St. John’s Episcopal Church
Staten Island, NY
(information provided by the Office of the Borough President,
Church is located in one of the oldest and most stable neighborhoods
of Staten Island. Staten Island is one of the fastest-growing
boroughs in New York City. Like the borough itself, the St. John’s
community is extremely diverse. With a population of only
as of the 2000 Census, Staten Island has long prided itself on being
the most suburban of the five boroughs of New York City. Despite its
suburban feel, travel to any of the other boroughs, and particularly
to Manhattan, is easily accessed and convenient, by either the
Verrazano Bridge or the Staten Island Ferry. We have the luxury of
also being proximal to New Jersey. In some ways, Staten Islanders
experience the best of all opportunities.
is home to several attractions, including the Richmond County Bank
Ballpark, which is located next to the Staten Island Ferry
Terminal. The stadium is home to the Staten Island Yankees, who
have launched the career of celebrated New York Yankee pitcher
Wang; it overlooks the East River and the Staten Island September
11th Memorial, a beautiful tribute to the dozens of
Staten Island men and women who lost their lives in 2001. Other
celebrated attractions are the Staten Island Zoo and both South and
Midland Beaches, where yearlong visitors stroll
along the Boardwalk. A restaurant and catering hall have provided
“economic and visitor enhancement” since 2004, by providing dinner
guests with stunning views of the shoreline. The Boardwalk also
provides easy access to a nearby senior park, which contains special
features such as checkerboard tables, benches, and bocce courts.
The Ocean Breeze Fishing Pier, opened in 2002, at 835 feet long, is
one of the largest in the city. Freedom Circle is also the site of
frequent visitors, to commemorate the many servicemen and women from
Staten Island who have fought to defend America’s freedom. Staten
Island is also home to the Greenbelt, a preservation of 2,800 acres
of woodlands, wetlands, and meadows.
diversity is important to Staten Island, as well. The landmark Snug
Harbor Cultural Center, originally established as a
nineteenth-century residence for retired seamen, also houses the
Staten Island Botanical Garden and the Staten Island Children’s
Museum. This location is also the future home of the Staten Island
Institute of Arts and Sciences, which is currently located at 75
Stuyvesant Place. The Sandy Ground Historical Museum was established
as a farming community during the nineteenth-century by freed
slaves, and is the oldest such community in America. Many
descendents of the original settlers still live in the area. Staten
Island is also home to the National Lighthouse Museum, the
beautifully restored St. George Theatre, and the New York Chinese
Scholar’s Garden, which is the first Chinese Scholar’s Garden in the
United States. Visitors also flock to the Garibaldi Meucci Museum,
the Alice Austen House, and the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan
Art, located on Lighthouse Hill, which contains a complete replica
of a Buddhist Temple. The CSI Center for the Arts, located at the
College of Staten Island, features five theaters under one roof,
making it Staten Island’s ideal performance venue.
For a bit
of 'home-grown' Broadway entertainment, audiences flock to the
campus of Wagner College, where students from the drama department
stage sophisticated renditions of popular musicals, both recent and
classic, throughout the year.
is a land also rich in historical significance. Historic Richmond
Town and Conference House Park provide history aficionados with a
glimpse into colonial life; the former is the original seat of the
Richmond County Government, while the latter is the site
of a 1776 peace conference between representatives of the
Continental Congress and the Commander of British Forces during the
Revolutionary War. Fort Wadsworth, now the Gateway National
Recreation Area, is one of the oldest military sites in the United
States, having guarded New York City for almost two hundred years.
A brief history of St. John’s
Church, Staten Island
compiled by The Reverend John Romig Johnson, Ph.D., and Mrs.
In the 1840’s the population of the South
Eastern end of Staten Island was very small. The area known as
Clifton was occupied by large landed gentry and opportunities for
worship were limited. The first suggestion about worship was that a
“union church” be built which would serve all the various
denominations. This plan seemed impractical and since the
Episcopalians were the largest and most influential group, it was
agreed that an Episcopal Church would be built and it would join the
diocese of New York. The agreement was that a pastor of “evangelical
views” would be called as rector.
On September 23, 1843 a meeting was held at
the residence of William B. Townsend for the purpose of organizing
the parish. Wardens and vestrymen were chosen. All were men of
prominence in the community and in larger affairs.
The first services were held at the Clifton
Hotel on Cliff Street but a steady increase in attendance revealed a
need for a proper Church building. Construction of a small
Carpenter’s Gothic structure across the road from the present church
was completed in 1843 and consecrated on March 30th the
following year. It is of particular historical interest that the
first child baptized in the church, was Cornelius Vanderbilt and the
first bride married there was Mrs. Sophia J. Torrance, the daughter
of Commodore and Mrs. Vanderbilt.
The first rector, the Reverend Kingston
Goddard, had served Emmanuel Church in Brooklyn and for three years
he provided faithful pastoral leadership and eloquent preaching at
St. John’s. With his departure to become rector of a large
Philadelphia parish, he nominated the Rev. Dr. Alexander Mercer who
was then a professor at the University of Pennsylvania to be his
successor. He was unanimously elected rector by the vestry. Ill
health forced this brilliant preacher and thinker to retire after
five years. He was followed by Richard Abercrombie the scion of an
illustrious family both in the States and in England.
Certainly no name is more associated with St.
John’s Parish in the Nineteenth Century than the Rev. John C.
Eccleston who was rector from 1856 to 1863 and again from 1867 to
1899. His ministry at St. John’s spanned nearly half a century. In
his Jubilee sermon of December 31, 1893 he exhorted the parish not
to rest on past achievement however grand or however weary they
might be, but to press on to what remains to be done for realizing
God’s Kingdom here on earth. It is also worth noting in passing
that his daughter Gertrude was Alice Austen’s best friend and she
and Austin enjoyed many happy hours together at the rectory.
Bishop Horatio Potter laid the corner stone
of the present church on November 10, 1869 and the church was
consecrated on September 30, 1871. It was built in Victorian Gothic
style with the exception of large clock tower and steeple that
served as a landmark for ships entering New York Harbor. At the
close of World War I, St. John’s sexton, Frank Pfleging, welcomed
each shipload of soldiers returning from the War by waving a flag
from the steeple and ringing the fine bells of the church.
In 1881 a rectory was built on the grounds.
It was a charming Victorian home, made of stone and cedar shingles
with a rich piazza running across the back of the building. Later a
legacy of $5,000 from the estate of the Rev. Dr. Mercer was the
nucleus for building the Mercer Chapel. This was the first Sunday
school building and parish house. All three buildings are
reportedly the work of Arthur Gilman a noted 19th Century
architect who donated his services as well as a stained glass window
as a memorial to his son. From Bay Street the three buildings
presented a picturesque scene.
Later, in 1911 a large hall, the John C.
Eccleston Parish House, was added and until it was razed in 1998
served as center for Christian education as well as for social and
community functions of all sorts. There were classrooms, a large
auditorium, kitchen, and later, even a basketball court.
In the 1950’s the church was redecorated by
colorful decorations of blue, green, red and gold painted in the
arches and at the heads of columns of the church. Most recently, in
July of 2000, four new memorial stained-glass windows were added to
the Church, which were designed and rendered, by Michael and Son, a
venerable Staten Island institution.
One interesting aspect of the clerical
leadership in the Twentieth Century was the length of their
tenures. Edward Dodd served from 1907 until 1920; William Pott
served from 1920 to 1940; Albert Frost, 1940-1943; Alexander Frier,
1943-1960; Howard Bingley from 1961 - 1978, and John-Michael
Crothers, 1978-1999, and John Romig Johnson, 2002 – 2005. We are
currently served by Rev. Rhoda Treherne-Thomas, Priest Associate
Today we are in a period of restoring our
buildings, deepening our faith, and extending our witness to the
wider community. Since 1974 the church has been granted landmark
status because it has “a special character, special historical and
aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage
and cultural characteristics of New York City.” We are concerned
both to honor our rich heritage as part of the historic Catholic
Church and our new opportunity to serve Christ in the 21st
Social, demographic and economic changes in
the 1970’s and 80’s hit St. John’s Church hard and for a time in
1973 the parish house had to be closed in the winter to save fuel
costs. The parish house, the sexton’s cottage and the rector’s
garage were all in appalling condition and presented the parish with
an overwhelming financial burden that could not be ignored.
Eventually through the efforts of the Wardens, Vestry and the then
rector, Rev. John-Michael Crothers, a bold plan was conceived. The
old, dilapidated parish house was taken down and a new building
began to be constructed. This gave birth to Canterbury House, a
moderate-income senior apartment building with lovely ground floor
rooms for Church School classes, parish gatherings, and other social
and religious occasions. The building is a model for such
facilities in the future and a major opportunity for ministry.
In 2002-2003 the parish restored the outside
of the rectory removing the aluminum siding which was installed
during the 1970’s and returned the look to the Victorian period,
back to the gingerbread molding. The interior of the rectory was
both restored and up-dated to include central air-conditioning. The
basement was converted into a beautiful parish office which includes
an attractive meeting room.
When Dr. Eccleston spoke at the Jubilee
celebration of St. John’s Church on December 31, 1893, he chose as
his text, Joshua 13:1. “Now Joshua was old and stricken in
years; and the Lord said to him, thou art old and stricken in years
and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.”
Eccleston argues that while the Israelites were weary and their zeal
was flagging, God called them to fresh exertions.” Dr. Eccleston’s
point was that God will not let his people rest on past
achievements, but calls them to new challenges and new fields of
wider service for His purposes. It seems that this dear old parish
has struggled valiantly with a limited number of lay leaders and
difficult hills of financial necessity to climb. We, responding to
God’s clarion call, have begun to identify this church as “none
other than the house of God, the gate of heaven” and it is becoming
a place of refreshment, peace and cheer for all of us. We are
deepening our devotion to our Lord and gaining inspiration and
purpose to tackle the future under His guiding hand.
A thumbnail sketch like this does not do
justice to the rich and varied programs, which this church has
sponsored and directed over the many years of its life and
ministry. There have been large church schools, choirs and youth
choirs, boy scouts and campfire girls, pageants and plays,
basketball teams, altar guilds, and the Episcopal Church Women just
to mention a few.
Our Programs and Parish Ministries
St. John’s Church is entirely reliant upon
the assistance of its parishioners, who are able to serve the church
at any age, and at every stage of their individual religious
journeys. Without the aid of these volunteers, St. John’s would be
unable to function, and therefore accepts, even welcomes, the unique
contributions offered by such a diverse congregation.
Both volunteerism and special services have
worked to foster the communal relationship among parishioners,
bridging the age gap between the youth and the elderly in order to
create a unified church at St. John’s, with common goals for its
Lay Eucharistic Ministers
Eight parishioners compose the body of St.
John’s Lay Eucharistic Ministers, who also act as Lay Eucharistic
Visitors. These trained and licensed volunteers assist in
administering the chalice at the Eucharist during the weekly masses,
and deliver communion to those of our parishioners who are
hospitalized, invalids, or otherwise unable to travel to church
Men, women and children ranging in age from 7
years to well-seasoned adults serve as acolytes, assisting the
celebrating priest during regular masses and special services,
including holidays and other holy days. They are trained to be
crucifers, servers, thurifers, and boat-bearers. They are an
enthusiastic group who attend training sessions, and also
participate in Acolyte Festivals in the Diocese of New York as well
as the October Festivals at the National Cathedral in Washington,
provide an escort of the cross and torches to present the gifts of
bread, wine and the collection to the sanctuary at the time of the
Our Altar Guild currently consists of six
people who make up three teams and serve for three-weeks at a time
preparing the altar before the services, clean up afterwards, change
the altar and votive candles throughout the church, launder and care
for the linen and Eucharistic vestments.
Our children’s services are a recent addition
to St. John’s. During these services, which are held periodically
throughout the year, the children perform various roles in the
service, including those of lectors, ushers, and gift-bearers. The
youth are also the focus of the day’s sermon, with the celebrating
priest coming down from the pulpit to address the children in a way
that is both concise and contemporary, thereby describing Biblical
stories and concepts so that children can understand and relate to
St. John’s has
one of the largest Church School groups of the Staten Island
Episcopal Churches. Each week from September through June we
provide the children with a Bible-based program for the one-room
school which includes stories, crafts and activities. They meet at
9:45 and join the parish in church at the “Prayers of the People.”
Both our 8 and
10 AM parishioners are greeted by a dedicated group of five men who
welcome each person, provide them with the weekly Bulletin and
whatever handouts are necessary, making sure that each person
wishing communion receives the sacrament, notifying the priest of
those who cannot make the steps to the communion rail.
Music plays a large role in the worship at
St. John’s. We have a small but dedicated choir who meet each
Wednesday evening for rehearsals. The 1982 Hymnal, which we have
been using since 2001, still is considered to be the “new hymnal” by
many. We have sung approximately 250 hymns and several mass
settings from this hymnal but there are still a few die-hards who
prefer the 1940 hymnal. We use “Wonder, Love & Praise” and “Lift
Every Voice and Sing” for anthems and to sing congregationally.
We have recently hired a new organist who is
willing to take requests from the parish of their favorite hymns.
Together we hope to expand our repertoire.
For the past two years we have hosted Con
Brio, an acapella group from England, who performed both sacred
and secular pieces.
In November 2007 the Wagner College
Concert Choir opened their fall season with a concert at St.
John’s, sponsored by the Richmond IPC (Inter-Parish Council) and the
Island-wide Lutheran Churches.
This is one point where we have been
historically lacking. We recently have held Bible study groups led
by Rev. Rhoda Treherne-Thomas and by a parishioner, Dr. John
Abraham, who has a background in Bible training and teaching, as
well as a degree in theology. Both were educational and enjoyable.
We are lucky to have such talented educators in our presence.
We hosted a graduate-level discussion on the
Apocryphal Gospel of Mary Magdalene, by Dr. Deidre Good, a
well-known theologian and scholar.
All of these programs were well received by
Our commitment to the community is proven by
our participation in the many possibilities provided to us. Our
parish donates food on a weekly basis to The Episcopal Feeding
Ministry, which is located at All Saints Episcopal Church where the
ministry is based.
Each Shrove Tuesday finds us preparing and
eating pancakes and bacon with our neighbors, St. Mary’s Roman
Catholic Church. Each year we alternate picking a charity, which
receives the free-will offering donated from this event. We
consider it an opportunity for reflection and giving as we proceed
to the Lenten season.
This year we celebrated our diversity with
our sister-church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, located in nearby
Stapleton. A Cultural Weekend was held on our grounds, with food of
cooked by the African and Caribbean members of our parishes. It was
enjoyed by all who participated and was a first of its kind, a joint
parishes fundraising event.
A collection box in the back of the church is
there for used eyeglasses, which are given to the Kiwanis Club for
distribution to the needy.
We have a donation box in the church which is
for items needed by our troops in Iraq. One of our parishioners is
responsible to send packages of collected items to the troops.
Last year our Church School students helped
organize the collection of Christmas gifts during October and
November. They brought them to the St. Nicholas Festival at the
Cathedral of St. John the Divine to be given to people who are
suffering with AIDS and their families and caregivers. Our parish
provided the largest donation and our church school youngest
participants there. We are proud of them!
Sponsorship is happily extended to the Cub
Scouts, Boy Scouts and the Venture Crew.
We are blessed to have three wonderful women
who see to it that each visitor who signs our guest book is sent a
welcoming, personal note. Our sick and shut-in members receive
cards reminding them we are praying for them.
Episcopal Churchwomen (ECW)
We have an active ECW group who do
fundraising for our special projects, and are counted on to bake and
cook for our special receptions. These women send flowers to the
shut-ins at Christmas and Easter as well.
At St. John’s we believe we are basically a
traditional parish although, we do not perceive ourselves to be
strictly High Church. On Sunday mornings, we celebrate the
Rite I Eucharist (no music) at 8:00a.m., and at 10:00 a.m., we
celebrate Rite II Eucharist with music and choir. Our 8 am
parishioners are faithful to this mass which is a said mass at our
“Lady Chapel.” The only time this mass is changed to 10 am is on
Christmas Day. The Rite II Sung Eucharist is each Sunday at 10 am
from September through June. During July and August the ordinaries
of the mass are not sung. Our Christmas Eve Mass is currently at 10
pm which we find more convenient for families and older parishioners
During Lent we have a service of Stations of
the Cross on Friday nights.
Staten Island has a very active IPC
(Inter-Parish Council) and we celebrate the feasts of All Saints and
Ascension as a community at those respective parishes.
We have an extremely close relationship with
our neighbor, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church which lies
approximately ˝ mile north of St. John’s on Bay Street. We have a
joint Blessing of the Palms on Palm Sunday at Von Briesen Park, also
on Bay Street then sing as we process to St. John’s where St. Mary’s
parishioners join us in prayer before they process to their church.
This has been a tradition for over a decade.
(Picture above is from Palm Sunday 2005 –
The Rev. Victor Buebendorf of St. Mary’s R.C. Church, The Rev.
Deacon Ted Clemens, The Rev. John Romig Johnson, and The Rev. Rhoda
Treherne-Thomas, in Von Briensen Park)
During Epiphany, St. Mary’s parishioners are
invited to St. John’s for Lessons and Carols. St. Mary’s hosts an
evensong during the Lenten or Easter Season. For these events our
priests also exchange pulpits as well.
Our parishioners are comfortable with and
committed to maintaining this schedule and to the use of both Rite I
and Rite II traditions. We are looking for a rector who shares these
values and who can bring clarity and relevance to the liturgy.
Canterbury House was a joint venture between
St. John’s Church and Sheldrake Corporation to offer affordable
housing for seniors in Staten Island. Two of our buildings, the
parish house and the sexton’s house, were raised and Canterbury
House was built on that property. The goal was for the parish to
provide outreach to the community as well as giving us a safe, dry
space for our functions and Church School. This project would also
relieve some of the church’s financial burdens while leaving a
legacy for future generations.
Canterbury House has 84 one-bedroom
apartments, which are affordable to seniors with specific income
guidelines. The residents have a community room, and St. John’s has
its own room to use for our coffee hour, and other parish functions.
The female residents have formed a social
group called the “Canterbury Girls,” which meets twice a month. Its
members hold social events that are popular with our parishioners as
Many of the residents have become active in
St. John’s, while others attend Thursday night Rosaries in their
As stated above, the parishioners at St.
John’s do not wish to change the times of Sunday services. We do,
however, wish to strengthen our youth involvement. It is our belief
that a rector, who can bring clarity and relevance to the liturgy
will inspire the youth in our community. We are seeking a rector,
who has strong skills as a preacher and as a teacher.
While most of our parishioners prefer a
traditional form of service, there are some who strongly believe
that we should explore other, more contemporary alternatives,
especially regarding music, which might appeal to younger
parishioners. To this end, members of our community have indicated
their willingness to offer their time and expertise in this