OUR CHURCH HISTORY
The First Presbyterian Church of Cedarville can readily trace its roots back to Puritanism and the year 1680. It was in the mid-17th century that our spiritual forefathers migrated to South Jersey from Fairfield, Connecticut. It is said that their chief reason for leaving Connecticut was to escape the hostile Pequot Indians in favor of the friendly Lenni-Lenape Indians who inhabited South Jersey. The place that they settled was on the banks of the Cohansey River in New England Towne. These settlers were strongly Calvinistic in doctrine. Worship was carried on in New England Towne for 100 years. These settlers eventually adopted the name of Fairfield for their settlement after their native Fairfield, Connecticut. Their place of worship was named ‘The Church of Christ in Fairfield’. They petitioned and were accepted into membership in the Presbytery of Philadelphia in 1708.
By the year 1775, their house of worship had to be torn down due to its deteriorated condition. At this time, plans were undertaken for a new meeting house and a new site. The new location, in the interest of accessibility, was located on the main road between Fairton and Cedarville. The edifice was constructed of native lumber and Jersey sandstone and remains standing today, known as “The Old Stone Church”.
In the year 1789 Ethan Osborn came from Dartmouth College to the Old Stone Church. There he was ordained and served the church faithfully for the next 55 years. During this period, the communities of Fairton and Cedarville were growing and there was talk in both communities of the need for local houses of worship.
1838 witnessed the organization of the First Presbyterian Church of Cedarville. Before this, Fairton’s Fairfield Presbyterian Church had been organized for many years. Known as an ecclesiastical center for the New England crossroads its parishioners had begun moving out. Business and the construction of community centers in Cedarville as well as Fairton were major factors in the move.
As early as 1818, a Sunday School had been formed in Cedarville Friendship Schoolhouse. Led by Elder Lawrence and Reverend Burt, it averaged 147 students weekly! In 1838, a separate church was established in Cedarville, registering 60 Members, A second congregation, the Osborn Memorial Church, was formed as a result of the “Old School” “New School” controversy.
Reverend A.A. Curran was called as First Church’s first pastor. He received a salary of $500 per year. Archibald Bancroft was the first sexton, at $25 per year. B. Rush Bateman was superintendent of the Sunday School with 52 scholars and 10 teachers. Rapid growth of the church was evident as one year later 91 members were recorded. By 1848 membership had soared to 217 and the church building was enlarged by 20 feet Later, following the Civil War, church membership steadily increased with the Sunday School reaching 240.
One of the most noticeable additions was the site for the Cedar Hill Cemetery. Reverend Gamon, the pastor at that time, remarked, “Though the church did not die under my ministry, it made provision for members who did.” In 1904, Mr Miles Gandy took charge of the cemetery which has been enlarged considerably and is well-maintained currently.
One well-known pastor was the Rev. George Hertzog who served the church from 1897 to 1905 and was elected Moderator of Presbytery during his pastorate. New Jerseyan Thomas Edison made his mark on the church’s life with the installation of his newly invented electric lights.
Ruling Elder Furman Sheppard was elected as a commissioner to the General Assembly in 1922. By 1931, there were 99 church members and 137 students in the Sunday School.
During the 1930’s a religious and ecclesiastical struggle occurred, known as the “Modernist-Fundamentalist” Controversy. The Cedarville church was then and continues today to be ‘intensely Presbyterian and Orthodox’, to quote one historical source.
Ruling Elder Ralph Ransom was elected as a Commissioner to the General Assembly in May, 1964. It had been 40 years since First Presbyterian was so honored.
The physical plant of the church underwent its most radical addition in 1965 when a new educational addition was constructed for $31,467.
During the four years of Reverend Robert Runge’s pastorate, a generous endowment was left to First Church by Mr. George Diament. This endowment considerably helps support our professional ministry to this day.
Ministry has continued through a series of dedicated and competent pastors, the last of which was Rev. D. Bruce Pike who served from 2000 to 2013. During those years the kitchen was completely remodeled, and the original slate church roof was replaced with new roofing. The opening years of Rev. Pike’s pastorate membership grew, but began to decline steadily during the past nine years to 30 members. The Reverend Dr. Roger L. Dunnavan of the Presbytery of West Jersey began serving as Interim Pastor early in 2014. During his ministry, efforts have been made to strengthen the music program and the children’s ministry. Four new members have been added, and one restored to active membership.
After an intensive search and call process, on January 1, 2017 Reverend James K. Agnew became our new full time Pastor. During 2017, the sanctuary was repainted in colors that are “retro” to former times. A ramp now makes our fellowship “handicapped accessible,” and a prayer wall was added on the second floor.
2017 also saw our reengagement with the community through the sponsorship of The Back-pack Snack Community Group.
As the future opens before it, Cedarville’s First Presbyterian Church seeks to maintain its positive identity as a conservative and evangelical witness within the PC USA. The effectiveness of this witness will be determined, in large degree, by the congregation’s response to the pressing issues of world evangelism, local witness, and social outreach into the changing community.
As we dedicate ourselves anew to our Sovereign God, let us rejoice with the Apostle Paul and affirm that indeed “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen”.
Romans 11 :36