Church of St. Uriel the Archangel Sea Girt, New Jersey
On January 13, 1901, Margaret Lennig Oglesby gathered a small group of Episcopalians for worship at her oceanfront home “Sandown” in Sea Girt, New Jersey. The officiant was the Rev. Charles Fiske (who twenty-three years later would become Bishop of Central New York).
Born in 1845, Mrs. Oglesby had been a parishioner of Saint Mark’s, Locust Street, in Philadelphia, a parish well-known for its long association with the Catholic revival in the Episcopal Church. After her husband died in 1881, she purchased her home in Sea Girt - a town in a previously rural area made newly accessible to summer residents and vacationers by the railroad’s arrival in 1875.
Initially, Mrs. Oglesby had ridden by horseback to attend Sunday services at Christ Church, Allaire, six miles away. Sometime in the late 1890s or early 1900s, however, the Rt. Rev. John Scarborough, Bishop of New Jersey, suggested that she establish a year-round mission church in Sea Girt itself. Financial support for the mission came from wealthy Philadelphians, including Charles Van Pelt and William H. Wanamaker.
The Mission Church
After regular services got under way at Mrs. Oglesby’s home, the mission obtained the land for the present church building from Dr. R. S. Knight, receiving the deed on January 4, 1902. Desiring a unique dedication, Mrs. Oglesby chose Saint Uriel the Archangel “as a traditional guardian of the wind and wave.”
The building’s cornerstone was dedicated on Easter Day, April 6, 1903. Two weeks later, on the Second Sunday after Easter, April 26, the Rev. Charles Fiske recorded the first register entry, a baptism, listing the building as the place of service. Representatives from the new Mission of Saint Uriel the Archangel attended the New Jersey Diocesan Convention meeting in Camden on May 6. The year 1903 also saw the completion of a trolley line running the length of Sea Girt on Third Avenue, allowing Episcopalians from nearby Spring Lake and Belmar easy travel to the new church.
Although the interior was initially “plain as plain,” memorial gifts soon began arriving for its beautification. One of the earliest and most striking was the circular angel window over the central altar, executed by J. & R. Lamb Studios and given in memory of Rosa Mumma in 1904.
The final payment for the building’s construction was presented at the Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 9, 1906. Mrs. Oglesby wrote to Bishop Scarborough that “my work and that of Mr. Charles E. Van Pelt is finished—a loving offering to God and to your Diocese.” She requested that the building’s consecration be scheduled for the following July, “when the summer season is in full swing and many will be domiciled here who have contributed to our work.” Bishop Scarborough duly consecrated St. Uriel’s Church on Thursday, July 25, 1907.
St. Uriel’s Mission was served by a succession of visiting supply priests. In 1908, efforts at raising funds to build a rectory began so that a resident priest could provide greater continuity and leadership. The original rectory, completed in 1913, stood in the location now occupied by the parish offices. Its first occupant was the Rev. Walter A. A. Gardner, Priest-in-Charge from 1913 to 1915.
The Rev. Henry Clay Mitchell arrived as Priest-in-Charge in April 1915, bringing his wife and two sons—the first family to live in the rectory. He was the first priest to wear Eucharistic vestments at St. Uriel’s, using a green set given by Mrs. Oglesby, along with an amice and alb made by the Sisters of Saint Mary in Peekskill, New York. Mrs. Oglesby had become an Associate of the Community in 1912, making her first Confession at Peekskill at the age of 70.
The gift of a sanctuary lamp suggests that at least part-time reservation of the Blessed Sacrament had begun by 1917. Memorials to parishioners fallen in the First World War included a set of six altar candles and a hanging Rood with a Crucifix between figures of Our Lady and the Beloved Disciple.
The Parish in the 1920s
After Henry Mitchell departed in 1918 to become Rector of Christ Church, South Amboy (and later, of Saint Mary’s, Wayne, Pennsylvania), Saint Uriel’s achieved parish status in 1919.
The first Rector was the Rev. Harold Rowley Lascelles (pronounced to rhyme with “tassels”), an English priest educated at the Marlborough School and St. John’s College, Oxford. After ordination in 1898, Fr. Lascelles immigrated with his family to the United States in 1910, and, after stays in Nebraska and Wyoming, arrived at St. Uriel’s in August 1919.
With the support of Mrs. Oglesby and parishioner John Barber, Fr. Lascelles immediately began moving the parish in a more Anglo-Catholic Ritualist direction. Beginning on September 3, 1919, the Holy Eucharist -soon a Sung Mass—became the principal Sunday service; a daily Eucharist was celebrated at 7:35 am. The use of incense began at Easter in 1920. The Feast of Corpus Christi was observed in 1920, with the addition two years later of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, which thereafter often followed Evensong on Sunday afternoons. The present Stations of the Cross were used for the first time in Lent of 1922. Lascelles was the first St. Uriel’s priest to be known and addressed as “Father.”
Fr. Lascelles initiated preaching missions at St. Uriel’s by members of visiting religious orders, including the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (or “Cowley Fathers”), the Anglican Franciscans, and the Order of the Holy Cross in West Park, New York. In the years since, the parish has maintained relations with several Anglican religious communities, especially the Community of Saint John Baptist in Mendham, whose Sisters frequently worshiped at St. Uriel’s while staying at their vacation house in nearby Manasquan.
Remodeling of the church interior in the 1920s included creation of two side Altars: to the left a Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and to the right a Lady Chapel, complete with a striking statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Infant Christ. The first Eucharist at the Lady Altar was celebrated on May 10, 1924. After a fire destroyed the church’s west tower on March 10, 1922, the main entrance was moved to the church’s southwest corner; the nave’s west end was reconfigured with its present arrangement of a baptismal bay under the organ loft.
The death of Mrs. Oglesby on April 9, 1929, followed by the resignation of Fr. Lascelles on August 1, marked the end of a decisively formative era in the parish’s history. St. Uriel’s identity as an Anglo-Catholic parish was firmly established. Much of the church interior’s present appearance remains unchanged from this period.
The 1930s: Years of Struggle
The second Rector, the Rev. Frederick F. Snow, was elected in 1929. During the torpedoing and sinking of the ship in which he was sailing as part of a singing group in the First World War, he had vowed to seek ordination to the priesthood if he survived. He subsequently trained at Nashotah House in Wisconsin and was ordained in the Diocese of Milwaukee.
In February 1930, Fr. Snow launched an entertaining newsletter, Tidings, featuring fictional letters to imaginary friends describing goings-on in the parish. In 1932, he formed a Boys Choir. Plagued by recurrent heart troubles, however, he resigned on October 1, 1932, after a three-year rectorate.
The third Rector, Harry J. Pearson, was elected on November 10. Born in England and educated at Wycliffe College, Toronto, he was already well-known to the parish, having officiated during Fr. Snow’s absences. He declared that St. Uriel’s mission was “the amplification of the Catholic faith in its entirety.” The parish “must stand four-square to the winds of heaven as staunch and loyal Catholics.”
The Great Depression brought new challenges, reflected in Fr. Pearson’s correspondence with Bishop Urban about the amount of the diocesan assessment. During this period, the parish mortgaged the rectory to gain funds for necessary repairs. Then, on October 6, 1935, Fr. Pearson unexpectedly resigned as Rector.
His successor, Thaddeus Jerome Hayden, Jr. was elected on November 10. A graduate of Brown University and the General Theological Seminary, Fr. Hayden had been ordained to the diaconate at St. Stephen’s Church in Providence, and to the priesthood at Trinity, Wall Street, subsequently serving at Trinity’s St. Augustine’s Chapel on the Lower East Side. Fr. Hayden was recommended to the Vestry by Dr. Frank Gavin, a distinguished professor at General Seminary, and by the Rev. Dr. Frederic S. Fleming, Trinity Church’s Rector (who had also been Fr. Hayden’s mentor in Providence). During Fr. Hayden’s tenure, the rectory often hosted visiting members of the General Seminary Faculty.
As an accommodation to non-Episcopalians living in Sea Girt, where St. Uriel’s was the only church, Fr. Hayden introduced Morning Prayer with Sermon as the last service on Sunday mornings. He also was the first priest to invite children to come to the altar rail for a blessing during the administration of Holy Communion.
Having arrived at St. Uriel’s as a bachelor, Fr. Hayden surprised the parish by marrying Miss Ethel F. Scott of New York City in a small ceremony at Trinity, Wall Street on June 18, 1938.
Under Fr. Hayden’s leadership, the parish gradually recovered from the financial straits of the Great Depression. A bequest of $10,000 was received from the estate of Miss Susan S. Miles, who as a shut-in had frequently received Communion at home from Fr. Lascelles before becoming a Roman Catholic. By 1939, fundraising was under way for construction of a new parish hall, completed in 1940.
Following his relatively short but highly successful rectorate, Fr. Hayden left St. Uriel’s to become Rector of Christ Church, Elizabeth, on September 1, 1941.
The Miller Years: Expansion and Growth
The fifth Rector, Raymond H. Miller, was one of several candidates suggested to the Vestry by Bishop Gardner of New Jersey. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Lehigh University who had trained for the priesthood at Philadelphia Divinity School, Fr. Miller had rendered sterling service as Vicar of St. Mary’s, Clementon. He was called to St. Uriel’s in August 1941.
One of Fr. Miller’s first actions was to appoint a committee to regulate use of the newly built parish hall, which was already becoming a major center of activity for organizations and groups in the local community.
In 1947, Fr. Miller shared with the Vestry plans for a new reredos, featuring panels depicting the Archangels Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel, to be given as memorials at $400 each towards the overall cost of $2,000. The striking altarpiece, executed by J. & R. Lamb Studios, remains today the dominant visual feature of the St. Uriel’s sanctuary.
In 1949, the parish began construction of a new Church School Annex (which now houses the Preschool), completed in 1950 and first used in Advent of that year. The distinctive holly hedge bordering St. Uriel’s grounds—sadly now unmanageably overgrown—was planted in memory of Everhard Stokes, one of St. Uriel’s leading members, who was among 83 persons who lost their lives in the Woodbridge commuter train derailment of February 3, 1951.
The 1950s saw unprecedented levels of church attendance throughout the United States as the young families of veterans of the Second World War began raising the children of the Baby Boom generation. St. Uriel’s successfully rode this wave of church growth under Fr. Miller’s capable leadership. James B. Simpson notes that “during this period of large attendance and numerous activities … St. Uriel’s musical program became one of the best in the diocese.”
St. Uriel’s fiftieth anniversary year—which the parish has dated from the cornerstone dedication in 1903—saw the hiring of the first full-time curate, James J. English. His ordination to the priesthood on October 25, 1953, is believed to have been the first at St. Uriel’s. Through the following decades, a succession of dedicated curates ably served the parish. The banner, made by the Sisters of Bethany in England, also dates from the anniversary year of 1953.
Friday evening canteens for high school students, organized by the Rev. Allen S. Bollinger, Curate from 1955 to 1960, were a distinctive feature of the parish’s life and outreach during this period, continuing until 1967. A chapter of the Brotherhood of Saint Andrew, established on October 8, 1957, became the sponsor of numerous men’s activities.
In 1957, the present rectory at 222 Baltimore Boulevard was completed: a beautiful home lovingly maintained and improved by the parish in the years since. A decade later, the site of the old rectory was taken up by the new Administrative Wing, built with a bequest from Anna B. Bent, and completed in 1968.
St. Uriel’s established a mission congregation in nearby Wall Township: St. Michael’s, which held its first public service on Thanksgiving Day, 1956. Its Vicar was the Rev. Samuel Robinson Knight, a former St. Uriel’s Vestryman ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral in Trenton on November 2, 1957. (Saint Michael’s became an independent parish in 1974.) St. Uriel’s sponsored another mission in 1961, the present St. Raphael’s Church in Brick. Fr. Miller wrote, “It is more realistic to think in terms of a building where the growth is taking place than enlarge the plant here and try to bring people several miles to attend it.”
The present twenty-rank Austin organ was built and installed in 1964, replacing a much smaller four-rank instrument. Its dedicatory concert took place on January 10, 1965. Fr. Miller described it as “of great charm, possessing many of the delicate, quaint solo colors and the bright, clear ensemble sounds associated with organs of the 17th and 18th centuries.”
After a distinguished rectorate of nearly three decades, Fr. Miller announced his resignation on September 11, 1970. An indication of the esteem in which the wider Diocese of New Jersey held him was his being made an honorary Canon of Trinity Cathedral, and his election as a clerical deputy to each triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church from 1958 until he retired.
Years of Change: the 1970s and 1980s
During the summer of 1970, Bishop Banyard of New Jersey gave St. Uriel’s Vestry a list of five priests to consider, including that of James Edward Hulbert, Rector of Holy Trinity, South River. Fr. Hulbert was elected in November 1970 and instituted as Rector in February 1971.
James B. Simpson notes that the 1970s marked the beginning of a period of turbulence in the Episcopal Church, reflecting rapid changes in the wider society and culture. St. Uriel’s Rector and Vestry tended to take conservative positions, opposing General Convention special programs making grants to “liberal groups,” the new Prayer Book (then being developed in a series of trial rites), and women’s ordination.
Fr. Hulbert started a popular Rector’s Forum, which took place between the 9:15 and 11:15 Eucharists. In his work in the parish, he was ably assisted by a succession of curates and seminarians. The hand-carved altar rail gate, bearing the inscription “God is my Light,” was installed in 1975.
Vocations to the priesthood during this period included that of John Moser, originally a Lutheran from Sea Girt who attended Brown University and was attracted to the Episcopal Church through the campus ministry of St. Stephen’s Church in Providence. Turned down by the Bishop of Rhode Island, he was sponsored for postulancy in the Diocese of New Jersey by St. Uriel’s and entered Nashotah House in 1974. There he served as secretary to Michael Ramsey, who was resident at the House for six semesters following his retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury. After his ordination in Trenton, Moser served as Curate of St. George’s Church in Dallas, Texas, and at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. In 1981, he became Rector of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Shortly after his Institution, however, he was killed in a head-on collision with an automobile driven by an elderly woman the wrong way on an exit ramp. The Lady Chapel at Green Bay is dedicated to him, and the Church of the Good Shepherd commissioned a triptych by artist Davis d’Ambly to honor his memory.
Another significant vocation to the priesthood during the 1970s was that of Russell A. Griffin, who had grown up at St. Uriel’s and entered Nashotah House in 1976 upon his graduation from Norwich University in Vermont. In 1979, Fr. Griffin was put in charge of St. Mark’s Mission in Sicklerville, New Jersey, where he oversaw the construction of a church building in 1986 with financial assistance from St. Uriel’s. (Eighteen years later, in 2004, Fr. Griffin became St. Uriel’s ninth Rector.)
In January 1982, Fr. (now Canon) Hulbert was able to tell the annual parish meeting that St. Uriel’s ranked sixth in the Diocese of New Jersey (Simpson does not however specify the basis of this ranking), and in terms of diocesan support and assessment, in the top ten percent of parishes across the country. Unable to support all diocesan policies, however, the parish placed its assessment funds in escrow that year instead of forwarding them to Trenton. St. Uriel’s also shifted its financial support from General Seminary to Nashotah House, which in turn conferred an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree on Canon Hulbert on May 20, 1982.
A further initiative during this period was the establishment in 1986 of the St. Uriel Foundation, arranged by attorney Gilbert Van Note. Its purpose, in Canon Hulbert’s words, was “to receive and supervise the capital assets of the parish for welfare and extension of future parish needs” and to “enable the parish to take advantage of … legacies and bequests, which in the past we were denied because possibly future vestries might not be able to preserve and properly protect major capital assets.” At this time, also, St. Uriel’s also joined the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP).
The concluding paragraphs of Regent of the Sun describe the “Succession Committee” appointed by the Vestry in 1986 to plan for the selection of a new Rector well in advance of Canon Hulbert’s approaching retirement. Canon Hulbert celebrated his last Easter at St. Uriel’s in 1988. Meanwhile, from January of that year, “the Vestry was interviewing priests from among whom they would choose St. Uriel’s seventh rector to live and work in the superb setting of brown shingles and holly-hedges by the sea.”
Thus ends Simpson’s meticulously researched history of St. Uriel’s from its beginnings in 1901 to the conclusion of Canon Hulbert’s tenure in 1988. The history of the parish’s subsequent decades, including the rectorates of Frs. Bird, Outerbridge, Griffin, and Lassiter remains to be written.
RECTORS OF ST. URIEL’S
Harold R. Lascelles, 1919-1929
Frederick F. Snow, 1929-1932
Harry J. Pearson, 1932-1935
T. Jerome Hayden, Jr., 1935-1941
Raymond H. Miller, 1941-1970
James E. Hulbert, 1970-1988
John E. Bird, 1988-1998
Samuel M. Outerbridge, 1999-2004
Russell A. Griffin, 2004-2021
Jesse Ray Lassiter, 2022- Present
Margaret Lennig Oglesby
The Rt. Rev. John Scarborough
IV Bishop of New Jersey 1875-1914
Note: The above is based almost entirely on the Rev. James B. Simpson’s Regent of the Sun: The Life and Work of the Parish Church of St. Uriel the Archangel in Sea Girt, New Jersey (1988). It is recommended that readers interested in exploring the parish’s history in depth read Fr. Simpson’s book and proceed thence to the materials available in the parish archives.