By Elsie Walker
The Denville Community Church has a nickname, “The Church of the Open Door.” It got that nickname from a mistake made when a new church sign was created which had the tagline larger than the church’s official name.
“This description of the church has become meaningful for people of all ages who look for an inclusive space to meet God and build relationships,” she said.
Denville resident, Bob Anderson, who has been a member of the church for 12 years, says that nickname has become what he feels the church is best known for, but it isn’t all about coming through the door.
“We accept you no matter who you are, where you’re from or what you believe in,” says Anderson. “Hopefully, you come in through the open door and we can share what we believe in. But, it’s not a door that only opens one way. It is open both ways, as we also go into the community to help people.”
The community the church reaches out to includes not only the local area, but also places such as Appalachia.
“In 1785, the first Methodist service was held in this area at Mr. Jacob Demouth’s house in Powerville, probably led by a circuit rider, a preacher who rode on horseback to travel between communities to plant new churches,” explained Valosin. She went on to share a brief church history of how, from that first service, that current church came to be. “Within fourteen years [of that first service], the faith community outgrew its ability to meet in homes for worship and small groups, so they built the Methodist Episcopal Church in Rockaway Valley. In 1814, a new church was built called ‘Cook’s Church’ on the back road to Boonton. This church building was moved to the corner of Diamond Spring Road and Church Street after a generous donation of land by William Hiler in April of 1841. The following year, with an ox team and the brute strength of many members, the building was moved and rebuilt in just over a month.
The sanctuary was built in 1894 to replace the small frame building, and in 1920, the faith community changed its name to Denville Community Church- Methodist. In 1955, the Board of Trustees recommended that property located at 190 Diamond Spring Road be purchased for a new sanctuary which was consecrated on September 23, 1962.
“An addition to this building was completed in 1985 with the celebration of our 200th anniversary,” said the pastor.
Valosin is a new addition to the church’s history. On July 1, she became the new senior pastor of the church, following the retirement of Rev. Ed Carll, who served for seven years. Valosin has a Master of Divinity from Drew Theological School. Before becoming senior pastor at Denville Community Church, Valosin was the pastor of Montville United Methodist Church and of Mt. Fern United Methodist Church, as well as the Director of Pastoral Care at Trinity United Church.
When asked what she loves most about being a pastor, Valosin said, “I love bringing people together to be supportive during life’s struggles and celebrations, as we find meaning and purpose following Christ together. My hope is that we experience God’s mercy and love throughout our lives and that we find fulfillment as we love God and our neighbors as ourselves.”
Worship at the church is 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. Valosin characterizes it as traditional, with music led by Youngkwang Jun. who the pastor describes as “an incredible musician from South Korea, who often uses contemporary styling for traditional hymns.” Song lyrics are projected on screens, which are run by high school senior, Robert Plumb, in the sound booth. Worship aids include a choir, handbell choir, and children’s choir.
“[Also,] parishioners often share their musical gifts in worship, including Wendy Perrault who recently played harp and invited the children to strum the strings during the Children’s Message,” said Valosin. Leading that Children’s Message is Janice McCrostie, who Valosin describes as, “our passionate youth director.” Prior to the message, the congregation sings a song affirming the presence of children in the faith community and after the message, the children in grades three through eight go to Sunday School. For older youth, there is a confirmation class; and a nursery care for ages newborn – two.
A hospitality time for fellowship is held after the service; however, the fellowship and spiritual support go beyond the after-church Sunday refreshments. The church has small groups which meet around a shared interest, such as knitting, quilting and gardening. The church’s United Methodist Women organization is divided into three small groups and a men’s ministry is developing.
Initially, Dr. Ted Dengler, a Denville resident, and his family came from another denomination to this church for their children. What he found was something for everyone. “Over time, we found ourselves making lifelong friends who we look forward to seeing every Sunday and in the various small groups and outreach missions of which we are involved,” he said. “It has brought so much positivity to our lives and family.”
Learning is also part of this church. Throughout the year, it offers short-term Bible studies and book studies. The church also runs the oldest chartered preschool in New Jersey. It offers a nurturing and caring environment for the early education of children of all faiths ages two -four. “Although a mission of our church, we don’t use a faith-based curriculum,” said Valosin. “Our Preschool is designed to support a student’s individual growth in social-emotional and intellectual areas. We provide opportunities for students to develop positive self-image and self-confidence. Our program is specifically structured to promote the fundamentals needed for life-long learning.”
Caring is another key part of this church, as its door opens out into the community to help others. For long-time church member and Denville resident, Mary Yobs, that was her answer when asked when the church is best known for. “First thing that comes to my mind is the care, the concern, we have for non-church members. For example, [it’s] the support we gave during the flood [of 2012]. [Another example] would be Bridges, the homeless shelter. [It’s]not just the people who belong to the church [we care for], but our outreach,” said Yobs who became a member of the church in 1967.
The caring the church shares touches those locally and ripples out globally. Among those things it does in the community is that it provides prayer shawls and quilts to community members during critical life events, provides cupcakes once a month to Morris View Nursing Home to help them celebrate their birthdays, holds a Vacation Bible School and helps Denville Social Services through food drives, special holiday drives and collecting school supplies. Other outreaches include Family Promise (homeless families in transition); Bridges Outreach (serving the homeless on the streets of New York City and New Jersey); The Community Food Bank, Heart for People (which supports orphans and school children in Uganda); CUMAC (Center of United Methodist Aid to the Community) which is a food bank in Paterson; and the Appalachia Service Project (ASP).
The church has been participating in the ASP for 27 consecutive years. Through the project, volunteers travel to one of the poorest areas of the United States and help to make homes there drier, safer and warmer. Being an ASP volunteer is said to be a life-transforming experience. McCrostie, a resident of Mt. Tabor, shared her feelings about that outreach. She said, “Serving on the Appalachia Service Project is an experience that will forever change your life. Traveling hundreds of miles in order to help people living in poverty, making their homes warmer, safer and drier, and building bonds of friendship with folks you otherwise would never meet, becomes a part of who you are as a person. As an adult, watching our younger volunteers engage with the different culture of Appalachia and seeing them understand how they can have a positive impact on the world, simply by giving of themselves, is a pure delight. You may never again be as dirty or exhausted as you are working on ASP, but if you ask any volunteer in the weeks following, they cannot wait to go back [the] next year.”
When asked about upcoming church events and fundraisers, Valosin noted there are on-going fundraisers for the yearly ASP trips, plus a variety of other things coming up. Car washes and soup and sub sales enable volunteers to spend a week repairing homes in Appalachia. An annual rummage sale is held each June. However, the biggest fundraiser of the year is yet to come: the Annual Auction, which is a popular event. It will be Nov. 4, 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
Reflecting on his own experience, member Doug Milby of Parsippany shares some final thoughts on the love that is found through the church’s open door.
“I was looking for a traditional sanctuary and a warm, friendly and inviting congregation,” says Milby. “I found it here 20 years ago, and I’m still here.”
Call 973-627-1041; visit http://www.denvillecommunitychurch.org/.