by Elsie Walker
Last year, Christ Episcopal Church, at 369 Sandshore Road in Budd Lake, celebrated 25 years of being located in Mt. Olive. There, its presence is felt in a number of ways. The church is home to the Mt. Olive Food Pantry, plus it opens its space to a variety of community programs. Besides its weekly worship, the church has All God’s Children (AGC) , a ministry offering twice a month non-denominational services to children of all ages, and particularly children with autism, PDD-NOS, ADHD, ADD, Downs, or any other developmental or physical challenge. The church also reaches out to its community and beyond to share its love through a variety of outreaches.
Church member, Raymond Bonker, of Byram, shared the history of the church: “Christ Episcopal Church was originally formed in 1865 and located in Stanhope. It served as a mission church within the Diocese of Newark until 1981, when it was upgraded to parish status, meaning that the church was self-supporting in terms of finances and clergy. The Stanhope church was sold and the congregation moved to its present location at the corner of Sandshore and Smithtown Roads in the Budd Lake section of Mt. Olive in 1993.”
Rev. Elizabeth Myers has been at the church a little over a year and a half. As the priest-in-residence, she has the responsibility for worship and pastoral care. She explained she is there while the church Vestry makes plans and takes steps to bring on board its next Priest-in-Charge. (The vestry is the administrating body of the church.) “They are a wonderful group among which to worship, learn, work and play,” she said of the congregation.
What Myers likes most about the ministry is “offering myself as a channel through whom people are enabled to know and grow in their awareness and experience of the reality and power of God’s love in all that makes up their lives, and in the excitement that comes with sharing this love with others. I especially enjoy how this happens in shared worship, small group discussions and talks with individuals.”
Myers has a number of interests. She noted that she’s been a dog lover all her life and her current dog is Oscar, who she describes as delightful and a good friend. Her hobbies include keeping up with friends and family, making new friends, exploring knitting and drumming, and enjoying golf and watching golf and tennis on TV.
The church has two Sunday services. Its traditional Eucharistic service begins at 10:15am (September through June, then moves to 9:30am in July and August) All God’s Children contemporary family service, which was created to meet the needs of families of children with special needs, is held on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of every month at 9:00am (September through early June).
Bonker described the traditional Eucharistic service: “As an Episcopal Church, we generally follow the Anglican customs in the worship service, known as the Rite II Eucharist. Our worship style is casual and friendly…. We range from individuals comfortable in charismatic praise environments, to individuals preferring a more traditional liturgy. We follow the principle of our All God’s Children Service in all our worship: whoever you are, however you worship, bring all of who you are to worship God today.”
“[It is] a warm, friendly, open environment. It’s an eclectic group of people with different ideas about worship, but we all fit in the same space,” said church member Andrew Lutz of Long Valley. Lutz added, “[The] scriptures are alive; Jesus Christ is alive. I enjoy the comradery and being with the people of the church. It feels like home. They put me at ease.”
The church does not have a choir right now. Congregation member Debbie Burkhart of Sparta explained, “the music for the traditional Eucharistic service is a mix of traditional hymns and contemporary praise music. Music is provided on a ‘music box’, a digital hymnal that plays hymns from various hymnals as well as mp3s.”
While there is no nursery care, there is a room just off the sanctuary which families with children can use as needed.
Bonker explained that after worship, fellowship includes an informal coffee, along with more formal activities, such as a book club discussion, a Bible study or a specific charitable outreach event.
Done twice a month, All God’s Children(AGC) is a contemporary, non-denominational worship service that has been going on since 2006. Bonker shared the details about it: “We open our doors to children of all ages, and particularly welcome children with autism, PDD-NOS, ADHD, ADD, Downs, or any other developmental or physical challenge. Catering to short attention spans, the service is a lively combination of music and prayer and is only lightly structured and considerably free-form, to allow kids the opportunity to be who they are and to express themselves. Each AGC service begins and concludes with a Cross Parade which involves carrying handheld crosses around the church to music. Part of the service includes a Mom’s Minute offering a parent an opportunity to share a witness, Bible story time to connect kids with God’s word, followed by prayer, a Joyful Noise activity or interactive song during which kids can use various hand-instruments, singing, and an optional communion. The essential message of God’s love and joy for all of his children is presented in a simplified, but meaningful way. This service brings together children with disabilities and children without disabilities to learn together, and from each other, in an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance. Following each service, a brief fellowship session offers parents an opportunity to share information on topics of interest regarding developmental challenges.”
Fellowship at the church takes the form of everything from a one-time event to on-going groups.
For example, when a newer member of the congregation bought a home, Myers and several members of the church came to offer a house blessing. Then, there is the men’s group which has three events a year: two golf outings and a bowling tournament. There is a weekly knitters group which makes scarves and shawls, and donates them to the Seamen’s Institute (which supports the men and women who spend months at sea in the maritime trade) and to local ministries for children in hospitals or in need.
Speaking of outreach, Christ Episcopal Church helps those both in its local community and beyond.
The church is home to the Mt. Olive Food Pantry. Previously located in township offices, the church took on the ministry of housing and supporting the pantry. “The food pantry’s board, Partners in Compassion, consists of members from Christ Church, Mountaintop Church, and a local synagogue. Christ Church hosts the food pantry in its parish hall. On a weekly basis, the pantry serves at least 25 families or individuals. The food bank is opening our church to participate in a broader community of faith. It is staffed by volunteers from several churches and a synagogue in Mt. Olive,” said Bonker.
In addition to the knitting group’s outreach mentioned previously, the church is involved in other things that help people both near and far away. The church participates in Operation Christmas Child, which is a program of the Samaritan Purse organization. That program distributes shoebox-size boxes, filled with small gifts, and the story of Jesus to poor children around the world. “We fill dozens of shoeboxes every year,” shared Bonker. The church also participates in a coupon exchange program for which they encourage members to donate coupons. “Through this initiative, we have helped a military family as far away as Japan, as well as families in our own neighborhood,” said Bonker. The church has been a long-time supporter of the North Porch Women’s and Infants’ Centers. According to the latter’s website (www.northporch.org/), “North Porch Women & Infants’ Centers is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides emergency aid, in the form of baby supplies, to mothers and infants in northern New Jersey, to help them stabilize and improve the quality of their lives.” Finally, Bonker noted that the church has recently begun a prison ministry focused on children of the incarcerated.
The church opens its doors to a number of groups and programs. One of those is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA meetings are held in the downstairs of the church every weekday, typically for 40 to 50 people daily. Bonker shared that the “Early Risers” AA group meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10:30 am to noon, and the evening group meets every Tuesday and Thursday night at 7pm. In addition, the church provides space for community programs, such as those for DAWN Center For Independent Living and the Mt. Olive Advancing Opportunities group.
2020 looks to be a big year for Christ Episcopal Church. Late last year, it completed the self-study process required in order to begin its search for a new priest. The church hopes to call its next pastor early this year.
For more information, see the church’s website at www.christchurchbuddlake.org/ or call the church at (973)-347-1866