Jones Shannon was interviewed by Mary Giles on December 2, 1976. He spoke about his work within the Episcopal Church.
Joe, I know a few things about your life here in Westport, and because you have contributed so much to our community, the Westport Bicentennial Committee is eager to have you tell us more about yourself. We know of your Episcopal Services here in the barn behind your house and your work on the Conservation Commission and the Land Trust. Would you tell us more?
Mary, I was born in Eberton, Georgia on January 20, 1907, and lived there until I was about six years old when my father, who was a doctor, moved to the North to Detroit, where I lived until I came here. I went to schools in Detroit, to Culver Military Academy, and the University of Michigan, where I graduated in 1930. Times were rather difficult then, and it was not until January, 1931 that I was able to get a job at $70 a week. We weren’t married until October 1933.
I was in the investment business and was engaged in that until I decided in 1949 to go to the Seminary. Actually, in 1948 was my first exposure to Westport Point. Ginny and I, and Ben and Betty Brewster came into the harbor in the summer of 1948. We came ashore and fell in love with Westport. The next summer, when we were about to go to Seminary (1949), I came here for a month before going down to Alexandria, Virginia, where we were in Seminary for three years. During the Seminary times, when I came up here in the summers, we rented a cottage again from Mrs. Grace Nichols and in 1953 we bought a cottage from here and continued to come here regularly until 1959, when we had a word from Mrs. Nichols that 1933 Main Road, where we live now, was for sale. We bought the house in 1959 and moved up here permanently in 1960. It was then that I moved my office, I was Executive Director of the Church Society for college work of the Episcopal Church. I moved it to Cambridge from Washington, D.C. This allowed me to be in Westport more often, and in 1961, and this gets down to life here, in 1961, that is the time we started services in the barn. The man, who had been Rector of St. Peter’s Church in Padanaram, suggested that there ought to be some way to have Episcopal services that were more convenient for people to go to without driving twelve miles or so to Fall River or to New Bedford. It was then that we decided to try out in the barn. We had services there in the summer, the last couple of Sundays in June usually through the first couple of Sundays in September. Our services of Holy Communion according to the Rites of the Episcopal Church begins at nine on Sunday.
When we started, we didn’t know whether very many people would come. We put a sign out: The Episcopal Church welcomes you. Holy Communion Services at 9:00 Sundays, during the summer. At the beginning, there were maybe, only twenty to twenty-five people who came. At the beginning I didn’t know whether hardly anyone would come; of course, the word got around. The sign was out during the week. People came and they found that barn. There are six windows which overlook the West Branch of the River, out over the harbor and the Rock, this is a pleasant sight.
Our service is rather simple, the setting is simple. We have a table, which is up against the window so that I can face the congregation. Our altar rail is an extension ladder set up on blocks of wood and lashed to a post. We have benches that were made by someone here in Westport. We have old discarded kneeling pads from the Washington Cathedral. I brought about sixty of these up one summer; so that our setting is rather informal and rather simple and we take the offering. I have a little wicker basket that I simply hand to the first person in the front of the church and it’s passed around, and the last one who receives the little basket brings it forward. We’ve used our offering to help the Methodist Church here and we’ve also used it to help the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, and other things. We don’t take very much of an offering, but whatever we do have, we try to use for other people and other things.
Bishop Corrigan, who has been here several times and who took the services one summer when we were away, brought us a rush Cross made in Mexico. It hangs on the wall back of the table at the services. The service lasts about half an hour – sometimes we have music. An old kind of reed organ that worked for a while, and we had someone who played and we were able to have hymns. In recent years, Baird Hastings, who comes up here in the summers and who plays a flute, a graduate of the Juillard School of Music in New York; he volunteered to play his flute, so for a number of summers, we have had music, three hymns usually, one at the beginning of the service and one at the end of the service. This has helped greatly in our spirit of worship.
I think the flute is very appropriate and it interested me that Baird has been so anxious to do this and has been such a great help. His wife, who is from France, has found this a very meaningful service too, as have, I think, most people. Of course, this leads to other things too. People who have come to the service have from time to time had something on their minds and they have felt free to talk to me about them. I’ve tried to listen and tried to help in anyway I could. I think this has made some contribution to the life of these people.
Ginny and I were involved with Dr. Esther Harding before she died, and I have also become involved with the C.G. Jung Foundation in New York as a member of their board. My involvement and study of Jung has in a sense complemented and supplemented by Christian faith. Together they have given me a bit more understanding about myself and perhaps more about other people, and about the whole business of the meaning of life, which I faced when I was deciding to go to Seminary. I’d been in the investment business for a good many years, I was on the Vestry at Christ’s Church, Cranbrook, and became somewhat dissatisfied with the way my life was going and wondered if there wasn’t some way in which it could have additional meaning (or more meaning) and that was then that I was exposed to a young man whom we were trying to persuade to become Rector there. I volunteered because he was concerned about the administrative affairs of the Parish and as Treasurer of the Parish, I thought I knew something about its finances. Anyway, I volunteered to him that I would spend a business day a week in the Parish and he immediately faced me with the question: ‘If you’re that interested, why don’t you go to Seminary?’
We have performed services other than our usual ones in the barn. We have had several baptisms, I suppose eight or ten in the barn. We have had a burial service in the barn for one of our dear friends, as yet no wedding services in the barn, but some in other places around here, Ruth and Bill Heath’s daughter, Heather, married Timothy Gillespie, and then not long ago, I was able to take a wedding service for Ben Brewster and his bride.
Your contributions to Town Meeting have been effective. The thanks you gave to the Board of Health for all the work they did on Westport’s sewage problems was very much appreciated. No one else had thought to thank them for the enormous effort they had made.
Well, Mr. Sullivan and all the others had worked so hard on it (the Lagoon) and were obviously going to be defeated, and it seemed that someone should say a word of thanks to them, for trying to solve that which is a most difficult problem. I’ve felt that way about a few other things. I know one of the first Town Meetings I went to was on rezoning. It was rejected, yet a group had worked very hard on it and no one thought to thank them for their efforts. I didn’t feel as if I could speak out, because I was at my first Town Meeting, but I do think it’s important to give credit and thanks to the people who work on a volunteer basis in the Town.
I’ll be seventy on my next birthday and I hope that I can continue to be here for a while and that we can continue to have services in the barn. I’ve gotten more out of it than anyone else because it has fulfilled my ministry in a way, which, because of the other work I was doing, I hadn’t had a chance to do.
About Westport, I’d stress mostly the fact that we have such a wonderful situation in that we have these two beautiful rivers coming together and the ocean, etc., and these are a great heritage. We should keep them, the rivers, unpolluted and pure, the shore, unpolluted and pure. We should, over a period of time, make an effort to achieve greater cooperation between the various aspects of the town, the North end and the South, the people who come for summers, and the people who live here all year round. I hope we can achieve a feeling of brotherhood and cooperation and continue to respect it and to keep it so that there is a greater understanding among people, when we make available, which we should do, some of the facilities here for others from out of town. We should try to do that without letting things happen which would be detrimental to the situation. I think the work of the Conservation Commission, the work of the Land Conservation Trust, the understanding of the Town Fathers and others that this is our heritage and we should do all we can to protect it. We all need to try to be as open to the feelings of others as we can and try to put ourselves I their place when we are able to.