History Of The Forked River Presbyterian Church
Our church can trace its roots to a group of committed Cedar Creek (Lanoka Harbor) and Forked River Christians who banded together in 1828 at the urging of Mr. Amos Salter, an elder from the Old First Presbyterian Church of Newark. Mr. Salter convinced the Reverend Solomon Carpenter to move here and conduct services in this area. For many years the congregation worshipped in private homes and/or the one room school on Frog Hollow Road (now Jones Road). In 1850 the Reverend Thomas Dewing, a Presbyterian minister in Toms River, preached in seven locations between Toms River and Manahawkin, one of them being the school house in Forked River. Our first church building was purchased through the efforts of the Reverend Dr. Charles c F. Worrell, from the Cedar Creek Baptists in 1857 and incorporated as the Presbyterian Church of Cedar Creek. In 1865 the building was moved from Lanoka Harbor to its present site on a piece of property donated by Mr. James Jones, and On June 9, 1865, incorporated as the Presbyterian Church of Forked River.
On June 17, 1873, the congregation officially became a part of Monmouth Presbytery and the national Presbyterian Church. This historic step was celebrated at a Service of Divine Worship and the observance of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on that day. The Reverend James M. Denton was called as the first Pastor in September of that year. The church had a humble beginning with just eleven (11) charter members with seventy (70) enrollees in the church Sunday School. The first wedding and baptism were conducted on January 27 and September 12, 1875 respectively.
Reverend Denton served the congregation until 1882. In 1876, when a Presbyterian church was organized in Barnegat, he took responsibility of serving that church as well. In fact, the two churches share one pastor until 1945. The Reverend Ormund W.Wright was installed as the fourth pastor of the church on December 7, 1886. For thirty years he served as Pastor of the Forked River and Barnegat Presbyterian Churches. Living in Barnegat, he came to Forked River twice a week, once on Sunday for Sunday School and church service, and again for a midweek Christian Endeavor meeting.
The church was not only a center of spiritual strength for enrichment and renewal; it was also a social center for its members. Early on, the women formed a sewing circle which met for devotions and making articles to be sold at the church fair, which was held in the grove south of the church. In the evening the grounds were lighted by wood fires built on platforms on the sand. Kerosene lamps and lanterns were used on the tables where people enjoyed homemade cakes, ice cream and candy. Another annual event was the combined Church and Sunday School picnic. Sailboats took the members and children across the bay to what is now Island Beach State Park, where everyone enjoyed swimming in the ocean.
In 1879 the Women’s Sewing Circle changed its name to the Women’s society, placing grater emphasis upon the spiritual aspects of life. In 1957 the name was again changed to “The United Presbyterian Women,” which today is known as “Presbyterian Women”.
The Lend-A-Hand Club was organized on October 22, 1923. From the start, it has been a truly ecumenical organization, with its members and officers representing many religious backgrounds. Down through the years, Lend- A-Hand has played a vital role in financially assisting the church through generous contributions of money raised through bazaars, dinners and craft sales. A number of the church’s mortgages were retired early due to the dedicated support of the women of Lend-A-Hand.
In 1928, the first fund raiser for the church modernization was launched. Electrical fixtures replaced hanging kerosene lamps and new carpeting was laid. New pews and memorial windows were purchased and installed and the interior was repainted. On May 4, 1930, the newly renovated church was rededicated to the greater glory of God with the Rev. W. P. Boardman officiating. At 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, flying embers from a nearby forest fire ignited the wooden structure and it was reduced to a pile of smoking ash. The official church records, sacred communion vessels and a historic baptismal bowl were all that was saved, as they had been kept at the homes of various Elders.
The Forked River Methodist congregation gave the use of their facility as an interim meeting place to worship. In the meantime, the Presbyterian congregation worked tirelessly to raise funds to construct a new building. There were suppers, fairs, sales and cardboard bricks purchased to raise money. One year and five months after the fire, on October 4, 1931 new brick faced church was dedicated to the glory of God.
Between 1933 and 1945, the Reverend Le Roy Dilliner pastored the Barnegat and Forked River Presbyterian churches, leaving in 1945 to serve the Board of National Missions as a missionary in West Virginia. In 1947, the first manse was constructed in Forked River for the Reverend William Chalmers and his wife. A small bungalow was erected on the lot directly opposite the church. In 1956, the Ida Clayton property (the Victorian house next to Riggs Funeral Home) was purchased and became the manse. It remained the residence for the pastors of the church until 1985 when it was sold. The proceeds from the sale have been invested, with the interest being used to support a housing allowance for the current pastors.
In 1956, the house and property adjacent to the church was purchased to provide additional Sunday School rooms. The building renamed. “Westminster Cottage” and in 1966 the Westminster Nursery was opened in that building, with 15 children and one full time teacher. the school occupied the building until 1981, when it was moved into a building on Lacey Road, changing the name to the First Adventure Nursery School.
Music has always been an integral part of the Forked River Presbyterian Church. In 1959 a Baldwin organ was purchased, replacing the electric organatron which has served the church since 1939. Then in 1977, an Allen Digital Computer organ was purchased through generous donations made during the sanctuary expansion program. In 1987, chimes were added to be used with the organ. Thanks to contributions to the Memorial Fund, a new piano for the sanctuary was purchased in 1993, and two octaves of hand bells were purchased in 1995. The most recent memorial addition has been the donation of a carillon for the bell tower, which plays music during the day and chimes on the hour.
As the size of the congregation has increased over the years, so has the need for space. In 1963, members of the church dug out under the sanctuary by hand and constructed a basement with a small kitchen area, which was used for Sunday School classes, and church meetings and dinners. As the Sunday school continued to grow, it became apparent that more space was needed. In 1969 a 2.7 acre piece of property, directly behind and south of the church, was purchased for $20,000. It was originally contemplated that it would be used to construct additional Sunday School space. Due to lack of funds, that plan was put off until 1976-77. At that time the congregation under the leadership of Reverend Dr. Emanuel Emanuel, decided to expand the existing facility and turn the land behind the church into a parking lot. The addition to the sanctuary and Sunday School was a true leap of faith by the leaders and membership of the church. Because of their efforts, the church has been able to expand to its present membership of over 300 adults, with 75 children enrolled in the Sunday School. Thanks to the efforts of the women of Lend-A-Hand, the mortgage for the expansion was paid off six years early, in 1991.
In 1985, the congregation called the Reverend Sally and John Gilbert to be the Co-Pastors. During the almost 13 years that they have served the church, there has been a growth in a number of areas of church life. In 1988 the first Board of Deacons was elected to minister to the needs of the congregation and community. The mission programs of the church were expanded to include more local projects including: Caregivers, which assists shut-ins within our community; a tutoring program at Oceanfields correction facility; providing food for local food pantry and supplies to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission and other shelters in the area.
And now, as we celebrate 147 years as a member of Monmouth Presbytery and the national Presbyterian Church, we continue growing both spiritually and physically. We are excited about the latest expansion program adding a new building for Sunday School and fellowship activities. And as in the past, we will continue serving the growing spiritual and social needs of our members and our community. With the generous sharing of time, talents and riches, the Forked River Presbyterian Church has carried on the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ both near and far. Through continued support and participation of the current membership, we will carry the Gospel into the next century and beyond.
In September of 1999 the Reverends John and Sally Gilbert resigned their position at the Forked River Presbyterian. Rev. Darlene Makin served as interim pastor until 2001. In October of 2001 Rev. Terry L. Chapman was called by the congregation to serve as pastor of the Forked River Presbyterian Church.