We welcome you to Christ’s Church, Rye, a diverse, dynamic and devoted community of faith that has gathered strength from its early beginning, perseverance with challenges and inspiration from its leadership and ministries over 300 years.
Established in 1695 to comply with a law requiring a “church” in Rye, the parish’s first service was held in 1702, with a stone building known as Grace Church completed in 1706. Making that his mission, Colonel Caleb Heathcote, Senior Warden, then founded a school there for some Native Americans, while searching for a suitable rector. The Rev. George Muirson became the first permanent rector of among thirty to follow. Muirson and Heathcote made several visits to surrounding areas (Bedford, NY; Stamford and Stratford, CT), encouraging new missions for the Anglican church. The first communion ware, a chalice and paten presented in 1706 to the parish by Queen Anne at Heathcote’s urging, is still used today, a gift reflecting the church’s rich history and adherence to tradition amidst change. Shortly after the Rev. James Wetmore (1726-1760) retired, a Royal Charter was granted to the parish in 1764 by King George 111, formalizing the relationship with the Church of England.
A decade later, the American Revolution divided Rye, testing loyalties and the required adherence of clergy to the British Crown. The church’s rector, the Rev. Ephraim Avery, seen as a Tory sympathizer, did not survive, found near the church with his throat cut in 1776. Nor did the church building, later burned. In 1788 a new church (the second of what would be four in the same location) was built and Episcopal congregation reorganized in 1796 as Christ’s Church. With an official seal presented to the parish by Peter Jay, the church experienced renewal and a period of modest growth under the rectorship of the Rev. Samuel Haskell (1797-1801 and 1809-1823).
The need for additional clergy to serve a larger congregation may have influenced the move of the existing church across the street, replaced by the construction, in 1855, of a stone, Gothic style third church with a steeple and Sunday School (1865). The present church, similar in its exterior, was built 11 years later, then consecrated in 1869, following the destruction of its predecessor in a fire. Architectural additions included a Rectory (1878), a chapel and bell turret (1893), a new altar, reredos and Tiffany chancel window (1896), a parish house (1923), Chapel of Thanksgiving (1952) and Sunday School/office wing (1957). Of special significance was the parish’s first vested choir beginning in 1890.
Endurance, patience, recognition, commemoration, celebration, generosity and gratitude marked these years. The church and choir observed their notable anniversaries, women’s eligibility to vote and be Vestry members, the war time service of clergy and members, the ordination of women and their ministries with the parish.
In 2000, the Rev. Canon Susan Harriss became the first female rector of Christ’s Church. Called at a time that required healing, unity and vision, she shared through her extraordinary sermons, letters and interactions with parishioners a combination of warmth, reflection, humor and intellect that conveyed both personal concern and challenge. A successful Capital Campaign and first international tour by the Christ’s Church choir in 2008 to sing Evensong at Salisbury, Wells and Chichester Cathedrals occurred during her ministry.
A highly effective administrator, Harriss assembled a strong staff while working closely with Vestry and lay leaders. From Adult Education to the Sunday School, Outreach, Confirmation class, Music ministry, increased Stewardship and concluding pilgrimage to the Holy Land, her singular leadership revitalized the congregation and deepened its spirituality, preparing a strengthened Christ’s Church for its sacred ministries and vibrant work in the future.
A very special thank you to writer and historian, Betsy Field, for composing the Christ's Church History page.