St. John's History - 6. Canterbury House and the 21st Century
In 1994, Kenneth A. Ellis, the Senior Warden, received a phone call from an old friend, Jay Pelliconi. Mr. Ellis was formerly employed by Trinity Wall Street for twenty years before retiring as Executive Vice President of Operations. Mr. Pelliconi suggested that he contact the Reverend Peter Larum, President of the Episcopal Housing Corporation (EHC), to see if he could be of help to St. John’s. Mr. Ellis and the members of the Vestry – David Hayes, Jr., Vivian Murray, Gladys Schweiger, Brian Orlick, Lynn Phimister and Daniel Harris – along with Father Crothers met with Father Larum and the Board of EHC. As a result, a connection was made with a member of the Board who was a developer of affordable housing; it was this relationship that resulted in the building of the senior housing complex known as Canterbury House. In addition, the EHC provided St. John’s with a small startup loan. Canterbury House is comprised of 84 affordable units designated for senior citizens. Canterbury House offers beautiful views of New York Harbor and contains program space for the residents as well as a modern meeting space for parish functions and an apartment for the resident superintendent.
The Canterbury House project provided $250,000 generated from the development fees in addition to an annual land rental fee to the church. These funds were used for renovation of the rectory and for a number of remedial emergency repairs to the church. The parish augmented this sum in order to perform a more complete renovation of the rectory. The 1995 charge from the congregation was completed, and the parish was ready to confidently move into the 21st century.
Canterbury House was dedicated on September 10, 2000, with the Rt. Reverend E. Don Taylor officiating.
The parish began to reflect the changing makeup of the area, with new members of Liberian origin and many others from other countries. The new residents of the senior housing began to move in, and St. John's new-found ministry began.
The year 2000 brought about many changes in St. John's. With the addition of Canterbury House, the congregation recognized this new ministry, and welcomed the residents into the life of the church. Coffee hours became a time of fellowship that included lunch to which the residents were invited. Special events were attended by young and old, and an Activity Center for the seniors now offers weekly programs from grocery bingo to dance and exercise.
The Rev. John Romig Johnson was instituted on January 12, 2002. He, too, was a graduate of General Theological Seminary – 1960. He played college football at Furman University, South Carolina and was scouted by the Washington Redskins. He first served at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Great Falls, South Carolina, and left to return to Union Theological Seminary and the Rusk Institute. He retired in 2008.
The Reverend Roy S. Cole was born in San Diego, California into a Navy family. In 2002, Fr. Cole made his way to New York and, after completing a Masters in Sacred Theology at the General Seminary in Chelsea, and his dissertation for a Doctor of Ministry degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary, he became the Priest-in-Charge of two parishes in Yonkers, New York. In the fall of 2008, Fr. Cole accepted the Call to serve as Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, and moved to Staten Island with his son, Todd.
In addition to a new rector, 2008 brought a significant real estate crash causing significant distortions in the financial markets and an ensuing misappropriation of funds by the developer that was threatening the viability of Canterbury House. The Reverend Roy A. Cole was most critical to the future survival of the parish. Father Cole assumed direct oversight of Canterbury House and Rosehill HDFC, exhibiting a clear understanding of the facility and its complex partnership structure involving Lehman Housing Tax Credit Fund, Lehman Tax Credit Advisors Inc., and Sheldrake Organization, our co-general partner. Father Cole’s breadth of experience wedded to a quick command of the facts (including housing and partnership law) was critical when he discovered that the co-general partner was illegally appropriating a substantial portion of the project’s reserve funds. Subsequently he successfully led Rosehill HDFC and the parish through a complicated legal action with the full support of Bishop Sisk and the Chancellor of the Diocese that resulted in the removal of the co-general partner and a financial judgment. Father Cole completed negotiations with Lehman Housing Tax Credit Fund and Lehman Tax Credit Advisors Inc. that would transfer the 99.9% combined ownership interests held by these entities to St. John’s Church, making St. John’s the sole owner of Canterbury House.
At the same time that Father Cole was working through the Canterbury House issues, St. John’s Church suffered significant damage during the Nor’easter of 2009 and additional damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Father Cole managed to secure funding through insurance proceeds, grants, and charitable gifts of more than $1.2 million to completely renovate the interior and a significant portion of the exterior of the church, including the complete restoration of our heavily storm-damaged steeple.
In addition to the responsibilities associated with any growing, active parish, Fr. Cole has served as Adjunct Faculty at the General Seminary in the field of Pastoral Theology and is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Religion at Hunter College/ CUNY. In 2019, Fr. Cole accepted the call to serve in the Church of the Epiphany in Manhattan.
St. John's is excited for its upcoming journey as it embarks on a new chapter as we search for our spiritual leader into the future.