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Source: The Community Church of Teaneck 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee 1922-1972 -- Pamphlet from the Teaneck collection of Teaneck Public Library
The Year 1922
It was the year Mussolini marched on Rome and led the Fascists to power in Italy. . . Warren Harding was President of the United States. . . Mrs. Rebecca Felton of Georgia became the first woman to be a U.S. Senator. . . The Giants and Yankees met in their second straight Subway Series, the last such series the Giants were to win.
And in Teaneck Frederick Griffith was Chairman of the Township Committee (what passed for Mayor in those days) . . . Theodore Human, who had been appointed Superintendent of the new Department of Public Works the year before, began to see that houses in the township were properly numbered. . . Carnivals were outlawed by an ordinance against traveling shows. . .
And, of course, The Community Church of Teaneck was officially organized. But its roots go back several years further. And to understand these beginnings, we must take a look at the unusual kind of municipality Teaneck was in those days.
Teaneck at the start of the Twenties
What was to become the largest community in Bergen County was still a very small town then. The Federal Census of 1920 showed a population of 4,192. It was to quadruple in the next decade and today, of course, it is more than ten times as big.
But what really marked the community in those days was that it wasn't much of a cohesive community at all. That's because most of the population was located in outlying areas adjacent to neighboring towns and in many ways felt closer kinship to those towns than to their fellow inhabitants of Teaneck.
The central area of Teaneck was comparatively undeveloped, largely because much of it was part of the Phelps Estate which centered around today's Municipal Building. (And along Queen Anne Road was a big hayfield.) The widow of William Walter Phelps died in 1920 and then two years later in June 1922, just five months after our Church was formally born, the Bergen County newspapers proclaimed the big news of the region: "Phelps Estate to be opened to development." Only after that did the center of today's town slowly take shape.
Teaneck's dispersed population pattern at the time the Church was being formed is well illustrated by the locations of the three public schools and four volunteer fire companies that were in existence in 1922. The West Englewood section of Teaneck, adjacent to Englewood, was served by the original Washington Irving School (now the Town House) which was completed in 1906, and by Volunteer Fire Company #1, organized in 1904, also located at Teaneck Road and Forest Avenue.
Then there was the section known as Lower Teaneck, next to Ridgefield Park and Bogota, which was served by the Longfellow School on Oakdene Avenue, completed in 1910, and by Teaneck Hose Company #1, Morningside Terrace, organized in 1911. A little further east in the Glenwood Park section, the Glenwood Park Volunteer Fireman's Association was also organized in 1911.
Finally, there was the section in which our Church is located, which quite logically was known as the Bogota Section of Teaneck. Actually, it was the first part of town where real building activity developed. The area was served by the Emerson School, completed in 1916, and by the Cedar Volunteer Fireman's Association, organized in 1908. The Fire Company was first located in the barn of Joseph Douglas on Linden Avenue and set up in its fire house in Kenwood Place in 1912.
Our Church's Community
Let's take a closer look at the Bogota Section as it was around 1920. We find the people more closely connected with Bogota than with Teaneck. Mail was delivered from the Bogota Post Office. Commuters used the Bogota railroad stations. Water was supplied by the Bogota Water Company. The principal shopping center was Main Street and Fort Lee Road, Bogota (Cedar Lane had not yet developed into a shopping district). People did their banking in Bogota, the only financial institution in Teaneck being the Teaneck Building & Loan Association. (The West Englewood National Bank, far from our area anyway, opened in 1923; the Teaneck National Bank, which has since become the Peoples Trust branch, didn't arrive till 1926.)
And, as might be expected, most residents of the Bogota Section also went to church in Bogota. Quite a few were members of the Bogart Memorial Church there.
At that time the automobile had not as yet achieved the status of a necessity; walking was still a fairly common means of locomotion. However, it was quite a long trek from Teaneck down to Bogota to attend church services, prayer meetings and Sunday School, especially for the children and older people and particularly when the weather was bad. And so, early in 1919, some of the residents got together and began holding prayer meetings in their homes. These prayer meetings led to the formation of the Teaneck Chapel of the Bogart Memorial Church.
The story of the Teaneck Chapel is told in what was undoubtedly the first published history concerning our Church. It appeared in the program for a play given by the local people for the benefit of the Chapel on June 10, 1921. Since it is an authoritative account of the very beginning of our Church, we reprint it here.
History of The Teaneck Chapel
"During March and April of 1919 prayer meetings were held in the homes of various residents of the Bogota Section of Teaneck, and they met with such success and were so well attended that the homes were too small to accommodate the people, and the Fire House on Kenwood Place was secured. A service has been held weekly since then, and the attendance has surprised even the sponsors of the Chapel.
An organization known as the Trustees of the Teaneck Chapel of the Bogart Memorial Church was formed with the following officers:
"In June 1920, the Trustees, aided by the other organizations of the Chapel, held an open-air Carnival at Elm Avenue and Kipp Street. Conspicuous help was also rendered in the affair by various societies of the Bogart Memorial Church.
"In January 1921, a plot 100 x 150 feet was secured on the southwest corner of Elm Avenue and North Street. This is diagonally opposite the school and is easily accessible to the entire section. One thousand dollars were paid then, and there is a mortgage remaining of six hundred dollars.
"Plans and specifications having been drawn, it is now proposed to build a Chapel and Community House on this ground. It is hoped that the building can be in use by October of this year." The time schedule was a little optimistic, but the Church was on its way.
The same 1921 program also reports on early church organizations which were already thriving. It lists the Sunday School, organized in September 1919, which by then had 160 children and met Sunday afternoons at three in the Fire House; Christian Endeavor, organized November 4, 1920, which met Thursday evenings at the Fire House; and the Women's League, started in October 1919, which by then had 46 members.
The groundwork for a new Home and a new Church
As this early account made clear, acquisition of the Elm Ave. & North St. property and the construction of the Community House and Chapel were consummated under the direction of the Trustees of the Teaneck Chapel of the Bogart Memorial Church before our present Church was formally organized.
To finance the project, the Bogart Memorial Church temporarily lent $5,000. William N. Smith, a prominent member of that Church, contributed substantial sums himself and gave his financial backing to secure a $5,000 mortgage loan from the Bogota National Bank. Mr. Stanley made a loan of $500.
By the close of 1921 it became evident that the Teaneck Chapel of the Bogart Memorial Church had just about fulfilled its mission. Since its inception in 1919, a congregation and Sunday School had been organized and a church home built. This record of accomplishment in the space of a little over two years bespeaks the vision, dedication and industry of the pioneers of our Church. The Chapel members were now about ready to leave the protection of the Mother Church in Bogota and strike out on their own. At a meeting of the Chapel Trustees on January 12, 1922, the Rev. Mr. Shield reported that a meeting had been called for Thursday evening, January 26, 1922, for the purpose of establishing a Church under the direction of the Classis of Bergen of the Reformed Church in America.
On the appointed day the Rev. Albert Von Schlieder, representing the Classis of Bergen, presided. The Rev. Mr. Shield reported that it was the desire of the people present to be organized into a church under the name of "The William N. Smith Community Church of Teaneck". The church was then organized according to the constitution of the Reformed Church in America, with 110 Charter Members. Of these, thirty-five were received on letters from the Bogart Memorial Church; eleven on letters from other churches; and sixty-four on confession or reaffirmation of faith. Three Elders and three Deacons were elected at this meeting and at a special meeting four days later two additional Elders and two more Deacons were chosen. The Rev. Mr. Shield then reported that he had resigned as Associate Pastor of Bogart Memorial and and had been appointed as Classical Missionary of the Classis of Bergen, and that he would be able to act as "Stated Supply" (regular fill-in minister) of the new Church. This offer was promptly accepted and he was elected to serve at a salary of $1,500 per year.
At a Sunday evening service on February 26, 1922, the Rev. Andrew Walter Judson, representing the Classis of Bergen, conducted the ordination and and installation of the Church's first Consistory.
The man behind our first name
We have already seen how William N. Smith's financial backing helped get our Church started. He continued to support the Church generously during its early years of financial struggle and contributed $1,000 or more each year until his death in 1931. And in addition to his monetary support, he gave freely of himself in time and counsel.
Who was this strong friend? William Smith was born in Buffalo, N. Y., engaged in the paper business in New England, and then came to Bogota where he founded and became president of the Bogota Paper & Board Company. He also became a founder and president of the Bogota National Bank, and served for a time as Mayor of Bogota.
A member of Bogart Memorial, William Smith became a close personal friend of Bogart's Associate Pastor Frederick Shield and when Mr. Shield undertook the Teaneck project, Mr. Smith gave his invaluable encouragement and support. It was Mr. Smith who first broke the ground to start construction of the Community House and Chapel on October 16, 1921. While not among the Charter Members, a few years later, on December 7, 1924, Mr. & Mrs. William N. Smith became members of the Church that bore his name.
The first sixteen years
After its jubilant start, the young Church was engaged in a rather grim financial struggle for survival for its first six or seven years. The annual expenses were about three to four thousand dollars and were met with a great deal of difficulty. At times the Consistory found it necessary to obtain short-term loans to meet pressing obligations such as the Pastor's salary, fuel bills and the like. Little, if any money was available for debt reduction.
During the following decade, 1928 through 1937, considerable improvement was made in the Church's financial situation. The saying "the Lord helps those that help themselves" could well have been the Community Church slogan. Definite plans were made to reduce the debt. Penny-a-meal banks were distributed to members to raise money for the mortgage fund. Year by year the mortgage at the Bogota National Bank was reduced; by the end of 1937 only $1,264 of the original $5,000 loan from the bank remained unpaid. (But the $5,000 loan from the Board of Domestic Missions of the Reformed Church, which in late 1922 had replaced the initial $5,000 advance from Bogart Memorial, was still outstanding.) The Church was also able, by special campaigns during this period, to raise enough money to expand and improve the Community House. It is note-worthy that much of this successful financing was accomplished during the Depression years.
The Trembath Era
The year 1938 was a special milestone. It marked the end of the old era and the beginning of a new and more successful one. In February of that year, at the annual congregational meeting, a resolution was adopted to change the name of the Church to the "Teaneck Community Church". At this same meeting, it was voted to request the Rev. William Carman Trembath to become the fifth pastor of the Church. The Rev. Mr. Trembath led the Church with courage and purpose, and it grew and prospered. The balance of the original bank loan was paid off in 1940. In that year the Church was enlarged by building an addition to the front end of the original Chapel which greatly increased the seating capacity. The cost of the addition, new furnishings and a new organ amounted to about $9,400. In 1942 the present parsonage was acquired for about $9,000. In 1946 the debt of $5,000 to the Board of Domestic Missions was paid off. By December 194B the mortgage on the parsonage had been liquidated, and for the first time since it started in 1922 the church was completely out of debt and had a tidy sum in its treasury.
All this time the Township of Teaneck had been growing rapidly as indicated by these Federal Census figures: 1920-- 4,192; 1930-- 16,513; 1940-- 25,275; 1950-- 33,772. As the town grew, so did the Church, its membership increasing from 110 in 1922, to 185 in 1930, 250 in 1940, and 492 in 1950. The Sunday School was also growing rapidly, increasing its membership from approximately 100 in 1922, to 287 in 1930,312 in 1940, and 405 in 1950.
As this growth trend continued, it became increasingly apparent that existing Church facilities would soon become completely inadequate. Accordingly, consideration was given to a new and larger church building. The first major step in this direction was the purchase in November 1949 of additional land on Elm Avenue adjoining the Church's property. In 1950 an Every Member Canvass was conducted which secured pledges in excess of $60,000 for the building fund, to be paid over a period of three years. This fund-raising drive was followed by others so that by the time construction of the new church was begun in April 1954, a total of over $100,000 was in the building fund. This was supplemented by an $80,000 mortgage loan. The total cost of the new church was approximately $215,000. The ground-breaking service for the new church was held on April 25, 1954, the corner stone-laying service on October 24, 1954, and the dedication service on February 6, 1955.
Growth continued. The name of the Church was again changed, this time to "The Community Church of Teaneck". Mortgage payments were met as they fell due, and in addition money was available to make needed improvements in the Church plant.
Then, on November 23, 1959, the Church and the town were shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Pastor Trembath. He had served his congregation faithfully and well for twenty-one years. The following editorial which appeared in Teaneck's local newspaper expressed the feelings of the entire community.
Into the Present
In September 1960 the Church installed its present Pastor, the Rev. Harold G. Van Oort. Much further progress has been made in strengthening the Church to meet the challenge of a new era. On Sunday night, December 6, 1962, in the Church's fortieth anniversary year, a covered dish supper was held to celebrate completion of mortgage payments on the new Church building. The mortgage was formally "burned" on May 7, 1963.
Various major improvements included bricking the front and side of the North Room along with rebuilt roof and ceiling in 1962 and aluminum siding for the Chapel in 1967. In May 1967 the congregation approved a $15,000 program to provide badly needed new Church School and Choir facilities by remodeling the old Chapel and the South Room underneath it. Six church school rooms were created out of the South Room while the Chapel was divided into a music room, another church school room, and a smaller re- modeled Chapel. The project was completed in March 1968.
Meantime, the Church moved through various cycles in ministerial assistants. In the Spring of 1959, Marilyn Spackman, who had briefly served as a student assistant, was engaged as Director of Christian Education with responsibility for the Church School and Youth Work. Miss Spackman became Mrs. Muller in October 1961 and resigned her position the following Spring.
The Consistory then decided to add wider pastoral responsibilities to the school and youth program supervision and in May 1962 arranged for Ronald W. La Rose first, to become a Student Assistant and then Assistant. In September 1963 the Consistory took an even bigger step by providing in the next year's budget for an Associate Pastor. Rev. Clement Birkelbach was called as Associate Pastor in July 1964. He served five fruitful years, with special emphasis on an effective youth program. Since his resignation in the Summer of 1969, the Church has again resorted to student ministers.
The past few years have not been easy ones for the Churches of America. . . or indeed for most Americans and their institutions. After the tremendous growth of the past quarter century, church membership throughout the country has become static and in many places has receded a bit. A town like Teaneck is especially vulnerable to these trends. The huge influx of the postwar years has come to an end as nearly all available land is occupied. And not only has total population just about stopped growing, the proportion of residents who profess Protestant faiths has declined.
These trends have affected the rolls of the Community Church. Total membership which reached a peak of 785 in 1960, is now 450; the Church School actually had its biggest enrollment way back in 1945 with 416 and now has 150; Congregational giving which peaked at $77,483 in 1965 has slimmed to $62,446 in 1971.
Of course, when surrounded by the mountains of near-term concern, it is easy to lose sight of the long-term perspective, and as we look back on the humble beginnings of 50 years ago, the story is one of majestic growth in size, strength and magnificent facilities for service. And under changed conditions, the Church and its members can again draw inspiration from the stories of those early days when the infant Community Church struggled to stay financially alive during the generally "Boom1ng Twenties" and moved forward with new strength in the midst of the Depression.
The life, spirit and dedication of today's Congregation is real and deep. Our members spend many hours and considerable energy in leadership roles in the Consistory, in the Church School, in youth work, in the Women's Guild and Circles. Our Co-Weds retain their energy and enthusiasm as a fellowship and service group, and successfully attract new couples.
Our Youth Groups continue strong and active. The Consistory is increasingly studying and engaging in ecumenical ministry with other churches and synagogues of the community.
The Church has experimented with small home discussion and fellowship groups with some success. A Sunday evening group has maintained a high level of participation and interest. A parent's group for parents of elementary-age children is currently being organized.
Our Congregation has manifested a deepened commitment to the mission of the church beyond our own Congregation, as expressed in the substantial benevolent commitment of the resources of our Church. We continue to invest more than 25% of our total resources to mission.
The Congregation's commitment to a community ministry is reflected by the use of our physical facilities. The Church houses a large and active Senior Citizen's group, a youth Square Dance club, a Cancer Care chapter, a pre- kindergarten school, Boy and Girl Scout troops and other activities too numerous to mention.
Truly, the role of the Community Church continues to be that which was so aptly described in the Township of Teaneck's own commemorative brochure on "Forty Years of Progress," published on Teaneck's 40th birthday in 1935:
The Ministry of Music
From the first, our Church has been proud of its music ministry. Initially, a group led by Elder & Mrs. William Ward sang as a choir at Sunday morning services. For the evening services, a group of young women joined with the Wards to lead the singing. Some of the early organists were Mrs. Frederick Shield, Mr. Arthur Mayer, Mrs. Munroe Hamill and Mrs. Kenneth Erskine.
In 1932 Mr. Leslie Wilkinson was named organist and he organized the Chancel Choir. Four years later Miss Edith Reis took over as organist and choir director. In 1942 Fred C. Ottignon became the organist and choir director and served for sixteen distinguished years.
Meantime the youth movement came to the Church's musical life when Mrs. George Russell and Mrs. Kenneth Brown led the establishment of the Primary Choir in 1949. The enthusiastic response soon led to the start of a Junior Choir and the next year a youth choir for the Junior High level was added. This work has been continued by enthusiastic and talented volunteers to the present day.
Nelson M. Doescher came to take over when Fred Ottignon left in 1958 and further expanded the music ministry. When he decided to retire in early 1964, William Gilmer was chosen as organist and choir director. He continues to lead us in music today. Under Mr. Gilmer's energetic direction, the Church, with its own choir, supplemented by other church choirs and outside artists, presented a gala "Messiah" in the 1965 Christmas season. The Handel masterpiece was repeated the following two years.
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