SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. – Worshippers in the two churches that make up South Salem’s St. John’s Episcopal Parish are separated by about 5 miles, but they could not be closer in their faith, their values or their commitment to the Lewisboro community.
“What I really like about this church is the people,’’ the Rev. Joseph Campo, who is nearing his second year as rector, said. “It’s a group of unselfish people, warmhearted, and very caring. I enjoy the warmth of the congregation. They really care about one another.”
The parish traces its roots to 1759, but the story behind the two church buildings begins in the 1800s. St. John’s, at 82 Spring St. in South Salem, was built in 1855. People living close by could get to church by foot or on horseback.
John Lewis, born in nearby Vista in 1793, made his fortune in New York City and returned home a wealthy man in 1840. In 1870, he deeded the farmhouse in which he was born and 48 surrounding acres to St. John’s, provided they build a “chapel of convenience.” St. Paul’s Chapel was completed in 1899 at 313 Smith Ridge Road.
“Before the automobile, when the roads were dangerous, some people couldn’t get to St. John’s, especially in winter,’’ Rev. Campo said. “Lewis donated the land so that people who lived around Vista could make it to church."
St. John’s, which has a larger congregation, holds a Sunday 9:30 a.m. service and provides a Sunday School and babysitting. St. Paul’s hosts a more informal Saturday 5 p.m. service. Some members alternate between the two. There is no difference between the style of worship, though St. Paul’s has recently added guitars in its services.
“The buildings are the only difference,’’ Rev. Campo said. “St. John’s looks like a New England Congregational Church from the 1860s. St. Paul’s is very Anglican, very Victorian. It’s a pretty little place.”
Rev. Campo said parishioners enjoy the convenience of having options. “If they know a storm is coming on Saturday, they’ll go to St. John’s on Sunday,’’ he said. “And vice versa. Each building has a different feel. For instance, at Christmas time each church has a children’s service. It’s an identical service at each, but each service has a different look, feel and sense to it that people like.”
The churches draw residents from South Salem, Lewisboro, Vista, Cross River, Pound Ridge and Waccabuc in New York as well as Ridgefield, Wilton and New Canaan in Connecticut.
They may come from different communities, and go to different buildings, but the members share the same spirit. Rev. Campo said a young boy whose family had just joined the church turned sick recently.
“The outpouring of support for that family was incredible,’’ Rev. Campo said. “They weren’t going to let that family face it alone, and, thank God, the boy got well. That’s the kind of thing you can’t train people to do. It has to come from the heart. That’s what they have.”