Source: Pamphlet from Teaneck Collection at Teaneck Public Library
Half A Century Of Leadership
The Presbyterian Church of Teaneck, whose fiftieth anniversary we are celebrating this month, is the oldest in the Township. In fact, the organization from which it took its origin is nearly thirty years older than the Township, and the Township itself was organized in quarters earlier occupied by that Christian group.
On May 17, 1866, the first session of the Washington Avenue Union Sunday School was held in a one-room school building, erected in 1841, which stood at the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Railroad Avenue (Teaneck Road and Forest Avenue today). This Sunday school was organized under the leadership of Lebbeus Chapman, a New York banker who had moved to Teaneck in early 1865.
The little schoolhouse was superseded in 1869 by an elegant two-story frame building with mansard roof, which arose cater-cornered across the road from the first one. The day school met on the first floor, the Sunday school on the second. In the Bergen County courthouse in Hackensack is a deed, executed June 8, 1890, wherein, for the sum of $1, William Walter Phelps and Ellen Sheffield Phelps convey to the Washington Avenue Union Sunday School Association a plot of ground north of the school property across the right-of-way which has become Church Street -- a generous 100x200 feet -- for the Association's first owned home.
The Township of Teaneck was organized in 1895 in the quarters vacated by the Sunday School Association. The building was later moved to the north half of the Town House property when School No. 2, the present Town House, was built. Still later it was removed to the corner of Teaneck road and Bedford Avenue, where it now stands as the clubhouse of Capt. Stephen T. Schoonmaker Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Actual formation of the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck got its first impetus in 1905, when Mr. and Mrs. Thomas H. Oliver gathered a group of Presbyterians at their home on Forest Avenue to explore the possibility of forming a church. There was none of any denomination in the Township at that time.
On May 24, 1906, the date we commemorate today, a committee from Jersey City Presbytery met with 32 persons in the Washington Avenue Union Sunday School building, and formed the Presbyterian Church in Teaneck. Of those 32, three are members today: Mrs. Settone C. Bower, the former Lita Franke; Mrs. Clarence R. Cole, the former Anna Elizabeth Lieffert, and Mrs. Oliver.
One of the 32 original members of the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck was a student just finishing his course at Union Theological Seminary. He was George H. Roberts Jr., who had been attending Sunday and Wednesday evening services and became the little church's first pastor.
Ordained and installed on November 2, 1906, young Dr. Roberts served as pastor until the end of 1908. Twenty years later, when he was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Illinois, Dr. Roberts recalled with satisfaction that his pastorate saw the church grow to a total of fifty members, and become self-supporting. Its first year's activities, he recalled, had required a gift of $200 from the Jersey City Presbytery.
The first owned building of the Sunday School Association, which became the first church building, had been completed in 1894. Capt. Frank de Ronde, Marvin S. Coe, and Mr. Phelps had each given $200 toward its erection. Captain de Ronde had organized concerts and sparked other activities to complete the necessary sum of the building.
By 1911, the congregation had outgrown this structure. A new campaign was conducted to add, at the west end of the building a wing which served as transept and chancel. The building was still in the name of the Sunday School Association. It was not until 1916 that the church paid the Association $3,000 to gain title to the property. The Sunday School Association paid off a mortgage, left from the 1911 acquisition, with this money, and went out of existence after a useful career of half a century.
While the Union Sunday School, as its name indicates was formally nonsectarian, leadership from its inception had leaned strongly upon Presbyterians. Its first decade saw five superintendents: Lebbeus Chapman, Lyman T. Bunnell, Theodore Lozier, John Ackerman and William Johnson. Mr. Johnson was succeeded by George S. Coe who served as superintendent for thirty-nine years -- the last twenty of these in the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck.
George Coe was the third of the eleven children of Capt. William P. Coe of Englewood. He was accustomed to walk to Teaneck from his Englewood home every Sunday morning to fulfill his duties. His service as superintendent ended only a few months before his death, February 11, 1927. As the program of the church's twenty-fifth anniversary observance, on May 24, 1931, noted, George Coe was often called upon for financial advice -- and more tangible support -- in the first twenty years of the church's existence. He was a member of the board of trustees for eleven years, several as chairman, a service that only ended with his death. The pipe organ in use in the church today, purchased by the Women's Guild at the end of 1928, was dedicated as a memorial to this faithful friend and leader.
Assumption of title to the Sunday School Association property, and other responsibilities of a growing congregation, had called for some structural changes in the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck. It was incorporated on November 12, 1915. It still lacked a manse, and was served in this period by a stated supply rather than a resident minister.
This leader was the Rev. Thornton B. Penfield, who still lives in Englewood and comes to Teaneck to rejoice with the members of his old congregation in the recurrent ceremonies. Under his guidance the church structure was raised in 1922 and a full basement was built, large enough for a kitchen, heating plant, toilets and a fellowship hall. The 1923 annual meeting especially commended Carl R. Franke for his part in this accomplishment. As stated supply and as minister from June 6, 1919, to April 16, 1922, the Rev. Dr. Penfield served the Teaneck church for eight years. Succeeding him was the Rev. Reginald Rowland, a young graduate of Princeton and Hartford Theological Seminary and World War 1 chaplain, who became pastor on December 12, 1922.
First forward step of the Rev. Mr. Rowland's pastorate was the acquisition in 1923 of the adjoining lot to the west on Church Street, and erection of a manse. He even lent the church $1,000 for a down payment. The lot to the north on Teaneck road was also purchased to provide for future growth.
Hitherto services had been in the afternoon or evening. On Easter Sunday, 1923, service began at 11 A. M. At the same time Sunday School was moved to the morning hour at which it has been held ever since.
The Rev. Mr. Rowland was pastor for twenty years. During his ministry membership increased from 135 to more than 300. Until 1942 the pews had stretched across the nave. With the World Service Association leading in the project, a center aisle was provided, the chancel was divided at the west end of the building, with a platform and parapet. Stained glass windows were installed. Thus the church took the final form remembered by today's old-timers (anyone who has been a member more than ten years).
When World War II began, the Rev. Mr. Rowland again accepted a chaplainry. His place was taken by the Rev. Roland Holcomb who left in early 1945 to become associate pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California. The Rev. Herbert C. Wilenberg, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Waterford, New York, who was called by the session to fill the post, was installed December 9,m 1945.
Even before World War II, with its nearly absolute ban on any but essential construction, had ended, the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck was seeking some way of meeting its desperate need for space. In November of 1944 the board of trustees appealed to the congregation for a postwar building fund. More than $32,000 was subscribed.
By the time the Rev. Mr. Willenberg was installed, half a year after V-E Day, it had become plain that there would be no return to pre-1941 prices and wages. A decade begin in which a building committee, a finance committee to provide the building committee's wherewithal, were as much fixtures in the church organization as the statutory boards.
A supplementary campaign in February 1946, brought in $10,000. With the $32,000 on hand, it was hoped to obtain half the cost of a $100,000 building, with the balance to be obtained by mortgage. Builders were approached. The price they all mentioned was more like $175,000.
It was out of the question to wait until any such sum could be amassed -- or even until a down payment could be raised that would justify a mortgage for the balance. The Sunday School was spread over three buildings. Double services on Sunday began before Advent and stretched nearly to summer vacation. On Easter and Palm Sunday the double services found some worshippers downstairs listening to loud speakers.
In this emergency the pastor sketched a plan for an addition to the building, stretching northward parallel to the Teaneck Road, that would provide a new and larger sanctuary at once, and still fit into future plans for a completely new and adequate building. The addition, as finally built, cost $72,000. The Church Extension Division of the Board of National Missions lent the congregation $25,000. The Jersey City Presbytery advanced $5,000 against members' pledges which were still to be paid. Work began.
Construction got under way on August 2, 1948. First services were held in the new sanctuary on December 12, 1949. To erect the addition, most of the north wall of the older building was torn down.
On the lower floor the old kitchen was torn out and replaced by a new and larger one. The space beneath the new sanctuary became a spacious Fellowship Hall. The World Service Association equipped the new kitchen.
The feeling of vast room in which to move about and to conduct the church's business did not last long. The new sanctuary seated 288 persons, true; but with the membership crossing the 600 mark, and children, not only of members but of the whole community, thronging into the Sunday School, another heroic effort had to be made.
At the annual meeting of the congregation in January, 1953, it was voted to embark on a final building program to replace the old building entirely, and to add a Christian Education building between the existent structure and Teaneck Road. this is the building we have just completed -- at least on the outside. We dedicated it on February 26, 1956. Additions comprise an extension of the sanctuary south into the space once occupied by the old church; a narthex occupying the rest of the old church area, entered from a columned portico almost as wide as the old church was long; an entirely new Christian Education building, with a large Fellowship Hall upstairs and a Junior Fellowship Hall below; a connecting structure crowned with a cupola and housing a new kitchen, a minister's office, a church parlor, a junior assembly room and a board room for the governing bodies of the church. Above the narthex and the rearward extension of the sanctuary is a large room which will be finished as a chapel for youth groups. Primary and nursery quarters and a new furnace room occupy the area of the basement of the old church and its extension east.
The building fund drive for this ambitious program began in June, 1953. Pledges of funds were sought as outright gifts, to the made in thirty installments from July, 1953 to December, 1955, and purchases of twenty-year 3 per cent bonds dated January 1, 1956.
Gifts, in lumps sums, as memorials, and in the thirty-month pledges amounted to $1,000. The entire program cost a trifle less than $183,000. A $50,000 mortgage and the salt of $40,000 in bonds was supplemented with short-term financing designed to the rapidly retired by further gifts.
Thus the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck begins its second half century as it began the first -- confronted with many problems, but prepared, with God's help, to solve them all.