949 saw a reversal of spirits within the church. The key to Fr. Bloxham's leadership was his definite conviction that “with God all things are possible.” St. John's grew under his guidance and regained its Parish status. The present rectory was purchased in 1957, before Fr. Bloxham retired in 1965. The devotion of the Bloxham family and Fr. Bloxham’s legacy are still remembered fondly.
Late twentieth century
For the following six years (1965-1971) the Rev. Charles R. Brace took charge of the Parish. He was a husky man with a strong voice. He served the Parish at a time when the country went through tremendous turmoil and faced many challenges. One of the young Parish members committed suicide with a friend as a protest against the Vietnam War. Fr. Brace was distraught by their deaths and, eventually, he left the church.
St. John's rose window
For 25 years, beginning in 1972, the Rev. Robert E. Sullivan, in his quiet and gentle way, guided the family that is St. John's and helped us reach many milestones. The parish hall was renovated and enlarged in 1974. Other improvements included a new pipe organ, air conditioning and the refurbishing of the pews. During Fr. Sullivan's service, St. John's membership grew to 230 families. The church building was placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, and the churchyard was listed as a National Historic Site in 1980. The 100th anniversary of our present church building's consecration was observed in 1981. Last, but not least, St. John's Parish celebrated its 200th anniversary with great joy in 1989.
The Parish has had three pastors, two interim pastors and, after three years of searching, one permanent pastor since Fr. Sullivan’s retirement in 1997. Fr. Larry Morrison served the Parish on an interim basis for three years (1998-2000). He was followed by the Rev. Mary Jean Metzger, who took over for a year in 2000; Mother Metzger was the first female pastor to serve the Parish. The Rev. Patrick Hunt was called as Priest-in-Charge from 2001 - 2004. Finally, the Rev. Daniel W. Hinkle became our interim priest in 2005, continuing the regular ministry services and guiding St. John’s through our transition period
As we move into a new century
Our most recent rector, the Rev. Margaret Sterchi, accepted our call and began her service at St. John's on December 16, 2006. Her ministry among us has opened the door, once again, to a flourishing period of growth and a guiding spirit during times of change within the Episcopal Church. We are currently under the leadership of our interim rector, Rev. Don Caron, and will welcome a new priest in the summer of 2019. We celebrated our 225th anniversary in 2015 and we have never been a stronger more welcoming parish family.
History of Rectors
1789 –1794 Levi Heath
1797 –1798 Andrew Fowler
1804 -1807 Henry James Feltus
1807 -1809 Charles H. Wharton
1809 -1810 Daniel Higbee; Simon Wilmer
1810 -1811 Charles H. Wharton; Simon Wilmer
1812 -1815 Daniel Higbee
1836 -1850 Hiram R. Harrold
1860 -1870 Joseph F. Garrison
1872 -1882 Gustavus M. Murray; R. G. Moses
1883 -1887 William Matthias
1887 -1889 Alden Welling
1889 -1890 Harry McDowell
1890 -1912 Thomas Gordon
1913 -1917 Samuel E. Hanger
1919 -1927 Michael J. Hoffman
1927 -1934 Charles Wheeler Coit
1934 -1935 Walter P. Crossman
1936 -1937 John de B. Saunderson
1937 -1938 Raymond B. Miller
1938 -1941 Russell Clapp
1942 -1949 Thomas B. Bray
1949 -1965 Frank Bloxham
1965 -1971 Charles R. Brace
1972- 1997 Robert E. Sullivan, Jr.
1998-2000 Larry C. Morrison (interim)
2000-2001 Mary Jean Metzger (interim)
2001-2004 Patrick Hunt (Priest-In-Charge)
2005-2006 Daniel W. Hinkle (interim)
2006-2017 Margaret Sterchi
2018 - Don Caron (interim)