By Steve Sears
First Presbyterian Church of Hanover celebrated its 300th anniversary with a special celebration in October 2018, but the church building that hosts its many inspirational, faith-filled services as an active church for worship was actually built in 1835 from the meeting house that housed the community, as well as nearby tree timber.
At that time, Andrew Jackson was serving as the 7th President of the United States.
“It’s a simple church inside,” says Judith McCandless, Moderator of the Deacons, “but it’s simply beautiful. We still have the little doors on our pews – it’s just a beautiful church.”
“The compliments seem to be bifocal,” adds the Pastor, Reverend Jin Han. “There is a welcoming spirit from the people of the church, and everyone is always warmly received. Also, when visitors hear something about the history of the church and its building, all intertwined with the history of our nation, the people are mesmerized.”
Formed in Whippany in 1718, the congregation and church building are located on Old Mount Pleasant Avenue, the rear of the structure pointing towards Route 10. Home of the oldest congregation in Morris County, First Presbyterian Church of Hanover sits on acreage where Lenape Indians once trod. Reverend Jacob Green was the first Pastor, and he celebrated services for 44 years. A student of law, medicine and theology, he helped draft New Jersey’s first constitution and served in the Militia. Thomas Edison’s great grandfather, John Edison, married Sarah Ogden in the church on October 10, 1756. During the Revolutionary War, the church served as a hospital. 52 years after the current church was built, twenty-two houses, a general store, blacksmith and wagon shops, a school, and two cemeteries dotted the landscape however, making First Presbyterian Church the community anchor. East Hanover remained a rural agricultural community until Route 10 emerged in 1910. Eventually, the community yielded to development as builders purchased farmland and began the construction of many office buildings, and Route 10 was widened.
Farmers’ Almanac founder David Young is buried in the adjacent cemetery, as are five ministers, 38 Revolutionary War soldiers, three soldiers from the War of 1812, eight who fought in the Civil War, one from World War I and two from World War II. Aaron Kitchell, a blacksmith and patriot from Hanover Neck, who represented New Jersey in both the House of Representatives and Senate, is also buried here.
A detailed history of the church can be found at www.firstchurchhan.org.
“The day of the celebration witnessed the fruit of the long ministry of the church,” says Rev. Han of the 300th anniversary festivities. “The church families that were now living elsewhere came back and shared their memories as well as what they heard from past members. The sharing of the current members on what we do today may have led some to imagine this is a sizeable church, but in reality, the people in this small church manage so many projects efficiently.”
McCandless details the few ways the church gives back to the community. “All of our charities try to stay within our own community. We do reach out to the county in some instances, such as the food pantry. We have about five basic charities that we give to each year. Some get it every three or four months, the food pantry we do twice a year, the Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter – we do that, too. Hanover Park High School has a “Kids for Us” program, and they’re for children that come from single parent families or families that can’t afford to but things such as sneakers, so we donate to them twice a year.” The church also gives gift wrapped toys to the Salvation Army at holiday time. “It all comes from our church family.”
“We will continue to value and cherish the practice of honoring traditions and singing good ol’ gospel songs,” says Rev. Han. “ As a small church, we have rediscovered the value of caring for everyone closely. We are concerned, but not troubled, for having a big church is not our primary calling. We recognize that we are called to be faithful in the sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the caring of the people in the community. We also recognize that the dwindling of mainline churches is a global phenomenon, for which we pray and on which our leaders work diligently. Stay open, and change will come. Meanwhile, it is important to note that at first there is a sense of stability with the steady presence of worshippers, even if the number is small (roughly 50).”
Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen presented the church with a flag that had flown over the Capitol building in honor of the 300th birthday. The Congressman also presented the church with a certificate from Capital Architect verifying this fact, and also himself sent a note of congratulations. The anniversary mentioned in Congress and there is now a permanent Congressional record of the 300-year church history, in a leather-bound book with a statement. Governor Phil Murphy also sent a leaflet framed with a congratulatory letter, and Mayor Joseph Pannullo attended along with the five town council members.
The 2nd New Jersey Regiment, Helms, Company, saluted those who entered for the October 7, 2018 service.
Following the service, a luncheon was held at Hanover Manor. “It was lovely,” adds McCandless. “We had a bigger turnout than we anticipated, so that was very encouraging. A lot of the people that belonged to the church as children came back, so that was nice.”
Sandra Mackowiak, Worship & Music Chairperson for First Presbyterian Church of Hanover, and also an Elder on the Board of Session which administers for the church, was significant in preparing the 300th anniversary celebration. “The 300th was a success and all enjoyed it. I received lots of cards, phone calls and face to face compliments. Even God was with us by giving us a perfect sunny day!”
Rev. Han sums it up. “For the local community, we offer a place that they can visit whenever they are in need to feel God’s presence. We will always be ready to be a church home for those who decide to begin their journey of faith.”
First Presbyterian Church of Hanover is located at 14 Hanover Road, East Hanover.