Little Church Is A Treasure In Vincentown
On Mill Street in Vincentown, there is a miniature white church that is like so many small white churches in towns all over the state of New Jersey and beyond. Situated on a grassy knoll on the west bank of the Rancocas Creek is Trinity Episcopal Church. It has been there for 137 years. In a town with so many historic locations, this little church is one of its treasures.
The size of the congregation has fluctuated over the years, but it has always remained a small church. It currently has approximately 165 members from 92 families. The parishioners come mainly from Southampton, (including Leisuretowne) and surrounding towns, but some travel much further. The church, which has had an up and down financial history, is currently self supporting. Contributes its full share to the Diocese of New Jersey in Trenton and has a significant outreach program.
Inside the church, the vaulted beamed ceiling and beautifully stained glass windows add to the hushed reverence of the sanctuary area which contains the altar, lecterns and choir seats. Beyond the communion rails there are 26 pews. Their solid oak construction adds to the beauty and speaks of the durability of this holy place. There is an attached parish hall used for meetings, Sunday School and events such as the pancake supper, held annually on "Shrove Tuesday," the day before Lent begins. There is also a small office for the vicar, a kitchen and a room that holds the vestments and altar maintenance supplies.
The long history of the church began in 1868 when an "itinerant missionary," Rev. T. M Reilly, held a service in Vincentown at the home of Dr. Samuel Woolston. After staying in the area for three months, he reported back to his superiors that he was "well received" and said that the community wanted to build a church. The cornerstone of the church was laid on September 27, 1871 by a Bishop Oldenheimer and the church had its first service on June 2 1872. The Rev. Lewis H. Lighthipe was the first vicar. The church was known then as the "Little brown Church In the Vale.” It was a wooden structure with a slate roof and "gingerbreadtrimming" along the roof‘s edge that was typical of what was called an "Upjohn" design. The construction took so much money, the builders were unable to complete the inside of the building. The altar area remained unfinished for a number of years.
The parish was officially organized April 14, 1873. In records written the day after Easter that year, Rev. Lighthipe wrote, "At this time, there are twenty-seven families, eighty seven individuals, eighteen communicants and thirty-one people in Sunday School.” He also noted that the Sunday School library had 65 volumes. One year later, he wrote in his journal not only the number of baptisms (two adults, 11 infants), but that there had been one marriage and one burial. In addition, the library had grown to 100 volumes. And the expenses for running the church for one year were $383.65. In November 1891, the first of what were to be several "prominent” marriages were held. Mary Stretch Irick of Vincentown married George W. Childs Drexel of Philadelphia. Records show that a special train carrying guests left Philadelphia at 9:30 a.m. and arrived in Vincentown just in time for the 11 a.m. nuptials.
In March of 1894, the altar area and sanctuary were finally completed and furnished by Mr. and Mrs. Drexel. Later, the couple also built a summer home on Mill Street and allowed it to be used as a church rectory. Rev. J. Franklin Long and his family became the first residents.
The Rev. Clare Connell, the previous vicar, was quoted as saying she considers the church a special place, "like finding a beautifully secluded grove in the park.” “There are times when at prayer in the early morning hours with the sun coming through the stained glass windows behind the altar, the serenity of the church is so apparent." In all the times the Rancocas Creek has over-flowed its banks, the water has never entered the sanctuary (except 8/12/04 and prior to that in 1940). Several times, it has come right up to the front door and stopped there. A little miracle? Or possibly just another interesting part of the story of the little white church on Mill Street in Vincentown.
(Adapted/updated from Central Record article by Jim Burke, 2/11/99)