At the turn of the twentieth century, Pitman, New Jersey, consisted of a great oak grove surrounding a lake that was very suitable for summer visiting. The Methodist Church established a summer camp meeting known as Pitman Grove, a registered national historical site, that grew rapidly between 1900 and World War I. It was not long before a permanent group of residents began to give Pitman the appearance of an established town.
Among these citizens was a group of Episcopalians who attended St. Thomas Church, an 18th century stone structure in neighboring Glassboro. In the days before the common use of the automobile, most people depended upon the railroad to get from one place to another. Strict Methodist “blue laws” prevented the railroad from stopping in Pitman on Sundays, so it was difficult for many communicants to get to St. Thomas. The little band of stranded faithful decided to strike out on their own. In 1907, a group of 23 men and women obtained a wooded lot on the corner of Highland Terrace and Wildwood Avenue from the local land developer. No houses existed around the site, so the little wooden sanctuary that was built among the trees was affectionately called by its parishioners, “The Little Church in the Wildwood.”
Father Dubell (rector, 1904-1917), a very young priest then serving at St. Thomas, gave his time to serve and to encourage this new mission which was officially recognized in 1908. The congregation engaged an architect and began to plan a beautiful gothic structure. With Fr. Dubell’s encouragement and enthusiasm, a cornerstone was laid on All Saint’s Day, 1908. Parishioners began to sell building stones at $5 to $15 a block depending on the prominence of its placement. It took two years before a roof was put in place and the little frame building inside could be torn down.
The parish remained in debt and in mission status until 1941. The sanctuary was consecrated in 1941 by Fr. Timothy Woodward (rector, 1939-1952) and Bishop Gardner. The parish became truly independent in 1948. The congregation had become large enough to take on the building of the parish hall and the acquisition of the rectory, both under the guidance of Fr. Woodward. The parish hall was dedicated in 1950.
The next important growth of the parish took place under Fr. Juan Lopez (rector, 1954-1967). An education wing was completed including a new parish office, and new pews were installed in the sanctuary. At that time the parish was conducting three services each Sunday morning. A seminarian was added as an assistant to the rector.
A significant event of the parish occurred in 1961 when the present pipe organ was purchased. Mr. R. B. Whiting of Schwenksville, PA, refurbished organs as part of his organ collecting hobby. He had acquired too many instruments for his barn and found it necessary to sell one of his “prizes.” Good Shepherd’s present organ was purchased from him for $1,200. It was put together in stages so that the organist could play from completed ranks while other ranks were being rebuilt. The organ is a two-manual, twelve-rank tracker instrument consisting of approximately 550 pipes allowing great musical versatility. It was built in 1896 by Bernard Mudler, a Philadelphia firm.
During the tenure of Fr. Charles DuBois (rector, 1968-1986) the rural character of the area surrounding Pitman was fast disappearing. Through his interest and initiation, the parish became involved with a new crisis intervention service called “Contact” to better serve the new urban/suburban problems of the growing community. Fr. DuBois also pioneered trial services with the new prayer book when it was first introduced.
The Rev. Dale C. Marta, (rector, 1987-1990) provided a period of great enthusiasm and spiritual growth for the parish. Together with his wife, Janet, Dale encouraged fellowship in the community and fostered a greater commitment to Christ as a part of our daily lives. Instituting the Lenten potluck suppers, Philippians “in the park” studies, Friday Advent sunset services, as well as a more integral use of music in worship, the Marta ministry was distinguished most of all by the joy to be found in Christ.
With the unanticipated departure of Rev. Marta, a search was conducted for the calling of the Rev. Everett Perine (rector, 1991-1997). Fr. Perry provided spiritual comfort through in-reach programs and excellent sermons. He embraced children’s involvement and youth activities in the church. Prior to his departure, he was dean of the Woodbury Convocation and part of the Pitman Ministerium.
The Rev. Patricia Daniels Pierce (rector, 1999 – 2014) was called to serve in 1999. Calling a woman as Rector was a decision of courage and faith for both the Search Committee and Vestry. To its credit, the parish had a history of including women in leadership roles on the Vestry, as Warden, and as ministry leaders.
Mother Pat was a faithful leader who was skilled at recognizing the strengths in all of her parishioners, empowering the creation and leadership of new ministries in faith and service. Her 15 year tenure was one of great growth: the number of ministries grew from about 20 to more than 35, the parish grew in number and attendance, and the Sunday School flourished. Three active parish leaders were supported as they studied toward ordainment to the Holy Deaconate: James Gowland, Carl Dunn, and Sally Larrabee Maurer. There were many improvements of the parish buildings and grounds during this time.
The Church of the Good Shepherd celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2007. Yearlong Centennial events included installation of a Memorial walkway and Centennial bell in the courtyard, burying a Centennial Time Capsule, and publishing a beautiful Centennial history that involved extensive historical research. Click here to see our Centennial History.
Mother Pat’s retirement in June 2014 was noted with a joyful celebration of the Holy Eucharist with bag pipes, music favorites, and the return of all three Deacons to assist in the service. This was followed by a magnificent luncheon and a fun roast of Mother Pat with special presentations and songs written especially for her. We will remember her gifts and faithfulness long into the future with love and affection.
In November, 2014, the Rev. Dr. David Snyder was called as Interim Rector to lead Good Shepherd during the transition period between rectors. By the time of Father Dave’s arrival, the Vestry had appointed a Discernment Committee of 16 congregants of Good Shepherd, representing voices from every corner of the parish. The committee met frequently over the next year developing our Parish profile and OTM (Office of Transition Ministry) Portfolio, evaluating applications, and interviewing prospective candidates to make final recommendations to the Vestry. The members of the Discernment Committee developed a special closeness and trust working together as a team over the year, calling for help from many in the congregation with specific expertise. In many ways the entire parish was involved.
While the Discernment Committee was doing its interim work, the parish continued to grow under the spiritual leadership of Father Dave. He welcomed new members, celebrated many baptisms and weddings, and prepared a group of 8 young parishioners for confirmation. Father Dave taught Good Shepherd about transformational stewardship and guided our first ever Spring Stewardship Campaign.
To the delight of the entire parish, the Rev. Susan E. Osborne-Mott accepted the Vestry’s call and began her ministry as the 16th Rector of Good Shepherd the first week of Advent, November 28-29, 2015. Mother Susan is energetic yet calm, highly spiritual and joyful. She engages children and young people. She is a good listener and a collaborator. We have begun to see her influence as our young parishioners take on more responsibilities in the Youth Sunday Service including the scripture readings, sermon (written by them), Prayers of the People (written by them), as well as the more traditional youth roles of usher and choir. She has spearheaded much needed renovations in the Sunday School rooms. We look forward to our continued growth under her leadership and guidance.