By: Debra Winters
Packanack Community Church (PCC) has a new leader at the helm and new programs on the horizon. But its rich history is what’s worth the read for any Wayne Township resident.
Interim Rev. Bernd Weishaupt, who smilingly says he is 22,085 days old when asked his age, brings to the church fresh blood upon the retirement of former Pastor Karyn Ratcliffe, who held the position for over 20 years, an unusually long time for that position.
PCC is the first existing church in Wayne and is located on Lake Drive East and Mountainside Avenue overlooking the picturesque Packanack Lake. All four seasons offer breathtaking views from the church’s front steps.
Recognized as a United Church of Christ (UCC), PCC is congregationally guided. A bishop does not dictate rather it’s democratically governed by an internal counsel with input from church members, stated Weishaupt, who’s been at PCC a few months.
“The UCC headquarters does offer us guidance though,” he said. “That’s why UCC churches will be different wherever you go. And they date back to the pilgrim and puritan times.”
The history of the current PCC building dates back to the late 1940s when Rev. Jacob H. Cunningham came to visit his in-laws in Packanack Lake. As a graduate student at Columbia University, he was searching for a doctoral project and mailed a questionnaire to 400 families in the community inquiring whether there was interest in starting a Protestant church. An educational committee was quickly formed and on Feb. 27, 1947, PCC was born. Cunningham served as the first interim minister until June of that year. The first service was held at what’s now the Packanack Clubhouse on March 2 with 226 patrons braving the dangerous elements in spite of a major snowstorm.
A few months later, Rev. C. Stuart Simmons was deemed the church’s initial full-time minister. Sunday school was held in the building that now houses the Packanack Restaurant and Bar. And within two years, the congregation had grown to more than 300 members from 34 different denominations. Concerned that a particular doctrine would destroy the fellowship and service of the church, the congregation chose not to join a denomination, Weishaupt stated.
Eventually the congregation outgrew the clubhouse and the Sunday school was so crowded with 250 children, so they began turning people away, said Weishaupt. On May 8, 1949, the congregation set out to raise the $55,000 needed for a new church structure. Deciding against a long-term fund drive, the congregation chose to raise the money in only eight days. And from May 8 to the 15th, people were asked to make pledges payable in two annual installments and after only five days, the congregation raised $40,000.
Then in March 1950, on the third anniversary of the formation of the church congregation, ground was broken for the structure. More than 100 members and guests attended the ceremonies held at the current church site, explained Weishaupt.
Current membership at PCC ranges around 220 to 250. For today’s churches, that’s the top 15 percent of membership, says Weishaupt. But PCC, he touts, is still vital, and doing pretty good.
“PCC is a thriving, active, and busy church that’s multi-staffed and still has ministries where many other churches have downsized a great deal,” he stated.
What’s unique to the community is PCC’s Cooperative Nursery School (PCNS) led by Kelly Schmitz. It operates on a full day basis from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. which is mostly unheard of these days. PCNS’ current roster includes 53 children and has been in existence since 1950. Classes are separated by age group and cater between kindergarten age and up to two years old. Many of the teachers bring with them over 20 years experience and have recently gone through their relicensing process.
With 2019 just getting off the ground, PCC is currently reinventing itself in a matter of speaking having gone for two decades with the same pastor and now moving forward with new blood. The church is examining ways to engage the wider community of Wayne while concentrating on the demographics that include both the wealthy and poor.
“That’s interesting to us at PCC because this church has a heart for the homeless, people who are hungry,” Weishaupt stated.
One of the ways PCC will be adhering to the less fortunate is by organizing toiletry packs for Bridges Outreach, an organization that gives donations including meals to homeless people within communities such as Camden, Newark, and New York City.
PCC itself has seen its share of hard times in terms of storm flooding. Back in August 2016, the township rallied to aid PCC following a tumultuous rain storm that devastated its nursery school leaving over two feet of mud, wood chips, and water in its pathway. The deluge came in so fast there was reportedly no time to react. The church had no flood insurance at the time of the storm and with patron attendance low, donations were not abundant. A Go Fund Me page however was quickly set up that collected over $12,000.
Since then everything has been rebuilt. Weishaupt pointed out that even electrical outlets in his office are strategically higher now. Drainage systems have also been added and other upgrades are in place.
“In essence, what Packanack is saying is, ‘we’re ready’”, Weishaupt said.
Besides a beautiful view, PCC also offers a fellowship hall and a sanctuary, both of which are electronically modernized with video and sound systems. There’s also a new sign located across the street from the church that people can easily read during their walks around the lake.
“Compared to many of the churches I’ve seen, this church is very clean and very organized. It’s a very functional church,” said Weishaupt.
The presence of a church, explains Weishaupt, is a foundational presence that says God is in the community, especially during the turbulent times currently being experienced throughout America. It’s a place where spiritual, emotional, and community needs can be sought.
Worship is every Sunday at 10 a.m. followed by a fellowship afterwards where patrons can gather and talk. PCC also has a new music director, Daniel Mullens, who’s has been there over a year.
“He’s amazing on the keys and has a great rapport with the choir,” Weishaupt said. “And he banters back and forth with me on Sunday mornings. Quite similar to that of Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon on the Tonight Show”, he added. “And the people react to that and they enjoy it.”
Bible study takes place every Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. during the spring and fall. Sunday school offers fun Bible-themed activities for kids aged three through fifth grade also at 10 a.m.
The Chancel Choir leads the congregation Sunday mornings during worship and rehearsals take place every Thursday at 7:15 p.m.
The Covenant Hand Bell Ensemble is a group of beginners to accomplished bell ringers who perform the ancient art of bell ringing. Rehearsals are Sunday mornings from 11:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
PCC also offers a Men’s Group Breakfast at the Alps Diner the first Saturday of every month at 8 a.m. for all ages, and Sisters of Faith, an informal gathering of women for fun activities, plus many other fellowships and outreach programs to pick from.
Monthly programs are prominent at PCC including Members of Leisure, where senior citizens hear specific talks about topics pertinent to their age group including financial planning. The church also offers a Community Outreach Team that plans events to address topics such as the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
PCC’s mantra, “No matter who you are, who you love, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here,” is preached every Sunday. “PCC accepts everyone. Our communion is open communion. We have no guidelines in terms of who can or cannot take part in communion,” explained Weishaupt.
Weishaupt brings to PCC an extensive educational background that took him all the way to Munich, Germany where he earned an Associate of Arts degree. Back here in the states, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois. Here in New Jersey, he obtained a Master of Divinity from Drew University in Madison, and a MA in counseling psychology from Centenary University, in Hackettstown.
While studying at Centenary University, Weishaupt interned with the Disabilities Services Office and Academic Success Center specializing in transition planning and academic success coaching.
His early chaplain days started when he completed an internship/residency in Clinical Pastoral Education at Susquehanna Health Systems in Williamsport, Pa., and Christ Hospital in Jersey City, where he also earned a pastoral counselor certification from the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy.
Weishaupt was involved with AmeriCorps as a program manager in Phillpsburg. During his time there, he recruited staff and established the largest AmeriCorps program throughout New Jersey. The program, the first of its kind in Warren County, included 52 members, who spent time volunteering over 150,000 hours of community service in various service projects for New Jersey that included cleaning up the Delaware River. The program received county, state, and national recognition for its innovative projects and contributions.
“It gave people jobs, it gave people purpose. And each year volunteers could get $2,500 towards college. So two year members got $5,000 for college grants. It was one of the best jobs I ever had,” Weishaupt proudly stated.
With a constant vested interest in the area of life coaching, Weishaupt worked with local businesses and industries to establish employee training programs while working as coordinator of the Business and Industry Training program at Warren County Community College’s Center for Career and Personal Development. And in addition, he wrote educational and training grants in cooperation with federal and state education and labor offices.
“That was a very happy time for me too being able to help students. It was all very rewarding,” said Weishaupt.
Some of the past pastoral positions he’s held include Grace United Church of Christ in Tannersville, Pa and Bethany United Church of Christ in Bethlehem, Pa. Weishaupt also achieved the rank of Designated Interim Pastor of First United Church of Christ, located in Sugarcreek, Ohio., and more recently back in New Jersey serving as senior organizing pastor of Stanley Congregational Church, in Chatham.
Weishaupt, who was an Olympic fencing coach and member of the United States Fencing Association and the United States Fencing Coaches Association, taught the first fencing class at the Pocono Family YMCA, in Stroudsburg, Pa. His other interests include photography, reading, and flying kites.
He’s volunteered as a mediator with the Community Dispute Resolution Program for the Superior Court of New Jersey, in Warren County. He’s also a trained vocalist and in his spare time, he occasionally can be found entertaining at churches, senior centers, hospitals, county fairs, weddings, and charitable events.
PCC is a church with tremendous energy, potential, and good will. They will be looking for a future pastor for PCC within two years to take the church in a direction that’s in line with the community.
“We’re an important presence to offer stability within the community. It’s saying God is in your community, God is in the world. And we’re working to make it a better world. That’s our goal,” Weishaupt stated.
For more information on PCC check out www.packanack.com.