LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — New Life Community Assembly of God Church spent 25 years on the move and in search of a home.
Now, it has found that home and continues to build a congregation.
Construction of the 4,000-square-foot church on Parkertown Road took about a year and was completed with volunteers from as far away as Pennsylvania and Delaware, Pastor Dan McKillop said.
“We had 15 people from the Amish community in Williamsport (Pa.) who paid their own way to come help us. There were also Mennonites from New York and Maine working down here after Hurricane Sandy and, when they ran out of work to do (helping others recover from the hurricane), they came over and put on our roof,” said McKillop, who has been a congregation member for 20 years.
As the church was being built, it was not unusual to find two or three pastors attaching siding to the building or doing other construction work.
“We were also thankfully adopted by the Full Gospel Assembly Church in Burlington County, and they had volunteers here helping us for over 40 Saturdays out of the year,” McKillop said.
The church began in 1988, when then-Pastor John McGinnis formed a congregation that met at the banquet hall of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3729 on Long Beach Island, McKillop said. When the congregation left the VFW hall, its next stop was a grade school on Long Beach Island. Later, a property was purchased on 16th Street in Ship Bottom.
A few years after the purchase, however — and by then under the leadership of the Rev. Bill Sanchez — a decision was made to sell the property and move off the island.
“We had hoped to appeal to the vacationers, but because of the seasonal nature of the community, it was difficult to develop a consistent nature of programs and congregation,” McKillop said.
Wilma Webb, 86, of Little Egg Harbor, said she is the oldest member of the congregation and has been with the church for 15 years. Webb said when the church was located on the island, it was quickly realized that the visitors there were coming to the island for fun, not for church.
“We figured if we moved onto the mainland we’d have a bigger congregation. We thought we were going to buy land, but everything we touched just fell apart,” Webb said. “We felt like we were the Israelites wandering around in the wilderness.”
For the past five years, the church’s home was in a former gift store on Route 9 in the West Creek section of Eagleswood Township. It was there that the church began crafting a plan for a new facility. Ultimately, land in neighboring Little Egg Harbor was purchased where the new church would be built, McKillop said.
“During that time, we found the property in Little Egg Harbor, we went through the land-use approval process and we were approved. Then, one week before Sandy hit, we cleared the trees from the lot to start work,” he said.
But construction at the site was delayed by Sandy. Contractors scrambled to respond to storm damage in the area, and building the church was pushed back for several months.
Once work had begun, McKillop, whose career is in construction, focused solely on building the church for the year it took to open.
“I work for a living, so I wasn’t just a pastor for all those years. I don’t wear a suit to services. People are as likely to see me in Carhartts as dress clothes. I’m a pastor who never turns it off. I do what I have to do,” he said.
On Dec. 29, the church finally opened, holding its first Sunday service and welcoming the small congregation into the new facility.
“Even our building is structured in a way that is different than anything we’ve ever had. Never had a classroom to teach kids Sunday school. We now have a very large cafe area right when people walk in, and in this coffee-shop environment people feel comfortable,” he said.
The church can accommodate about 100 people. The congregation is at about 20 members, McKillop said.
Pastor Dennis Snyder of Glad Tidings Assembly Of God in Tinton Falls, Monmouth County, the parent church of New Life Community Assembly of God, said they had grown accustomed to being wanderers.
“The amazing thing from my perspective is that group has stuck together from all the difficulties they went through over the last 25 years,” Snyder said. “The church is absolutely beautiful. Pastor McKillop is tremendously skilled in being able to pull together workers to help.”
People in the local community and from the tri-state area gave up a lot of Saturdays to make sure the church was built, Webb said.
“But the Lord continued to bless us — even at the time of Sandy when we stopped construction and our pastors went and did work on the homes that were damaged by the storm. We were at a standstill. We figured we have been without a church this long, we can wait a little longer,” Webb said.
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