all saints interiorPHOTO: Interior of All Saints Episcopal Memorial Church

muriel j smith 120With a cornerstone that dates to Oct. 7, 1863, and a devout and dedicated community that goes back even further, All Saints Memorial Church…Stone Church, to everyone who passes this wonderful building in Locust….has been a part of the history of the Bayshore and an important factor in the lives of parishioners and non-parishioners alike.

   The Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey at the time, the Right Rev. William Odenheimer was here for that ceremony which officially began the building that had been the dream of Mrs. James A. Edgar. When Mrs. Edgar died before she had her wish fulfilled, her father, John H. Stephens,  her husband, and other family members took up her cause with new fervor and by 1864, with a Civil War still raging in another part of the country, All Saints Memorial Church in the Highlands of Navesink became a living, breathing church. Among the many fine names connected with the first leaders of the church was Robert Hartshorne, one of the first wardens, and Edward M. Hartshorne, an early vestryman. The Hartshornes have been a vital part of the church, as they have been of Monmouth County, for many generations.

  Within 15 years, the uniqueness of the church designed by the famous father and son team of Richard Upjohn was making headlines far outside of Navesink. Upjohn, British born architect known for his Gothic designs, and whose designs and plans are filed both at Columbia University and the Library of Congress, had designed churches from North Carolina to Maine. But it was the Navesink church that Harper’s New Monthly magazine described in an article as “an exquisite little English Gothic Church, looking as if some genii had borne it over the sea and dropped it on the sunny side of the hill, built of the warm-tinted breccias or puddingstone of the highlands trimmed with red sandstone, its mullioned windows half concealed by a rich growth of ivy that mantled the walls to the very top of the tiny tower…”  Within the church, the writer described the “oaken pews, carved font and balustrade, simple altar dimly lighted by richly colored glass, with a tablet on the south wall honoring John and Lydia Stephens.

  By that time, a school building and a rectory were also on site “hidden in vines and surrounded by flowers.”

all saints stained glassThe church was served by a number of different rectors over the years, some here for the winter months, some for the summer, as the parish struggled to grow, reduce debt and serve the area.

   During the First World War, the parishioners of All Saints were in the forefront of assistance, helping the Red Cross in their work for the soldiers. At least 33 men from the parish served during that war,  it appears that only one, Paul Montanye Brunig, was killed in action, a plaque in the church notes Brunig was killed in France on the Feast of St. Michael, Sept. 29, 1918. During the Second World War, All Saints was again making headlines for all the Red Cross and USO activities ongoing in the parish house. This included a casualty station with emergency accommodations for 20 beds, complete with medical professionals and an ambulance on call. Eight-four parishioners served I that war from the church…none was killed in action.

  In the 20th century, the Hartshorne name was again a prominent part of church records, this being Robert, grandson of the first warden and himself a vestryman for a quarter of a century. It was in the 1920s when Robert supervised the building of the stone walls that surround and protect the church terraces.

   It was the Rev. Harry R. Sorensen, who became rector in 1962 and served the parish for many years,  who led the congregation through the grief and shock of the President Kennedy assassination in 1963. The church was opened to allow congregants to come in, pray and  receive consolation; the lectern, pulpit and doors were draped in black, and the Rev. Sorensen reminded his people of an earlier Presidential assassination, the one that occurred a few short months after the church was officially dedicated.  Father Sorensen read the minutes of the Vestry meeting from April 19, 1865, when the vestry expressed their sense of bereavement and their horror at the crime of President’ Lincoln’s assassination and directed that the church at that time be draped in black for four weeks.

  Today, the Church is alive and well, thriving in the hands of Mother Debbie Cook, a happy, outgoing, and most inviting religious leader eager to share the history and heritage of the church, and a solid congregation always eager for new members and always promoting activities both within and outside the church walls.  A visit to the church is a step back in history when you take the time to admire and learn the stories of the stained glass windows or read the plaques dedicated to you founders, rectors, children, and military members. Notice the brass baptismal ewer from the 19th century, the wall hangings, vestments, and  even the needlepoint kneeler at the altar rail. Each piece tells a story of its own.

   For  those more interested in outside entertainment, there’s that here as well. The Stone Church Players are gearing up for this year’s spectacular performance of Man of La Mancha, and promise it will be even more spectacular and magnificent than previous productions such as Mame,  Miracle on 34th St  or any other the other plays they’ve done so well. Tickets are still available at $25, or $20 for senior citizens or students, by calling 732-226-6131. The play begins at 8 p.m. on June 17th, 18th, 24th and 25th,  and matinees on June 19 and 26 are at 2 p.m.

   On Sunday, June 12, after the 9:30 a.m. service, there’s a special potluck coffee hour to celebrate Andy Walsh’s ministry for many years at All Saints. Andy and his family are heading south and the church members want to be sure he knows how much he’s appreciated right here in Navesink.