Council postpones vote to preserve church Audience unhappy; pastor travels from Vermont to speak

The City Council put off a vote on Tuesday to grant landmark status to the St. John Episcopal Church in the Bergen-Lafayette section of the city, which would protect it from proposed demolition by the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.

Instead, the ordinance was tabled, or delayed for voting until a special meeting can be held in November just on that issue.

City Council President Mariano Vega said the meeting will take place in City Hall when the currently renovated City Council Chambers opens for business once again.

The council also put off the vote in order to allow the city’s engineering department to visit the church and issue a report as to the structural stability of its infrastructure.The man from Vermont

But Tuesday’s meeting became a bit like church, as the famed former pastor of St. John’s, Robert Castle, gave an impassioned speech about landmarking the building.

He was allowed to speak even though the ordinance was tabled, since he not only traveled from his Vermont home specifically for the meeting, but also was part of the church’s history during the 1960s.

“My heart goes out to [the church],” he said. “I feel in one sense like I am the last rector who left in 1968.”

Castle criticized the Episcopal Diocese for allowing the church’s stained-glass windows and other valuable items like the altar to be taken out.

“I feel in some ways that the church is a chicken; when I came back after some years, it looked like it had been plucked clean,” he said. Diocese says it will be senior housing

The tabling of the landmarking ordinance even took by surprise Eugene Paolino, the attorney representing the Episcopal Diocese. After the meeting ended, Paolino said he was ready to give a presentation on the church and the future plans by the Diocese.

He said the Diocese plans to save the façade of the church for a future senior housing project to be built on the site. Saving ‘The Millionaires’ Church’

The church was erected in 1870 at its current location of 120 Summit Ave. It went on to achieve a distinction as the largest and wealthiest Episcopal parish in New Jersey, earning its nickname “The Millionaires’ Church” for its prestigious clientele.

But by the 1960s, those parishioners moved away, replaced by working-class residents.

The church experienced a resurgence when Jersey City native and cleric Rev. Robert Castle served as head of St. John’s Episcopal between 1960 and 1968 and the church became a haven for the civil rights struggle in Jersey City.

The Episcopal Diocese eventually closed the church in 1994 after it had served the community for more than 100 years, complaining of a declining congregation.

Early last year, the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy had filed an application with the Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), hoping the structure could get the municipal landmark designation. The designation is to save the church from demolition by the Diocese.

The Diocese claims substantial damage was done to the church’s infrastructure over the years and that it would be too expense to restore it for future use. However, the Landmarks Conservancy has argued that the damage has been a result of years of neglect.

The landmarking movement has so far led the Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Board to recommend landmark status. But it is the City Council’s vote that would make it official. Putting off a little longer

At the meeting, Vega explained to the audience that a special meeting next month will get “all the parties together” to discuss this issue at length in a newly restored chambers.

He described the new chambers as “historic preservation at its best.”

However, the decision by the council did not sit well with a number of audience members. While Castle was allowed to speak out early in the meeting, others waited for the general public speaking portion of the council meeting and then sounded off with their displeasure about the postponement. Comments on this story can be sent to


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