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The history of Messiah a.k.a. “St. Elsie’s”

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 a local 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 to 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 vicarage.

From the beginning our rural location has been both a blessing and a curse. We are blessed with a beautiful piece of property centrally located between the two towns we were intended to serve, but it has the disadvantage of being miles from either town center and the foot traffic and visibility that would bring.


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 convinced we would soon outgrow our facilities. We approached the Department of Missions and they agreed to help us finance a second phase of building construction. The project, originally expected

to cost $200,000, ended up costing $1,200,000. Due to site peculiarities and the character of the existing buildings, there were no cheap solutions. We were convinced that if we built it, we would grow. We did build it, the effort was exhausting but rewarding, but we did not grow.


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 and drew diverse people together.  Jeannette was a good teacher and a variety of adult forum courses were available during her tenure. But our overall size never increased much from what it was in the late 1980’s.


Under Jeannette’s leadership, the Messiah Community Resource Center (MCRC) was incorporated in 2000 in order to provide us with an effective structure for outreach to the elderly in our area. Our original plan was to open an adult day care center in our spacious building, but we have begun more modestly. In 2006, in partnership with Family Service of Morris County, a respected private social service agency, we opened the Senior Resource Center at the church, with an experienced social worker working part-time.


The Diocese both held the mortgage and subsidized 100% of our mortgage payments until 2001, when they restructured their investment and forgave the mortgage. Once we were debt-free, we were eligible for parish status, and in January 2002, Messiah was welcomed as a new parish. Approximately 50 parishioners

dressed in blue work shirts bearing the Messiah Logo marched into Diocesan Convention with banners to celebrate the occasion. It was an exciting step in the life of Messiah!

After 11 years at Messiah, Jeannette left in December 2004 to accept a call to a larger church in the Chicago area. With the help of the Rev. John Mitchell and Deacon Diane Riley, we made a smooth transition to the leadership of the Rev. John Negrotto, an experienced Interim Pastor. Fr. Negrotto joined us in August of 2005. 

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


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