History of the Church of the Holy Cross
40 Mercer Avenue
North Plainfield, NJ 07060
Organized in 1868, the Church of the Holy Cross was the first established church in the borough of North Plainfield. The church, in fact, predates the borough, which was created on April 2, 1872. On Tuesday, August 4, 1868, ground was broken for the church in which we now worship. About a year later, on Sunday, June 13, 1869, the first service was held in the building with a dedication liturgy. A few years later on Holy Cross Day, Thursday, September 14, 1876, the church was consecrated by Bishop Scarborough.
On the same day the church was consecrated, the corner stone for what is now known as Spooner Hall was also laid. The minutes of a vestry meeting held on September 11, 1876, tell of a legacy from the estate of Mrs. Jane E. Spooner in the amount of $3,000 which was to be used"... for the erection of a Parish school to educate poor children" and was to be called "Memorial Hall."
There is a fascinating story about how the church came into existence: The Reverend Edmund Embury had visited the area. Finding no Episcopal church around, he felt that it was the perfect place for a church. He personally donated the money to buy the land and build and furnish the church. This amounted to about $21,000. The Reverend Embury gave the church to the community of the faithful with one rather unusual condition: The original deed of the church includes the stipulation that"... the said premises forever be upon the trust as a free church of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America under the supervision and jurisdiction of the Bishops of said Church within whose diocese the said premises are situate: all of the sittings of which shall forever be free..." In other words, there was to be no pew tax1.
In 1878 a weekly envelope system of contributions was instituted, being one of the earliest moves toward a systematic program of church support in this country. After the church was built, the Vestry called Embury on October 4, 1870, to be the first rector. In 1871 the parish was admitted into union with the Diocese of New Jersey.
Ground was broken for the Chapel wing in 1938. The following year the outdoor Resurrection Altar was built in the churchyard. The first Easter Sunrise Service was held there in 1945. The present rectory was purchased in 1944, bringing nearly the entire block into the possession of Holy Cross Church.
The erection of Embury hall in 1957 completed the complex. The grounds comprise approximately five acres of land dotted with many rare and unique trees planted by one of the former owners of the rectory2. His botanical interest has attracted many unusual birds that live in the churchyard.
In 1980, the North Plainfield Borough Council rezoned the area around the church as the Washington Park Historic District and the "American Carpenter Gothic" church building is considered to be a "centerpiece" of this neighborhood of stately Victorian-era homes.
As the years have gone by, many of these large houses have been divided into multiple family dwellings, but the parish continues to serve those who live nearby and those who live in the other areas of the community with a wide range of Christian activity which begins at the altar.
Old pictures of the church invariably show children as part of our active parish life. For many years there was a large boys' choir. We now have a small children's choir with both boys and girls. Today our Christian education program continues to be an integral part of our ministry. In the 1970's we were known for creating a curriculum fashioned around the theme of "The Wizard of Oz." Currently, our Sunday school program includes children from 2 ½ years old and continues through high school. The classes meet each week on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. during the school year and at 9 a.m. during the summer. In addition to classroom study, our classes integrate cooking, drama, art projects and computers into the curriculum. And, in every Sunday liturgy, our children are given undivided attention in what has become known as "The Kids' Chat."
In 1956, Holy Cross Pre-School was founded and has established an impressive reputation in the community. The school is non-profit and fees are kept low so that it may be of service to the community. The school strives to provide a safe, positive, and caring learning environment to the students. It is also one of three preschools contracted by the North Plainfield Board of Education under a series of one-year agreements to provide a pre-kindergarten program. The Board of Education sets the curriculum, goals and direction of the Pre-K program.
Through the years, members of Holy Cross parish have taken an active part in the outreach of the convocation and the Diocese. In 1962, delegates from Holy Cross introduced a resolution at the Diocesan Convention which allowed women to serve as vestry members in this Diocese.
Several of our parishioners have been called into the ordained ministry. In 1966, James Heron was ordained to the deaconate and then to the priesthood. In June of 1968, Andrew Smith was ordained deacon and became a priest in 1969. A number of years later, in 1995, he was elected Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Connecticut. Mr. Carl E. Christiansen was ordained a priest in January, 1978. Mr. John R. Dill was ordained as a member of the first class of permanent deacons of the Diocese in 1985. Charlotte Risberg Wells, who grew up in our parish, was ordained to the priesthood in December of 2008. She is now the Rector at the Church of the Redeemer in Pendleton, Oregon. The Rt. Rev James J. "Bud" Shand was also a parishioner; he retired in 2014 as the Bishop of the Diocese of Easton, MD. And finally, Ann Urinoski, who also grew up in our parish, completed her studies at General Theological Seminary in New York City and was ordained a priest on June 18, 2016, here at Holy Cross Church.
In October of 2002, Betty’s Basement, a thrift shop conceived by Betty Bradley, was opened in the Chapel Wing basement. The income from the thrift shop helps to maintain the church. Volunteers from our parish staff the store which sells donated clothing, small pieces of furniture, knick-knacks, household items and children’s toys. The store is open on Tuesdays (2-4 p.m.), Fridays (6:30-8:30 p.m.) and Saturdays (9 a.m. to 12 noon). Betty’s Basement has become a regular stop for many in our community.
In April of 2004, nine of our parishioners were commissioned as Stephen Ministers, a program in which “Christians care for other Christians in a uniquely Christian way.” We have several parishioners who are Lay Eucharistic Visitors and can take communion to our homebound parishioners on Sundays.
Some of our other ministries have included teaching an "English as a Second Language" class free of charge and holding evening prayer at the Park Hotel in Plainfield on a quarterly basis. Some of our current ministries include: serving at Grace's Kitchen, a soup kitchen at Grace Church in Plainfield; hosting homeless dinners for guests of FISH, a homeless hospitality organization, and outreach to those in need in our community.
Our former Rector, the Reverend W. Kenneth Gorman, retired to Avalon, New Jersey, on October 28, 2012. His move was delayed a week by the advent of Hurricane Sandy when a large tree fell on our Bell Tower.
The Bell Tower was restored and dedicated in loving memory of Charles Peterson and in honor of his wife, Marion (Gloria) Peterson on June 9, 2013. Charlie & Gloria were long time devoted and loved parishioners of this church.
In November of 2013 we welcomed our new Priest in Charge, Father Kwabena Owusu-Afriyie (Father O), his wife, Mabel and sons, Stanley and Stanton. After serving at Holy Cross for one and one half years, Father O fell ill and was unable to serve. In June, 2016.
All of our parish programs have continued under lay leadership since May, 2015. As we celebrate this Holy Cross Sunday, we look forward to a new year, new friends and new and exciting challenges.
September 14, 2016
Happy 140th Anniversary, Holy Cross Church,
and many, many more to come!
1 In some churches, pews were installed at the expense of the congregants, and were their personal property; there was no general public seating in the church itself. In these churches, pew deeds recorded title to the pews, and were used to convey them. Pews were originally purchased from the church by their owners under this system, and the purchase price of the pews went to the costs of building the church. A notice that the pews were to be free in perpetuity was sometimes erected as a condition of building grants.
2 There is a map with a legend of the trees planted on our property available. Some of these trees have succumbed to disease and storms over the years. Click here to see the map.