by Cate Murway
The new Priest-in-Charge of St. James the Greater Episcopal Church, Marlee Rundquist Jane Norton, the Rev. Marlee R. J. Norton, read local author Bill Pezza’s book “Stealing Tomatoes”. Since she’s new in town, having relocated from Arlington, VA, she offered her take on the book, “It certainly gave me more background of the town and a little bit of history. A fun introduction…very helpful!” She has arrived, set with ambitions, ready to share her talents, and her tomatoes. Her most recent project started when “planting a new flower garden at the Church” was suggested and Marlee said “Let’s plant food. Something productive that we can give away in the community.” The first crop of tomatoes just ripened and will be donated to the American Red Cross Homeless Shelter in Levittown [and they are delicious, by the way].
Director Bill Burns commented that the Homeless Shelter serves between 50,000 and 75,000 meals a year. “Most of the people have poor nutrition so the donation is very appreciated.”
Rev. Marlee has happily relocated to her “nice big yard with a vegetable garden in Edgely, near the water.”
“I like Bristol. It’s a very nice town. Can’t believe I can get in my car and get to work in 4 ½ minutes.”
She is the namesake of her grandparents, Margaret and Lee [hence the Marlee], who once ran their own “Marlee Farm” in Wauconda, IL.
The 40th rector and the first woman Priest-in-Charge at St. James previously worked in a Church in scenic and historic Front Royal, VA in the Shenandoah Valley.
“This is a very, very, very good match. To be honest it was God at work to bring us together.”
P.S. Reverend Marlee shares a birthday with the French medieval heroine Joan of Arc (1412-1431), who led her nation's army to victory.
For years, Marlee Norton had devoted herself to the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association [NTCA]'s international program development, helping people in unserved and underserved nations gain access to the basic telecommunications service most people take for granted.
From Poland, South Africa and Bulgaria, to the Philippines and Tanzania, Marlee has traveled to countries throughout the world to spread the rural telecommunications word.
Marlee pursued her higher calling, earning her Master of Divinity [MDiv.] from the Episcopal Theological Seminary of Virginia in Alexandria.
Through her ministry, she continues to rely on the same people skills to touch people's lives that made her so successful at forming relationships and friendships in the international community.
Welcome to St. James the Greater Episcopal Church, Reverend Marlee.
“They painted the office pale green and got some new furniture in here and I love it.”
St. James is located in the heart of historic Bristol on the Delaware. It owes its foundation to the “Society for the propagation of the gospel in foreign parts.”
In the 1690’s, George Keith, an Englishman and a former Quaker, appealed to the townspeople for a return to Anglican worship. During the first decade of the 1700’s, the more conservative party took the name of “Keithians”.
The first pastor was Reverend John Talbot of St. Mary’s in Burlington, chaplain to the English Navy, who officiated until 1727.
Originally the church, an English mission, Bristol’s first, was founded upon the acre and a half of land donated by Mr. Anthony Burton, one of the most active in the organization of the Church, and Mr. John Rowland, who gave a lot on Mill Street on which a rectory was built. It was the oldest in the state outside of Philadelphia and the only Episcopal Church in Bucks County for 100 years.
According to The History of Bucks County by William W.H. Davis, and per the old record book, the church was “built by subscription of several well-disposed persons, and being finished was dedicated to the honor of St. James the Greater, the festival of that apostle being ye 25th July, 1712.” Soon after the opening of the Church, Queen Anne, who died in 1714, favored the parish with the gift of a solid silver communion plate service that was later stolen. The church flourished until anti-British feelings in the 1770’s made it a decidedly unpopular place and the parish fell into a state of neglect and disrepair during the Revolutionary War because of its association to the Church of England. The Church was dismantled, leaving a mere shell of a building. The chancel furniture disappeared and the windows and doors were carried away, leaving it exposed to the elements. The graves in the unfenced burial grounds were trodden underfoot. The congregation scattered and an American cavalry company used the venerable house of worship in its half-ruinous condition as a barn, a stable for horses.
In 1785, it was represented in Philadelphia, along with other colonial parishes, to establish from the Church of England the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA”.
The church resumed worship and outgrew the old wooden structure that was torn down in 1856. The present Gothic Revival style Byzantine edifice of Trenton brownstone with corbel & beads crown moulding replaced it a year later at a cost of $10,000.
The floor design in the church vestibule was selected by Ellwood F. De Long [1879-1967] of the T. De Long Furniture Company that advertised that it “specialized in Ecclesiastical and Fraternal Building furniture”. It is composed of new ceramic tile and yet very old tile from the standpoint of composition and styling. The decorate pieces have been made from handmade molds, then baked in the old fashioned way at the Moravian Tile Works in Doylestown. Aesthetically the structure embodies a splendid wedding of strength and beauty. St. James Episcopal Church has passed through many tribulations but has survived them all.
The Parish house with the same architecture style of the Church, at the corner of Wood and Walnut Streets, was erected in 1877 at the cost of nearly $12,000 with funds raised by the Ladies Church Aid Society.
The graveyard, dating back to the 1700’s, one of the oldest in the county, contains the graves of several Revolutionary War dead. Some of the oldest graves are under an ancient yew tree, considered to be sacred trees. The oldest legible gravestone is that of George Gillespie who died in 1721.
Reverend Marlee is engaged in an ongoing marmot battle, since the obnoxious groundhogs keep stealing the memorial flags. The replacement of the flags is a long-standing ritual. The groundhogs are winning.
The colors of red, white and blue are a visual reminder of veterans and the sacrifices they made to keep this country free. Flags mark the 72 honored veterans’ graves, including 5 from the Revolutionary War and 37 from the Civil War.
“Who e’re thou art, with tender heart.
Stop, read and think of me.
As thou art now, so once was I.
As I am now, so shalt thou be.”
The remains of Captain John Green, who lived on the Roberts' farm, near Newportville, the first American sea captain of the Continental Navy who carried our flag to China, lay in the churchyard. The Commanding Officer of the “Empress of China”, a US Merchant Marine vessel, was also the first to import a full set of Chinaware directly from China to the USA in 1772 and Shanghai chickens from a cross with which comes the Bucks County chickens. Capt. Green died September 24, 1796 at the age of 60.
M.I.T. grad John Thompson Dorrance B.S. Ph.D. (1873 –1930) was a American chemist and soup businessman born in Bristol, president of Campbell Soup Company from 1914 to 1930. He was a nephew of one of the partners of the Joseph Campbell Preserve Company. He started working there in 1897 and invented condensed soup that became the mainstay for the renamed Campbell Soup Company. His family’s plot with the large marker near the brick walk [parents John Dorrance & Eleanor Gillingham Thompson ("Elvira") and grandparents John Dorrance and Mary Tama Morris ] is in the St. James graveyard.
The Dorrance family donated the large, magnificent window behind the Church altar constructed of the finest specimens of stained glass emblazoned in pure primary blues and greens and reds. This was the creation of Nicholas d'Ascenzo (1871-1954), who, at the age of eleven, left his native Italy to become one of the most renowned artists in stained glass in the US. It was installed in 1924 and received the Architectural League of New York Gold Medal Award in 1925.
First Shakespearean actor, Thomas Abthorpe Cooper, Father of the American Stage [1776–1849], was a British-born actor and one of the first to become an American citizen, who acted at Covent Garden, London as Hamlet and Macbeth. He and his wife, Mary Fairlie and one son are also buried in St. James cemetery. Cooper who served as a Church vestryman, moved his family of 3 children from NYC to a home delightfully situated on the banks of the Delaware, 722 Radcliffe Street, in 1819. His daughter Priscilla married Robert Tyler, the son of President John Tyler. Their son was the first child christened in the new church and the water used in the service was from the River Jordan in Palestine.
Fine men have walked this way before.
The official anniversary committee is elatedly preparing for a well-planned historical celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Church.
Rector's Warden, Horace P. Schmidt, Jr., elected by former Reverend Anthony Vanucci, is a leader in the church and head of the parish council. Horace was born and raised and baptized at St. James, as were his parents and his grandparents, Jacob Schmidt who came to the United States from Germany when he was 16 years old and his wife, Amy.
“We’re very excited about having Marlee at the Church. She’s very spiritual. Her sermons are really done well. She’s very interesting and friendly and approachable; just what we’re looking for in a leader of the Church. She’s made the service more spiritual and involved more people so they can be involved in the service.”
It is the devout hope of the present leaders of the St. James congregation that its spire and its activities will provide a living witness to the glory of God in the historic Bristol on the Delaware landscape and far beyond. St. James’ is blessed with a talented and dedicated staff who challenges their members to grow in their faith and in their willingness to serve others. They warmly welcome you, wherever you are in your faith journey.
Every Sunday and Wednesday, the people attending worship bring a can or package of food for the First United Methodist Church on the corner of Mulberry & Cedar Streets. United Methodist provides breakfast and lunch for most of the summer for the 30-50 children who participated in the subsidized meals during the school year.
The St. James generous donations added up to 96 pounds of food in June and 73 pounds in July.
The Thrift Shop in the lower level of the Parish House is open on Tuesdays between noon and 8:00 p.m. Walking through the thrift shop, there isn't much room to maneuver but volunteers and donations are always welcomed. Come on in for a bagful of bargains. Spend a thoroughly engaging time checking out the gently used clothing, household items, books, knick-knacks and unusual treasures. Perhaps you’ll find something wonderful that's in pristine condition and selling for a dollar or two.
The facilities of St. James the Greater Episcopal Church are used not only by church members, but also by many outside groups - such as AA meetings and private rentals. In 2008, they began a cooperative effort with the BRT to host a series of presentations on Sunday evenings. Last May, the staged reading, America Rising Series: Elliott, A Soldier's Fugue was the centerpiece of an evening of live entertainment, food and drink, with an extensive talk-back with the cast, and director.
The members are spiritual partners in the mission work of the Church, with every action, through every person, in every pew.
St. James the Greater Episcopal Church
All Are Welcome
Sunday services 8:00 A.M. and 10:00 A.M.
Sunday School & Nursery 9:45 A.M.
Wednesday service 11:30 A.M.
225 Walnut Street
Bristol, PA 19007
Two-year search for pastor finally ends
By: ELIZABETH FISHER Bucks County Courier Times
September 23, 2009
The Rev. Marlee Norton embraces a historical church, a growing congregation and a commitment to serve the community.
The Rev. Marlee Norton likes to build and create.
St. James Episcopal Church in Bristol needed a new pastor to build up its congregation.
Norton was a perfect fit, said Horace Schmidt. His family has belonged to the historical church whose sanctuary, parish house and cemetery wrap around Cedar, Walnut and Wood streets in the borough.
For two years, the discernment committee of the parish, of which Schmidt is a member, searched, interviewed and prayed about finding the right person to lead and grow the parish.
The connection between Norton and St. James was coincidental - or providential, depending on how you view it. Norton was a visiting preacher at a church in Virginia where a former member of St. James is a member.
Knowing that her former parish was looking for a pastor, and being impressed with Norton's passion, the one-time parishioner willingly became the go-between, Schmidt said.
"We invited Rev. Norton here and were very impressed with her preaching style and the fact that she was so spiritual and, at the same time, approachable. We decided that (Norton) was the one we were seeking," he said.
Norton, 54, is the first woman pastor of the nearly 300-year-old parish, which serves as the final resting place for soldiers from the Revolution, the Civil War and many Bristol residents who created the foundation of the town.
"It was a culture shock to come to Bristol from the hectic pace of the Washington, D.C., area," said Norton, whose last assignment was ministering to patients and their families at Trinity Hospice in Fairfax, Va.
"Washington is generally a transient population. You don't see the second and third generations of families living in close proximity, as you do in Bristol," she said.
A native of Chicago, Norton came late to the Episcopal Church and to the ministry. She first entered an Episcopal Church in 2000 and became involved in its activities. She then started taking theology classes and formally entered the seminary in 2002. She graduated and was ordained in 2006.
Her former career - "my former life," she calls it - she worked with the Arlington, Va.-based National Telecommunications Cooperative Association. As vice president for international programs, Norton worked in rural American, sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia to extend community-owned telephone and computer services.
But once she stepped into that Episcopal Church, she felt and finally followed the tug of a spiritual calling, she said.
In just a few months, she's already made her mark at St. James.
The congregation has grown from a handful to about 100 members, and they are, she said, a group of energized and generous workers willing to serve the church and its surrounding community.
"We really take seriously the gospel injunction to feed and help people not just the people inside the church but those on the outside," she said.
One example of her innovations is the garden that's been cultivated in one empty parcel of land behind the church. It's already produced 81 pounds of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
A monthly food collection is shared with a food bank at a nearby Methodist church. A basement thrift shop at St. James helps needy people obtain the necessities they otherwise would do without. St. James also holds a thrift shop from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays at its parish house, Wood and Walnut streets in the borough.
Norton has started a brown-bag lunch social at the Wednesday service. It gives participants the opportunity to pray together, socialize, reminisce and make new connections, she said.
"This is a historical church and I have to respect that, but we are also ready to grow. My work on Sunday is to build up, strengthen and serve the congregation, then send them out into the world to serve others," she said.
"We're very happy, very pleased and very blessed to have her," Schmidt said.
still here, 09-23-09, 5:35 am
Marlee, again i would like to thank you for your time spent with my Grandmother and comfort you gave to her in those final day's of her life. Share the history and knowledge of her long wonderful life ,the history of St. James which she held dear to her and where she shall rest with her mother forever. Thank You.
St. James Episcopal Church in Bristol Borough celebrates 300 years of ministry
By Elizabeth Fisher
BRISTOL BOROUGH - Sixty-four years before Washington crossed the Delaware, a young missionary named John Talbot was rowing across that same body of water from Burlington to Bristol to minister to a congregation that would become St. James the Greater Episcopal Church in Bristol.
That the mustard seed of faith that the Rev. Talbot planted during Colonial times has borne fruit was evident on Saturday when the 160 worshippers gathered to celebrate St. James’ 300th anniversary. Bishop Charles Bennison Jr., bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, officiated at the 4 p.m. service.
“For three centuries, this church has been home to all kinds of people, many of whom, at times, felt displaced and weary. But this is a house of God filled with vibrant worship. You can feel the presence of God,” Bishop Bennison told the congregation.
He got a chuckle from his listeners when he referred to the church as a place for “attitudinal change and behavior modification,” where people come to grow spiritually in their hearts, minds and spirits.
“God is watching. We can ask him to change us, to make us new,” the bishop said.
St. James, like many mainstream denominations, has seen hard times and dwindling attendance. But more recently, the church is undergoing a sea change, with slow but steady growth, an increase in the number of baptisms, and more young people coming to services, said the Rev. Marlee Norton, St. James’s first woman pastor.
“The power of the church continues to draw people. There’s something about it that won’t die,” the Rev. Norton said. “People are hungry in their lives and [earthly] things doesn’t fill that hunger.”
Horace Schmidt is a third generation owner of Schmidt’s Florist in Bristol and a third generation member of the parish. His paternal grandparents, Jacob and Amy Schmidt, imigrated to the U.S. from Germany at the turn of the 20th century and started their flower business.
They were active in St. James for many years, as were Horace’s parents, Horace Sr. and Mary Schmidt. The younger Horace carries on the family tradition, currently serving as a cross bearer during services, and as a senior warden on the vestry - the governing board of the church.
While times have changed and St. James has held on through ups and downs, the one constant - a comforting one, Schmidt said - is the beauty and continuity of the worship service. Continued...
“There’s a great balance between structural worship and personal worship,” he said. “Very little has changed over the years.”
Parishioner Joanne Pizzullo is a relative newcomer, having been baptized in the church 65 years ago, at the age of six. She was a member of the committee that spent a solid year planning and polishing in preparation for the anniversary, which started with the service and concluded with a dinner age Georgine’s in Bristol Township.
“This church is so welcoming to everyone. It’s the building and the people. And it’s the peace; we have peace here. We’re a close-knit family,” she said.
In keeping up with present needs, St. James has outreach programs designed to help others. For instance, church worker provide a monthly dinner for those who need a good meal. Since that program started in January of this year, volunteers have cooked about 1,300 meals, paid for by a monthly collection.
This year’s Children’s Lenten Mite Box Collection raised $156, which helped by 13 anti-malaria nets for people in developing countries.
St. James stands not only as a house of worship but as a tapestry of the past. Its cemetery is the resting place of who figured greatly in Bristol’s history, Civil War heroes, Colonial-era diplomats, and ordinary families.
As for the future of St. James, Rev. Norton continues the work started so long ago and relies on guidance of the Holy Spirit.
“I see my job is to help people make a deeper personal connection with God,” she said.