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September 26, 2023

Mary-Frances Dougherty

 

Forked River Presbyterian Church Marks 150 Years

 

Every day, thousands of motorists pass through Forked River on Main Street, also known as Route 9. Perched on a slight rise just north of Lacey Road is an unassuming red brick house of worship called Forked River Presbyterian Church.

 

The brick building melds with the landscape so well that passersby may easily miss it unless they are familiar with what lies behind its red doors. This year marks a milestone in the church’s history as it celebrates 150 years.

 

On Sunday, October 15, at 10 a.m., a special worship service of celebration will be held to which the public is invited. Included will be traditional hymns, music by the Hand Bell Choir, and a presentation reflecting on the history of the church. Rev. Paul Quevedo, who has shepherded the congregation since 2021, extends a warm invitation to the community.

 

When asked how it feels to guide the church in its 150th year, Rev. Paul said, “To be here is to understand both the living legacy that is the tradition of the church while actually being part of its future.  It’s quite a dynamic place and we thank God for its very presence.  We gather for our Worship Celebration every Sunday at 10 a.m.  Come check us out!”

The church’s music program is under the direction of Allison Stella, a new organist and choir director, who brings her great talent and innovation to the program. The church also supports a Hand Bell Choir under the direction of James Randall. Mr. Randall welcomes new members from the community who wish to learn the techniques of bell ringing and contribute to the inspiring sounds of the bells.

Following the celebratory worship service, church members will participate in a pot luck brunch. They will also be treated to an historical presentation by Cornelia Lane, former president of the Lacey Historical Society. Ms. Lane will discuss the history of Forked River, including her ancestors’ involvement in the early history of the Church.

 

On behalf of Lacey Township, Deputy Mayor Steven Kennis will present Rev. Quevedo with a proclamation of congratulations on the church’s 150th anniversary.

 

The celebration of the church’s sesquicentennial kicked off in June with an ice cream social for members. Officially, the church had its beginnings in June of 1873 when it was incorporated with eleven charter members and became affiliated with the National Presbyterian Church. Its earliest origins, though, reach back to 1828 when a small group of local Christians began meeting for worship in private homes. Later they met in the one-room schoolhouse that was located on Jones Road.

 

The congregation did not have its own building until 1857 when they bought a church from the Baptists of Cedar Creek. In 1865, the Presbyterians moved the wooden building to the church’s current site in Forked River. The lot was donated by church member James Jones, for whom Jones Road is named. 

The biggest trial the church faced during its long history occurred nearly 100 years ago. In 1928, members decided to renovate the old wooden church and embarked on a fundraising campaign. Two years later, on the morning of May 4, 1930, the newly renovated church was rededicated with great joy and thanks. That very morning, a forest fire began in Lakehurst and before day’s end swept through Forked River, burning the church to the ground along with about 25 other buildings.

 

The congregation of 150 members refused to accept defeat. Over the next seventeen months they worked to their limit to build a new brick church on the site. Members proved they had the faith to come through that crisis and others, such as the COVID pandemic of recent years. 

Another milestone in the life of the church was the 1956 purchase of a neighboring cottage that served as a Sunday school and a nursery school. In 1976, the church underwent its first expansion, and in 2000, added classrooms, a church hall and kitchen.

Among the long-time members is Donna Grant Gilmore. She was baptized and confirmed in the church and recalls attending Sunday school when it was held in the sanctuary. Donna and her husband Joe raised their children in the church, which they view as the center of their lives and the members as part of their extended family. Over the years they have served in numerous capacities including as ordained deacons. Currently, Joe sings in the choir and Donna is an Elder. 

Donna recalls that the father of one of her Sunday school classmates was a woodworker named Ed Britton. “Mr. Britton,” she says, “was asked by a long-time member to craft a large wooden cross to hang in the front of the sanctuary. He completed it in 1952 and donated it to the church. The cross still hangs in the front corner with a brass plaque memorializing his gift.”

Members can look back at a long history, but they also have an eye to the future. Last September a Renewal retreat was held as the church emerged from the stresses imposed by the COVID pandemic. The member who originated the idea presented several talks over the preceding summer emphasizing the church’s history and accomplishments, while enrolling 38 members for a full-day workshop. The goal was to formulate a strategic Action Plan for 2023 to refocus the church’s efforts on its most pressing needs.

 

Since then, the ambitious plan has shown results in several areas, including renovation of the nursery with closed circuit TV for parents who wish to attend services while caring for their infants and toddlers. A men’s fellowship group was formed, as well as a team to promote rental of the church hall. Three stained glass windows facing Main Street were lighted at night, and the carillon bells can be heard again. 

Mission has always been an important part of the church, with several groups participating. The Hunger Action Team supports hunger initiatives locally through the Lacey Food Bank, while international efforts include the CROP Hunger Walks and sponsorship of Christmas dinner at a children’s orphanage in Uganda. Other local missions include supporting the Summer Lunch Program, Your Grandmother’s Cupboard, the Christmas “Giving Tree,” and Family Promise.

As part of its ministry, the church sponsors Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. During recent summers, Vacation Bible School was held at dinner time and included a meal and parent participation. Another important part of the ministry is Connections, a group that sponsors the Heart Rock Café after the worship service and special events throughout the year. 

Among notable early church members was Charles Arthur Smith, who made a bequest to the church as well as to Lacey Township in 1919 to build the Charles A. Smith Community Hall, completed in 1924 and located on the corner of Main Street and East Lacey Road. The longest serving pastor was Rev. Ormond Worthington Wright, who served both the Forked River church and Wright Memorial Presbyterian Church in Barnegat for thirty years. Prior to arriving here in 1886, Rev. Wright ministered in Dodge City, Kansas, and was said to have both Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson among his deacons.

For further information, log on to frpcusa.org or call 609-693-5624. 

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