Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
Last Saturday, I had the honor and delight of joining the people of St. Thomas, Pittstown, Alexandria to celebrate the 300th Anniversary of that church. The origins of St. Thomas go back to 1723. According to the book The Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey, 1785–1985: Forward with Christ, compiled to commemorate the diocesan bicentennial by the Reverend David R. King, Historiographer of the Diocese at that time, “St. Thomas’ [sic], labeled ‘a forest sanctuary’ is the oldest Episcopal Church in today’s Hunterdon County. It’s first building, a log structure, erected in 1723 on the Pittstown Road near Everittstown, was ministered to by the Reverend John Talbot, the ‘Apostle of New Jersey’.”
John Talbot was a missionary who was sent in 1702 to the American Colony from England by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (S.P.G.). In 1703, Talbot laid the foundation stone of St. Mary’s Church, Burlington on the Feast of the Annunciation and ended up serving as their rector from 1704 until his death in 1727.
I look forward to being with Fr. Connor Haynes—the current rector of St. Mary’s—and the faithful people of that parish when I’m there for a visitation this coming Sunday. Interestingly, John Talbot was reportedly the first Anglican bishop in the American colonies, although one must add an asterisk to this as his ordination as a so-called “non-juror” bishop was highly irregular and never officially recognized. He also never performed any official Episcopal acts, at least as far as is known.
One of the things I treasure about serving as Bishop of New Jersey is the rich history of this diocese. Of course, history is a complicated thing. Honesty requires us to acknowledge our history contains both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. For example, many of our oldest congregations were complicit in the practice of slavery. Our Reparations Commission is currently helping us recover some of the ugly truths of our past that have too often been repressed. It’s vitally important work that we all should support as it will lead us toward being a healthier diocese and people.
In preparing for my visit to St. Thomas, Alexandria last Sunday, it became clear that their history was not dissimilar to that of many of our congregations. Over its 300 years, the fortunes of St. Thomas Church have “waxed and waned.” There were long stretches of time—during the time of the American Revolution and American Civil War, for example—that the building was abandoned and neglected. But inevitably, faithful people in the area came along, repaired and refreshed the church and, by God’s grace, revitalized worship and Christ’s mission in that community.
The history of St. Thomas is a story of perseverance, resilience, and hope, often in the face of enormous obstacles. It is the story of people committed to faith in Jesus Christ and to life lived in name and in his way.
In truth, this continues to be the story of St. Thomas and of all our congregations in this pandemic era. Our congregations are made up of faithful people committed to the love of Jesus Christ and to his mission of reconciliation. They are committed to community and service together as members of the body of Christ. They, we, exemplify perseverance, resilience and hope, often in the face of enormous obstacles.
Well, no one ever promised Christian living would be easy or without obstacles. After all, what is the cross but an enormous obstacle? It is, however, an obstacle overcome by Christ and his resurrection at Easter. In his victory is our hope. Our faith is in Christ Jesus, the risen one, who calls us each by name and leads us out (John 10:3). What an important thing for us to remember as we prepare to observe “Good Shepherd Sunday.”
May God continue to bless you with a joyful Eastertide.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Right Reverend William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey
 The Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey – 1785 – 1985: Forward with Christ, compiled by the Reverend David R. King, Published by The Diocesan Bicentennial Committee, 1985, 19.
 See “Talbot, John” – An Episcopal Dictionary of The Episcopal Church (on-line) found at Talbot, John – The Episcopal Church
 See McFarland, Cynthia Recovering John Talbot published by the author, 2011
 See “Our Roots” on the St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Alexandria website at History — St. Thomas Episcopal Church (stthomasepc.org)