Source: The Record, Thursday, May 4, 1972
By Jo Schaffer, staff writer
A country life frame chapel and the adjoining modern brick building -- one topped with a simple white cross, the other with a tail steeple -- show the progress of the Community Church of Teaneck since 1922.
But it's the 325 people gathering tonight to celebrate its 50th anniversary that tell the real story of the church.
The chapel, now just a portion of the much larger, more modern structure, is a little like the people who started it -- comfortable and charming, but fast-paced, functional world of today.
"It was our whole life at that time; it was everything to us," says Mrs. Ethel Ward of the early church days.
Mrs. Ward, and four other charter members of the Community Church -- a reformed Church in America -- will be among the guests celebrating the church's anniversary at a dinner at Innwood Manor. A sixth charter member, Edwin Jacobsen, is hospitalized and unable to attend.
The others are Mrs. Helen Beckley Lee, Mrs. Walter Graham, Charles Germann, and Nels Johnson.
The dinner is the most formal event of the Church's year-long celebration. Retired couples living in places like Leisure Village will return for the dinner with old friends.
There were 110 charter members and the current pastor, the rev. Harold Van Oort, says their early efforts were years of struggle.
But the members seems to remember it more as a time of shared work and pleasure.
"In those days, it was a mutual friendship meeting," says Germann.
If one worshiper was missing from a service, the entire congregation would be concerned for his health, Germann recalls. Now, he says he doesn't know half of the 500 members.
The Community Church was just that what it started; a group of Teaneck neighbors, members of one of the township's outlying communities, many of them worshippers at the Bogart Memorial Church in Bogota.
The neighbors in the Elm Avenue area were closer to Bogota than to some of their fellow residents across town -- which is those days meant across farmlands. Even their mail was sent through Bogota. So it was no unusual for the people to attend church in the next town.
Moved to firehouse
But in 1919, the Rev. F. K. Shield began conduction prayer meetings in private homes in the area. Soon the meetings outgrew private living rooms, and the group moved to the second floor of the Kenwood Place firehouse.
In the summer of 1921, the members raised $1,000 to purchase a piece of land for their church. That was the beginning.
From the firehouse, the members moved to a community house and, later, into the chapel which over the years was expanded several times and was finally moved in 1955 to make room for the new building.
In a Golden Jubilee booklet, 1922 -- the year the church was organized -- is described: "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 ... and in Teaneck carnivals were outlawed by an ordinance against traveling shows...."
Now, 50 years later, the old neighborhood church which grew up during the Depression faces some of the problems of modern times.
The membership, which reached its peak of 750 10 years ago, is down to about 500. But fortunately, says Mr. Van Oort, financial contributions haven't declines in proportion to the membership.
Young married and retired couples are the age groups that are the biggest loss to the church. People who grow up in the church tend to move away after college, says Mr. Van Oort, and the older people leave for more inexpensive living elsewhere.
"It's the age of mobility," says the pastor.
Meanwhile fewer Protestants are moving into the old houses in the neighborhood, which partially accounts for the declining membership. But Mr. Van Oort sees no serious problem in the near future.
But older members like Mrs. Ward seem to wonder. Asked what she thinks has changed the most over the years, she ponders a long while and finally answers, "Just about everything."