When the first sanctuary of Messiah was dedicated on Sunday, September 25, 1983, The Rt. Rev. John S. Spong dubbed the church “St Elsie’s” because the sanctuary was, in fact, a newly converted dairy barn. We enjoyed that nickname for many years and still have a banner bearing the likeness of a cow!
Over 4 years of work led up to that dedication service. Bishop Spong and the Department of Missions determined the need for establishing a mission in the Chester/Long Valley area in the late 1970’s. The Rev. Jay Taylor began knocking on doors, and the new congregation began meeting in homes in March of 1979. By September 1979, 30 to 40 members began regular Sunday worship in West Morris High School.
Search for a permanent place of worship began, and a dairy farm located on the main thoroughfare between Chester and Long Valley was selected. The lower level of the barn was transformed into a sanctuary, with a meeting room, an office, a small sacristy/choir room, and toilets on the same level. The upper level of the barn was left for the bats and future expansion. Sunday school and nursery were located in a 2-stall stable behind the church. A converted cider mill/distillery with thick stone walls became the residence for the priest.
Jay Taylor retired at the end of 1985 and Joe Pickard became our second Vicar in the fall of 1986. New housing developments were blossoming all over the area in the mid- to late-1980’s and we at Messiah were optimistic that we would soon outgrow our facilities. What was anticipated as a modest Sunday School addition turned into a major expansion, with a huge new basement under a new sanctuary, with a large new parish hall and full kitchen. Because our beautiful rural site includes wetlands, we could only expand our footprint once (and with many restrictions at that), so we built to meet all of our anticipated needs many years into the future. Fortunately the Diocese supported us in every way, including financially. Bishop Spong dedicated the new sanctuary on November 1, 1992.
Joe Pickard announced his resignation less than a year later and Jeannette DeFriest was appointed Vicar in November 1993. Our 11 years with Jeannette were peaceful and productive ones. She fostered a sense of community as we grew into our new space. She achieved one of her goals when our little mission attained parish status in 2002 and she became Rector instead of Vicar. The Diocese forgave our large mortgage, allowing us to use our resources to grow and contribute to our local community. Jeannette's other major accomplishment during her tenure was spearheading the organization of what was originally called the Messiah Community Resource Center. Incorporated in 2000 as a non-profit, with 501-c3 status provided through the Episcopal Church, MCRC provided us with an effective structure for outreach to the elderly in our area. This organization, now known as the Senior Resource Center (SRC) has grown to offer counseling and referrals to seniors and their caregivers, as well as a full program of exercise classes and Lunch-n-Learn seminars on a wide variety of topics of interest to seniors. The offices and most of the programs are located at the church. In 2019 the SRC gained its own 501-c3 status.
When Jeannette left in December 2004 to accept a call to a larger church in the Chicago area, we began the search process for a new rector. Fortunately for us, the Rev. John Negrotto was available to serve as our capable interim pastor. Father John helped us to keep focused, and our sense of community grew during his tenure. It took almost 3 years, but after a careful and thorough search we invited the Rev. Margaret Otterburn to become our second Rector.
Margaret arrived in October 2007 and was installed on December 18, 2007, by Bishop Mark Beckwith at a celebration service. She had boundless energy, and we offered more worship services, more educational programs, more social events, more of everything! She greatly expanded our outreach to the community (Thrift Shop, cooking regularly for Homeless Solutions, regular support for 2 local food pantries, gifts for needy families at Christmas and Easter, etc.) We also offer programs for kids including summer Vacation Bible Camp, and a regular Sunday School program for all ages. Our buildings are almost always in use, and we are continually evolving to meet the needs of our congregation and larger community! Margaret's time with us came to an end on June 19, 2022, when she officially retired from the ministry. We are thankful for her service, boundless energy and the growth of our programs during her time with us.
We are the community of Messiah, bound together in love and service of Our Lord.