In 1958, the annual parish budget was approximately four thousand dollars which barely covered the utility bills for both church buildings and the parish hall. My salary of three thousand six hundred dollars was to be paid by the diocese until a decision could be made on the future of the parish. Although the grounds at both churches had recently been somewhat restored, both church buildings were in great need of repairs and modification. Old space heaters provided inadequate heat in both churches and the Parish Hall at Christ Church was still heated by several wood stoves. The bell tower on Christ Church was rotten and needed to be replaced. The paint was peeling off the windows and the exterior wood trim. The floors at Christ Church were infested with termites and both churches housed large numbers of wasps. During one Sunday morning service a wasp stung me on my lower lip during the sermon hymn which momentarily caused me to speculate that the Holy Spirit was objecting to my theology. I had already learned that one of the basic requirements of being the parish rector was to maintain a lively sense of humor. Large black snakes also frequently invaded both parish churches and on one occasion a five-foot long specimen draped itself across the altar hangings at Christ Church during a wedding just as the bride walked into the church.
On the day Marcia, our daughter, Kathy, and I moved into the rectory, the brush and trash were so thick at the rear of the rectory we could not open the back door. So I began to clean up the rectory yard in the early morning hours, reserving the afternoons for parish calls and administrative duties. Within a very few weeks parish members noticed my activities and rapidly began to volunteer to begin a program of restoration for both parish grounds and buildings. I would like to mention the names of all that participated, but it was almost every family in the congregation and I am terrified that after forty years I might forget someone and that would be an unforgivable omission.
In rapid succession, a central heating system was installed in Christ Church and later in Saint John's. Wood work was scrapped and painted. The sagging roof at Christ Church was reinforced with steel braces. Trees were removed and new trees planted. New sidewalks were constructed and a central heating system was installed in the Parish Hall. Saint John's received a new coat of paint and the roof was repaired. The rectory well was found to be contaminated and one day the septic tank literally exploded. But each was a challenge to be met and the congregation responded with eagerness and a great sense of mission for the future of the parish.
As the intensity of all the activity increased, new parish members began to appear at the doors of both churches and I must admit there is no greater stimulus to the mind of a new clergy person than to see the pews filled on Sunday mornings. The new members also began to assist with the restoration projects in addition to dramatically increasing the parish budget. Although it happened forty years ago, I can still remember every word of the telephone conversation later the next year when the bishop’s office called and asked me how much money the diocese would have to supply the following year or should the parish be closed. I can still feel my excitement when I informed the bishop's office that we did not need their money. After ninety-eight years of being a “welfare child" of the diocese, we were a self-supporting parish with a new spirit, a new mission and a wonderful mixture of old and new members.
Within a short time the growing congregation required a new parish hall and so with enormous labors from parish members, the new parish hall was constructed and the Canterbury School was organized. The school caused considerable controversy and in subsequent years had its moments of trials. But the parish and the school survived .1 am very gratified that the Parish Hall has served many years of Sunday School students, a variety of parish activities and the annual parish suppers. Canterbury has given many students an excellent education and sent them onto the best universities in the nation.
In the nine years in which I was the parish rector, I am sure there were sad moments, but I have forgotten them. I do remember the Sunday morning worship services which at times impressed me as reaching into the very essence of the Christian faith. I also remember the baptisms, weddings and parish suppers which had their moments of sublime joy. I could write a hundred pages of antidotes, mostly humorous, of our nine years as a parish family in the rectory. I still have copies of many of the sermons I preached in those days and when I read them today I become extremely embarrassed that I inflicted such tomes on the forbearance of the congregation. But somehow the parish members tolerated my foolishness for nine years and I remain eternally grateful for my tenure as the parish Rector.
Several years ago, Marcia and I were able to take our children, their spouses and our grandchildren to visit Christ Church and Saint John's. As my grandchildren ran through the church yards, sometimes playing hide-and-seek behind the headstones, I was able to point to various markers and say "this is the stone for one of your great-great grandparents. Over there is a great-great-uncle and over there are your great grandparents,” just as my grandfather did for me sixty-three years ago. Christ Church, Accokeek, and Saint John's Pomonkey, remain the mystical holy of holies for our family. May the parish endure for another three hundred years.
Father Jones served as the 33rd Rector of Christ Church from 1958-1967.
At our Church's 300th year celebration in 1998, a former Rector, The Rev. Roland Jones, offered the following reflections:
My first memory of Christ Church, Accokeek occurred in 1935 when at the age of three I was driven by my grandfather from the family farm to the church to see the construction of the new rectory. Twenty three years later I moved into this same home with my wife and a three year-old daughter. As a new twenty-six year old graduate of Virginia Seminary, I was saturated with idealism for the parish which was somewhat compromised by my instructions from the Bishop. The parish had been directly or indirectly financially supported by the Diocese since the Civil War and the Bishop was eager to cease this drain on the diocesan finances. My instructions were to make a judgment on the closing of both Christ Church and Saint John's Pomonkey or to make arrangements to link Saint John's with another parish. But this was the parish of my ancestors, who in one form or another had been associated with the parish since its beginnings in 1698. In my mind this was not an ordinary poor Episcopal parish. Through many generations of my ancestors it had become the "Holy of Holies " of our family and the idea of closing the parish was unthinkable.