Photos Courtesy of Doug Dunlop
Totowa United Methodist Church Stays On Track To Bring Community Of Peace
By Elsie Walker
For Pam Gass of Totowa and Carol Van Houten of Wayne, their roots are in the Totowa United Methodist Church; generations of their families have worshipped there. They know the church as a place of love and faith which has a heritage of outreach, in particular being the birthplace to the Center of United Methodist Aid to the Community (CUMAC) which provides food to help those in Paterson, Passaic County and northern New Jersey.
The church began 102 years ago as the Methodist Episcopal Church and played a key role in the community, as so much revolved around it. Van Houten shared about the early history, “There was a basketball team, a baseball team, and a theater group. The first ministers distributed food to those in economic distress. Particularly during the Great Depression, the church was a lifeline for those in need. This is a tradition we have continued. One of our members founded CUMAC in his garage.”
That member was Paterson school teacher Hugh Dunlop, who asked the church to collect food to help those in need in Paterson. According to CUMAC’s website, the church gave closet space for a “pantry” in the 1970’s which blossomed into an organization which today is located in Paterson. That organization has a 28,000 square foot facility, and in 2017, its pantry and mobile unit served more than 65,000 N.J. residents in need. Van Houten noted that CUMAC also provides clothing and many other services to thousands of people each year.
Although it has been many years since it moved from its humble beginning in the Totowa United Methodist Church, the church still stays connected to CUMAC. Van Houten shared, “members of Totowa United Methodist Church have been volunteering there each week for years.”
Both Van Houten and Gass remember what was probably the most significant day in the history of the church, the day the original building caught fire. Van Houten shared the feelings of the congregation about that day in the 1960s.
“For the congregation, the sight of this beloved building in flames is seared in our memories,” she said. “Like other terrible events, we can all tell you where we were when we heard that the church was destroyed. One of the items that was pulled from the smoldering ashes is an altar cross. The heat of the fire bent and twisted the cross, but it survived. It has become a symbol of the faith and resiliency of the people of the church. The new church building stands as a testament to the vital role Totowa United Methodist Church played, plays, and will continue to play in Totowa.”
Speaking of that place in the community, Gass noted that some of the events over the years which have shaped that place in the community are “dinners, potluck suppers, bazaars and craft shows, garage sales, cake sales, special choir music, holiday services, scouting, hosting local musicians, making food baskets, and our current coffee house – to name some.”
The Spirit Coffee House is a relatively new addition to Totowa United Methodist Church, recently celebrating its first anniversary. The church’s pastor, Teresita Matos-Post described it this way: “[It] is our safe space of radical hospitality that caters to those who have never set foot in a church community and for those who have left the church for various reasons. The Sprint Coffee House serves as a cultural hub where a community gathers to make friends, engage in social projects, and share their voice through art, poetry, music, and all other performing arts. We serve free coffee and tea, and on occasion offer food snacks for a donation to support the ministry. In the past, we have collected items for hurricane relief, hosted art shows for high school students, offered painting classes, poetry workshops, storytelling, concerts, and other activities.” The Spirit Coffee House opens in seasons of four to six weeks, Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. More information on it can be found on the church website.
In additional to the coffee house being a relatively recent addition to the church, so is its pastor. Matos-Post was appointed to the church in the summer of 2016. She is married to Ken Post, and is mother to Dyanne (22), Dysere (17), and Alana (5). Originally trained in journalism, marketing, and graphic design with a degree in communications from the University of Puerto Rico, she worked with the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council in Orlando, Fla., first as a program marketing manager for teens in which she developed local and statewide programs, and later as the council’s marketing manager until 2011.
Matos-Post said she came to Christ as an adult in 2004. She noted that ever since, she has combined her prior experience working with teens with a passion for developing young leaders within the church and the community through interactive spiritual experiences. She earned her master’s in Divinity from Drew Theological School in May 2014.
Matos-Post is also a poet and spoken word artist. She has her own blog in English and Spanish at poeticprophecy.com. There, she describes herself as “the poetic preacher” and explains that “through poetry and the spoken word I share God’s message of love and healing to the world.” Matos-Post can also be followed on twitter @poemseer. Her talents are reflected in her Sunday messages, as she often crafts sermons using the arts and poetry in both English and Spanish.
Totowa United Methodist’s Sunday Services are set for 10 a.m. Gass describes the worship. “Our worship style is basically traditional, with some contemporary music included,” she says. “Our pastor has many new ideas which are often incorporated into our services. As part of our worship, we sing hymns, have floral arrangements donated by congregants, project photos and words onto a screen to aid in the service, and have weekly prayer requests. We also use visual aids and altar decorations that directly relate to the pastor’s message. During holiday seasons, we decorate the church with seasonal flowers and other decoration.”
The pastor added that there is hospitality after worship and occasionally a mission information moment or a guest speaker.
Church member, Renee Vetter of Little Falls, shared, “I feel it is important to be part of a church family and to strengthen my relationship with our Lord. I get that strength with weekly attendance at Totowa United Methodist Church which brings stability in my life in this very complex and volatile world.”
Outreach continues to be an important part of the life of the church. Besides its members volunteering time at CUMAC, Matos-Post noted, “yearly, we collect and donate on average close to 10,000 pounds of food.” The church also has its own pantry. “Because eradicating hunger is at the heart of who we are, we have the Second Mile Food Pantry, an Emergency Food and Paper [goods] Pantry that opens one Saturday a month from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m..”
In addition, the church has collaborated and partnered with CAMP YDP of Paterson, and “because we are very passionate about nature and creation, especially our pets, we collaborate and donate to various pet shelters, including Real Dog Rescue of Wayne,” Matos-Post added.
With the holidays approaching, there are a number of special offerings planned at the church. There is an Advent Small Group Bible Study which is set to meet on Thursdays at 6 p.m. on Nov. 29, Dec. 6, Dec. 13, and Dec. 20. Knowing that the Christmas season is not easy for everyone, for those who are broken hearted and need a safe space to grieve, or to just be, there is a Blue Christmas Service set for Thursday, Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. It is a service of reflection, contemplation, and meditation. Saturday, Dec. 22, from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., the church plans to offer “The Christmas Story for Young Families.” This half hour will be packed with carols, storytelling and a craft to reconnect young families with the Nativity story this Christmas. It is for infants through age 10 and their parents. There will be an open play and snacks afterwards. Registration is encouraged. Finally, on Monday, Dec. 24 at 7 p.m. the Christmas Candlelight Service is planned.
The church will also be having a Christmas Bazaar set for, Dec. 1 from 7 a.m. to noon. Doors open for Rummage/Garage Sale Vendors and Sales (tables and chairs available for $10) and Craft, Service, Product Vendors (tables and chairs available for $20). There will be face painting and henna, a Christmas Cookie Walk, Bake Sale and pictures with Santa.
Reflecting on the church and its place in the community, Matos-Post, said, “As the pastor currently serving in Totowa United Methodist Church, this ministry allows me to be part of the work of the Holy Spirit in this town. Totowa UMC is needed in this community, to bring hope, engage people with the mission of God among the poor, and to bring life to those who are desperate. I am proud to say that we are on track with the vision to become a community of peace and unconditional love for all people.”
For more information about the Totowa Methodist Church call 973-790-5961 or visit the website at www.totowaumc.org.