ELIZABETHTOWN — The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd has special activities planned for its 130th-anniversary celebration.
“We’re using the 130th anniversary as an opportunity to share Good Shepherd with the community and have been working these past few months discovering our past, where we came from and where we are going,” said the Good Shepherd’s rector, the Rev. David Sullivan.
“We want to welcome the community and to share this with them.”
Sullivan has an affinity for Good Shepherd’s tie-in with the North Country, as he calls it “one of the most refreshing places in the Adirondack Mountains. From the beauty of his creation all around the church to the love you feel as soon as walk in the door, there is no doubt that surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”
Senior Warden Marilyn Jordan has been associated with Good Shepherd for 45 years.
“I equate it with life and its ups and downs,” she said. “My feelings about the 130th anniversary, which may seem like an odd number, are that you have to celebrate life when you are in a good place. We have a wonderful rector who leads us in a good way and have many active and progressive members.”
During Sullivan and Jordan’s quest for historical records, they discovered the document celebrating Good Shepherd’s 50th anniversary in a dirty frame with broken glass. When they took it to Plattsburgh to have it reframed, it was discovered that the original 1882 certification, though in rough shape, was also in the frame. So both manuscripts, containing their original sealing wax, will be on display.
“We’re pleased to be part of this community and to be involved in many activities, such as the Food Shelf, Ecumenical Thrift Shop and our weekly services at Horace Nye Nursing Home,” Sullivan said.
BUILT IN 1882
The church building was completed and consecrated in July 1882.
However, the Episcopal Diocese of New York sent its first missionaries to the North Country as early as 1839 and founded St. John’s Church in Essex. From there, missionary fervor created parishes in five towns, including Elizabethtown. As early as 1870, baptisms were performed at meeting houses and homes in Elizabethtown.
With the influx of affluent part-time residents, there began to be a push for church construction. At the forefront were Mrs. Ogden H. Hoffman and the Rev. Eugene Toy, with the Hoffman family providing for much of the funding.
Within a year, construction was complete. The first services were held in July 1882, with Bishop William C. Doane presiding.
The building is of Victorian-era style, with scalloped wood shingles on the upper portion and vertical board and batten below. Rising from it is a square bell tower and stained-glass windows adorning the façade.
The primary stained-glass panel features the Good Shepherd, with the inscription, “The Good Shepherd giveth His Life for the sheep.”
Initially, the structure was built at the corner of Hand Avenue and High Street; it was moved to its present location, on a lot donated by Lewis and Leila Hyde, in spring 1899. This allowed for more land, on which a parsonage and a parish hall were subsequently built.
During the first 25 years, a succession of at least 15 ministers ascended the pulpit. The revolving pulpit changed in 1908, when the Rev. Henry Herbert Pittman arrived. Not only was he the guiding light of Good Shepherd for a quarter century, during which it flourished, but he took meticulous notes, which have provided considerable information for local historians.
Pittman also archived news clippings and letters, and some of his poetry has been preserved as well.
Pittman’s wife, Claire, was also a major contributor to church activities during her husband’s administration, as she served as organist and beatified the grounds with flower gardens. In 1942, she was memorialized by the placement of a fountain and statute of St. Francis of Assisi.
Over the years, the fountain fell into disrepair, but efforts are under way to restore it.
FIRE GUTS CHURCH
In November 1926, a fire caused by an overheated hot-air furnace gutted much of interior, causing about $8,000 in damage. All stained-glass windows except the one featuring the Good Shepherd were destroyed beyond the ability to refurbish.
By 1927, not only was the damage repaired, but the church was enlarged. At the time, the Baptist, Catholic and Congregational churches all offered assistance.
To replace the destroyed organ, one weighing 6,105 pounds was donated by Mrs. Augustus N. Hand. It was disassembled, transported by rail to Westport — at a cost of $52.20 — and then trucked to and reassembled at Good Shepherd.
In 1932, Good Shepherd, which had consistently increased membership and had been flourishing, celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The Rev. Cornelius DeBois became spiritual leader from 1937 to 1952 and expanded the outreach of Good Shepherd by conducting services in the Essex County Jail, teaching vacation Bible school and helping lead the adult school of religion in Elizabethtown. He died of leukemia at the age of 47 in 1952.
In 1950, construction commenced on the Parish Hall, with lumber donated by Albert O. Denton, and the church men providing skill and muscle.
In 2009-10, under the direction of Richard Sherman of Bessboro Builders, the hall was renovated to make it energy efficient.
William Cooper served as rector from 1982 to 1994, and community outreach expanded to include using the parish hall for Hospice, the food pantry, the senior nutrition program and youth activities.
A half-dozen ministers succeeded Cooper until Sullivan was ordained in 2010.
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