“Lord you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” Psalm 90:1
The nation was deep within the great depression. Challenges surrounded the lives of the people in Wayne, a small town made up of a seasonal riverfront community, a newly formed lake community, powder works and brick manufacturers, and at its core a network of active farms. A place far different from the one we see today. According to the 1930 United States Census, only 4,469 people claimed Wayne as their hometown. But within this town, nestled in the Valley between the recently established Packanack Lake community and the bustle of Paterson lay a patchwork of farms owned and run by hardworking families. A handful of these Christian families banded together, and on March 30, 1933 they established a new church in the community. Preakness Valley United Reformed Church began as The Christian Reformed Church at Preakness in 1933 in Wayne Township’s rural countryside. In a garage next to the Rosendale Dairy Farm on Ratzer Road services were begun by families with the names Faber and Feenstra, Fiekens and Hardenberg, Huizinga and Kuiken and Lindstra and Meyer, Oskamp, and Rosendale, Sikkema and Siersma and Schouten and Youngsman. Including their children there were 97 of the Lord’s faithful who agreed to gather in worship in a garage each Sunday. Above the garage was an apartment in which the pastor and his wife could live. And they called upon Jacob Van Bruggen to be their pastor. In his letter of acceptance to Preakness, Reverend Van Bruggen wrote,
I have received the call extended to me by your congregation and hereby wish to express my gratitude therefore. Due to the uniqueness of the situation I shall not postpone my decision but accept it herewith. It is my earnest hope and prayer that the God of all comforts may truly bless my labors as your pastor and that together we may be united in faith.
Sadie Rosendale, in writing for an earlier anniversary described this humble sanctuary recalling,
Some chairs were bought from a movie house in Passaic and we would have been quite comfortable, only the garage had two large doors which made it very cold every time someone opened it to come in. A large pot bellied stove was donated but was not capable of taking care of all the cold blasts that came in. The chairs were removed after the evening service so Rev. Van Bruggen could put his car in. Sometimes the ladies coats hung in the grease, but this all was taken good naturedly.
And all this was the church’s to use for $32.00 a month. But there were also definite advantages to worshipping in a garage on a farm. Al Siersma, just a young boy in the 1930’s recalled during the 65th anniversary that after Sunday School let out he and his buddies would take some time to ride the various farm animals in the adjacent fields!
With an increase in membership, and an increase in rent to $64.00 a month, in 1936, these faithful families moved their worship place to a house owned by Larry Langford, located at the corner of Weinmann’s Boulevard and Tosch Lane, just down the street from the Kuiken farm. Herm Kuiken recalled his Sunday School class being taught by Mrs. Hardenburgh in the kitchen of this house. As class would progress each Sunday Mrs. Van Bruggen had to keep coming in to check the stove as she was preparing Sunday dinner for her and her husband.
During the years while services were being held in the Langford house this young congregation began envisioning a new home, a proper church building. In 1937 Wayne Township had just opened the Anthony Wayne High School on the site of today’s Sienna Village. Down the road was the Berry brothers farm and across the street from that was a small parcel of land that would become our home. In the heart of the Valley at the intersection of Preakness Avenue and Valley Road a church building was constructed. It was known in the township as “the little white church,” but at the time it must have felt huge! On its cornerstone was the Bible verse 1 Kings 8:29, “that thy eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which thou hast said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that thou mayest hearken to the prayer which thy servant offers toward this place.” In February of 1937 the church was dedicated. Our new church home would provide sufficient room for our services as well as times of Bible Study, fellowship, and youth group activities. It also, for a few years, served as a home for the pastor and his family as they took up residence in the basement.
Rev. Van Bruggen left in 1939 and in 1940 Rev. Peter De Jong, still a student at seminary,agreed to be the new pastor at this Christian Reformed Church located in a community of 6,868. The membership of our church had now nearly doubled to number 32 families. Welcoming the new pastor was another addition to the church, a new parsonage that was built next door to the little white church building. The 1940’s was a time when a war, a great war would be fought in far off lands and many of the children who had grown up in this church and so recently enjoyed the activities of the youth group, were called to serve in countries that had, a few years earlier, been known simply as names on a map. These Christian soldiers, farmboys from a town that had just 9 policemen, went off to war. The congregation prayed for them and continued, under the leadership of Rev. De Jong and the church council, to worship and serve the Lord with the freedom they were fighting to preserve. Rev. De Jong left Preakness in 1942 to complete his doctorate. In 1943 Rev. Daane accepted a call to be the new pastor. He stayed on as our pastor through 1945, but at the close of the war years he felt a calling to accept a position in another church. Rev. George Stob filled the pulpit beginning in 1946 after accepting an appointment as stated supply. He stayed on with us through 1947.
In 1948 Rev. Spalink, the grandfather of one of our beloved missionaries, accepted a call to shepherd our growing family. With Wayne Township growing to a population of 11,822, and a bus from Paterson making several stops a day at the intersection of Valley Road and Ratzer Road, our membership grew during Rev. Spalink’s time at our church. Young couples and families began moving to still rural Wayne from far off places like Prospect Park and Wyckoff, Clifton and Passaic! One young couple who moved to town, at just about the same time Rev. Spalink came to Preakness, recalled Pastor Spalink coming to their home one evening a week to teach them the Heidelberg Catechism as they prepared to make profession of faith. With the churches love and dedication to newcomers and His word being faithfully preached it was no wonder our church family grew to 65 families by 1952, the same year that Rev. Spalink accepted a calling from another congregation.
Rev. Bruxvoort came to our church in time for our twentieth anniversary in 1953. Thecongregation which just a few years earlier was enjoying their spacious new white church building, hosted more and more weddings, and welcomed more and more families, and grew to standing room only as we now were a congregation of 72 families. The young people of the church were still enjoying their times together, and were willingly serving his church as well. A sign, erected in front of our church building, was illuminated thanks to their hard work and donations. This sign, and our church itself, was a hallmark in this growing town as during the 50’s as this rural community was beginning to shape into suburbia, a suburbia with its core forming at the intersection that we occupied. But, this home was in need of more room, and as early as July, 1953 a bulletin announcement read, “The Building Planning Committee has been working hard to further possible building expansion. Several parcels of ground have been investigated without definite results. Some are still being worked on. If anyone has information regarding lots or has suggestions please contact the committee secretary.” By 1955 Preakness had a neighbor with the new Wayne High School constructed in the back yard! Wayne Township continued to grow and plans were underway for a new municipal complex, to complete their vision of a community center at the intersection we had occupied since 1937. The church was being blessed daily by our Savior and needed to make big decisions about its facilities. We couldn’t grow in our present building, and the Little white church that not many years earlier felt huge was now feeling…little. “I can remember sitting in the basement of the church because there was no room in the sanctuary upstairs. So we sat downstairs and stared at a speaker on the wall through which we’d hear Rev Bruxvoort,” recalled one member who sat with her brothers and sisters in the overflow area in the basement during the 1950’s. But the love and fellowship continued. There were a lot of picnics out behind the church. And the men would gather and play softball games. But, by the mid-fifties a new parcel of land, the Harrington property, became available just across the street next to the Anthony Wayne School. That, combined with an offer from the town to buy Preakness’ property to add to their complex, led to a decision being made. “Property was for sale right across the street from our church. The 6 and ¾ acre level ground could be had for $20,000.” said Wilbur VanderGoot, when interviewed for an earlier anniversary. An architect was selected and with the plans draw and reviewed by the Building Planning Committee, on Saturday, June 14, 1958 the now 78 families of Preakness gathered together for a picnic and to break ground on their new building. Work progressed with foundation walls being built strong and thick and above them walls of concrete and brick. Massive arches were erected and our church building began taking shape. By October 18, 1958 sufficient progress had been made and after a special church service a procession of members walked across the street and watched as the cornerstone for our building was laid. When selecting a passage for the cornerstone of our new home, a far cry from a garage in 1933, it was decided what better passage for all to see than that taken from Psalm 84:1 “How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!”. Work continued with the steeple being raised into the sky in December of 1958. Walls within the complex were also erected to form the fellowship hall, the classrooms, and most importantly our sanctuary. “The sanctuary of the Preakness Christian Reformed Church,” it is written in an early depiction of our church, “is lofty in concept and combines contemporary architecture with graceful gothic arches formed of massive laminated trusses. The raised pulpit is simply adorned with a natural wood cross, flanked on one side by a choir loft and on the opposite side by an organ console.” The design, by S.E. Greydanus & Son Architects was masterfully constructed by Bergen Engineering who still notes it as one of their proud accomplishments…the only church complex they note in a list of clientele that includes the likes of American Cyanamid, Rutgers and Seton Hall Universities, Sony Theaters, the New York Times and The New Jersey Nets. Finishing touches, including our stained glass windows were installed. “An interesting feature of Preakness is the vertical stained glass window in the front of the church. The large window, is a field of lustrous shades of rich color defining an original conception completed using hand blown glasses. In the lower portion Biblical illustrations are featured focusing on the text in Matthew 18:20 “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” There are also symbols worked into the design, illustrating the hand of God at the top, descent of the Holy spirit together with the cross of sacrifice, the candle of study, the crown of reward, and the open Bible with the letters A and O standing for alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. The chiro in the form of P X is shown with the Bible indicating the initials of Christ. There is a quill and ink symbolizing the writing of the scriptures and the lamp of knowledge is shown at the base. The window in the tower illustrates a symbol of the anchor of hope. Superimposed on the anchor is the dolphin symbolizing Our Lord. At the time of the dedication of the church building on September 2, 1959 our family had grown to 82 families. In a newspaper article written to commemorate the milestone the consistory wrote,
On September 2, 1959, a new house of worship was dedicated to God’s glory and to the furtherance of the gospel. In Preakness, New Jersey, this evening was the culmination of many things to many people. From an inadequate wooden building with split seating arrangements, the Lord has seen fit to build unto Himself and His service a new structure. Here the whole congregation could meet together. Where at first there were fears and hesitancy as to how such a project could be undertaken and financed, faith and dedicated giving provided the answer. A former pastor, Dr. George Stob, preached the dedication sermon, “This House is for God,” in which he reminded the congregation that this was God’s house, not “our” house.
Before leaving our little white church’s property we had a few more jobs to accomplish. The first was to move the parsonage across the street into the rear yard of our new church. The move generated a lot of interest from curious onlookers who got more of a show than they expected when, while being moved, the house began to fall into the septic system that had served it. But, the mission was, at the end of the day, a success and the parsonage still provides a warm home for Preakness’ pastor. Finally, with a crowd of onlookers standing by, the garages which stood behind the vacated church were used by the local fire department for training exercises. Preakness’ move was complete, but the blessings would continue.
In 1959 Rev. Bruxvoort left, but shortly after the dedication of our new building Rev. Farquhar Mc Leod accepted our call saying,
After much prayer and thought I am glad to say that I am convinced that it is the Lord’s will that I should serve you as your minister. The call extended I humbly accept and pray that, ‘The servant is worthy.’ In our praising God and giving him thanks, let us remember it is He who has led us hitherto and ask Him to lead us into the future also.
Our church now looked out on the new municipal complex, also erected in 1959, and Wayne High School as well as Anthony Wayne Junior High next door. But more importantly, as farmlands were more and more being converted to developments, and corporate centers and shopping centers popped up throughout the town, the increasing numbers of those visiting the municipal complex and attending the town’s schools would look at our home. Membership increased to 100 shortly after the congregation began getting settled in their new home and by 1965, when Rev. Mc Leod left our pulpit, the membership had risen to 128 families. Work continued on the new facility throughout the 1960’s and into the seventies. The youth group installed a sprinkler system under the front lawn; the sanctuary saw renovations being made to the balcony to provide more seating. Also, a new organ and expanded choir loft was later planned and added.
In 1966 Rev. Winston Boelkins accepted our call. Rev. Boelkins led our church family through our church’s 25th anniversary in 1968, and remained at our pulpit until 1974. Finishing out the 1970’s, Rev. Paul Zylstra became our next pastor. While Rev. Zylstra was our minister, it was decided that since we are at the heart of the township, one of our important outreach moves, the installation of a large, double sided message board in front of our church, would occur. The thought provoking insights it provides to passing motorists have, since its construction and still today, generated comments, inquiries and visits from those in the community.
And once within the doors, neighbors would join a church family which was just as active and full of the vitality as there forefathers had had before them. Throughout Preakness’ history a dedicated council has overseen fellowship and learning opportunities for those in our congregation. But, living through it, members often did not recognize just how special the times together have been. In a letter to the congregation, one former member so clearly put into perspective reflections on 75 years of the fellowship and love and learning found at Preakness.
I am, she wrote, grateful for having had the opportunity to attend Preakness Christian Reformed Church. Through childhood into young adulthood. Thanks to all those who took the time to teach me through Word and example in Sunday School, Choir, Youth group, Calvinettes. Catechism, etc. I confess that I may not always have been an enthusiastic listener in catechism and probably never understood as a child the depth of your commitment and service. I certainly do now. Through all of you, God blessed me spiritually and I am grateful… We can still feel your love and caring. Most of all, I ‘d like to thank the congregation of Preakness today for being the hands and feet of Christ to my parents through cards, meals, phone calls, visits and words of encouragement. Your love for them means all the more now that I have moved to Maryland. My present pastor always says, “God’s plan A is that we are God’s hands and feet in this world and THERE IS NO PLAN B!.” You have all graciously and abundantly been His hands and feet to my parents. God bless you for such awesome kindness!
Still part of your family in Christ,
Linda (Jellema) Bruins
In 1981 Rev. Zylstra accepted the calling of another church family and in 1982 Rev. Thomas Draayer accepted the call to fill the recently vacated pulpit. During Rev. Draayer’s relationship with Preakness, the congregation, in 1983, celebrated their 50thanniversary. The following year on September 30, 1984, after the morning service, the congregation witnessed the ground breaking ceremony for a new addition to the left side of the church building. In 1985 work was complete and the new wing to the church facilities was dedicated. The addition provided additional classrooms, council and pastor’s studies, and a large church parlor and library. Now, as first envisioned by the church complex planners the building itself would, if viewed from above, be seen to form the shape of a cross. Rev. Draayer remained with Preakness until 1988.
In 1990 Rev. Leroy Christoffels accepted a call to come to Preakness as pastor. Pastor Lee, a strong advocate of congregational education, faithfully led the congregation with teachings on Christian doctrine, Christian history, and Christian living. He also started the church congregation’s annual “Reading through the Bible in One Year” program. Before leaving Preakness in 1998 Pastor Lee helped the congregation as they had to make a major decision when the council approached them at a meeting held January 12, 1998 with a motion to leave the Christian Reformed Church and to join the United Reformed Churches in North America, a new federation of churches which had formed in 1996. The congregation approved this motion by a vote of over 90 percent.
In June of that same year Pastor Lee accepted a call to tend a congregation in Worthington, Minnesota and in July, Adrian Korevaar, a student in seminary, began serving as a summer intern. In August he accepted a call to become the next pastor at Preakness Valley. He was officially ordained and installed in the fall of 1998. Rev. Korevaar accepted another call in August of 2000.
In November of 2001 Rev. Norman Brower accepted a call to serve as Preakness Valley church’s interim pulpit supply. In March of 2002, Rev. Brower accepted our call to serve as minister to our congregation. A pastor since 1967, Rev. Brower came to Preakness after having successfully planted and nurtured churches throughout New England and Virginia.
In the spring of 2003 the congregation of the Franklin Lakes Reformed Bible Church in neighboring Franklin Lakes, New Jersey was facing the approaching departure of their pastor of nearly 20 years, Rev. Daniel Bratt. After considering several options, their congregation and the congregation of Preakness Valley agreed to welcome the members of Franklin Lakes into our family through a merger agreement. The membership of Franklin Lakes began worshipping at Preakness in July of 2003.
In 1988 Pastor Lee penned the following words which sum up Preakness’ history quite well,
Obviously much has changed since that original meeting place in a rented garage. Our present building is a truly beautiful and suitable place for worship, a convenient place for conducting the ministry of the gospel. The size of the congregation has also fluctuated. Even the name and denominational affiliation of our church has changed.
But the essential things have not changed. We are the same people. We stand for and proclaim the same truth. We are still committed to the faith that has been delivered once-for-all- to the saints (Jude 4). This eternal and timeless truth does not change while circumstances do. We are heirs of the Reformation and of the catholic church of all ages. We are the beneficiaries of countless generations of those who proclaimed the biblical truth, often at great personal cost. We are also the beneficiaries of our forebears at Preakness who wanted to establish a church committed to orthodox and biblical truth in this valley. Along the way the vision of the church was focused on bringing the riches of this gospel to our own neighborhood and to people from many walks of life. That as not changed either. Our goal is still to share the wealth of biblical truth and life with our friends and neighbors.
This can be illustrated if you compare the living church of Jesus Christ to a building. Its foundation is secure and strong. Our Creeds and Confessions are solidly biblical and for that reason we treasure them. The structure on that foundation may at times receive a facelift. New rooms and new windows may be added and reinforcements of certain beams in the structure may need to be given from time to time. But the building is the same. Throughout history, many congregations that have remained committed to their Creeds and Confessions have even moved from one denomination to another. They may be much older than the church body to which they belong. They have changed in order to remain the same. These Christians want to remain firmly established on the same foundation that was first built.
As Preakness moves through 75 year of service and into the 50 year in our current sanctuary let us remember our past as we look forward to continued praising to our Lord for his blessings upon us as we continue to move forward in our commitment as a church that exists to unite God and people.