Dec 16, 2020

The Historic Haven of The Lincroft Presbyterian Church

By Lori Draz

This month’s Historic Havens focuses on the long, rich history of the Lincroft Presbyterian Church. While the original church now has new a resident, the welcoming church community continues to thrive and inspire.   

History teaches many lessons. This year especially, history reminds us that throughout struggles, wars, epidemics and politics, we endure and persevere. We have come through a lot and we will continue on, modifying when necessary, but never forfeiting principles, legacy and community.

This year has been a challenge for everyone. Our houses of worship have been forced to change the ways of operation, but they too have endured. In these virtual prayer places, we are reminded that the church building is only part of a congregation. The soul of a church is its people.

This month’s Historic Havens focuses on the long, rich history of the Lincroft Presbyterian Church. While the original church now has new a resident, the welcoming church community continues to thrive and inspire.

The older Lincroft Presbyterian Church was the centerpiece of Lincroft, across from the Acme, until 1966. The building is still there and has become a restaurant.

The history of the Lincroft Presbyterian Church dates back to the mid-1800s when it was known as the First Baptist Church of Leedsville, which was the original name of Lincroft. Four trustees from the First Baptist Church of Red Bank – James Grover, John N. Johnson, Daniel Polehemus and Horace Gleason – founded the congregation on Oct. 10, 1846.

The church was incorporated on Feb. 25, 1847 as the Lincroft Church Society. Following some initial funding difficulties, construction began in 1868. The chapel was dedicated on Feb. 17, 1869.

The first Baptist Church supplied the pulpit. The trustees were committed to the establishment of a Sunday school, and they built a big community of family worship.

As the Sunday school grew, so did the need for continued religious training and devotion, and so on March 28, 1951, the church was incorporated as the non-denominational Lincroft Community Church. Stanley Stilwell, who had served as Sunday school superintendent since 1930, was appointed lay pastor. On June 3, 1951, an addition to the chapel was dedicated in Lincroft Center which allowed Sunday school and church services to be held at the same time.

In the late 1950s, the members wanted the stability of being part of a denominational church. Lincroft Community Church joined the United Presbyterian Church on Jan. 31, 1960, chartered as Lincroft Presbyterian Church. Not long after, the Rev. William Mills was installed as the first Presbyterian pastor.

Within two years, membership doubled, and Stanley Stilwell led a team to search for property for a new church. They looked from Tinton Falls (then called New Shrewsbury) to Colts Neck and north to Middletown. Finally on Sept. 16, 1962, they purchased an 18-acre parcel of farm land on the corner of Everett Road and West Front Street which had a house that could serve as a manse.

There were a few stumbles, including the loss of many members who were employees of AT&T who moved when the company opened its new software development facility in Illinois.

Ground was broken on Dec. 5, 1965 and the new church was dedicated on Oct. 9, 1966. Since then, there have been numerous interim and full-time pastors, the latest being the Rev. Diane R. Ford, who became the sixth pastor of Lincroft Presbyterian Church on June 1, 2015.

Rev. Diane Ford

Ford has worked hard to keep the church family worshipping God and serving the local community. This year, her challenges grew as she, like others, worked to bring worship to a virtual community.

She drew inspiration from story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well, found in John Chapter 4. When asked, “Where is the right place to worship?” Jesus replied, “A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Ford shared that the in-person church coming together as a community of care is important, but that the congregation has remained strong throughout.

“We are offering in-person worship along with Zoom services which can be watched at your convenience on YouTube,” she said. “Isolation, along with the short days of winter, is causing numerous cases of depression and loneliness, and we invite anyone in distress to reach out. We also invite you to our 7:30 pm ‘Longest Night’ or Blue Christmas service on [Monday,] Dec. 21 which is offered for the sake of the suffering. You are also invited to the 7 pm Christmas Eve worship service. The church is also hosting a blood drive on [Tuesday,] Dec. 29 from noon to 5 pm at the church.”

Amanda Mae Edwards

A single pew from the original church located outside the pastor’s office

Special note – much of the history of the church was archived by the amazing Amanda Mae Edwards. She had been the church’s longest standing member. Throughout her career in nursing, Mae made time to teach Sunday school and pursue her love of history and genealogy, which included the preservation of St. Leo’s cemetery, the resting place of colored troops from the Civil War, First World War and other conflicts. Mae passed in 2019 and is lovingly remembered by her church family.

They also celebrate 90-year-old congregant Ed Stillwell, who is a descendent of Stanley Stillwell.

This has been a difficult financial year for churches, so please be generous at this time of year. To learn more, donate and connect visit LincroftPC.org.