LOWER TOWNSHIP — It began 100 years ago with 13 charter members worshipping in a private home, but now the Seashore Community Church of the Nazarene has a large church on Seashore Road, a congregation of 275 and outreach programs throughout the community.
“Our founder, Phineas F. Bresee, said we have a debt to give back at the same proportion we have received,” Associate Pastor Clinton Jones said.
Bresee started the Christian denomination in a barn, he called it a “glory barn,” in California in 1908, and it spread to Cape May County pretty quickly. The Rio Grande Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene formed in December 1912, although Pastor I. Charles Gates said they do not know the exact date. The Rev. Monroe Hand was the first of 29 pastors. Gates arrived in 2011.
“It was less than five years after the denomination was formed. It was the beginning of a whole movement, a spiritual movement at the turn of the century with missionaries in seven foreign countries. We are one of the few churches showing growth stats in the country,” Gates said.
Jones said the denomination now has more than 1 million members and about 700 foreign missionaries. The church is known for its outreach programs. It is not just a place to go and worship.
The church has a food bank, delivers Thanksgiving dinners to the needy, Christmas presents to poor children and has more recently been helping Hurricane Sandy victims. A Nazarene church in Illinois sent 35 students here to help local church members clean up flooded homes in Wildwood and restore a nearby Civil War cemetery.
Jones was shy about having his picture taken Monday because he was wearing outside work clothes. He had been cutting firewood on the wooded church grounds to deliver to Sandy victims living in what he called “a tent city” in Lakewood, Ocean County. The church has been delivering food and firewood to the tent city.
Almond Weech, a 35-year old church member from the Bahamas, helps organize what is known as the church’s “compassionate ministries.”
“We supply food, clothing, housing and special events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. We help the homeless and the disenfranchised. Over the past several months we’ve seen an increase in the homeless, joblessness and poverty due to Sandy,” Weech said.
The church has helped families from as far away as Seaside Heights, sending up truckloads of supplies from toiletries to teddy bears. Sandy aid has been coming here from other Nazarene churches in Pennsylvania, Delaware and other nearby states.
“I call it ‘ouch-reach,’” Jones said. “People want to help until it hurts.”
The church was organized here in 1912 by the Rev. Horace Trumbauer, who supervised the Washington-Philadelphia District, but it was several years before a church building was erected. Services were originally held at the Lummis house, where the living room was turned into a sanctuary.
After 12 years the church was up to 48 members and a lot on Church Street in Rio Grande was purchased. The first church was constructed on that lot but by 1946 the congregation had grown and started planning for a larger building.
The second church, called the Erma Church of the Nazarene, was located at Route 9 and Myrtle Avenue. It was dedicated Oct. 5, 1952. The church has a lot of old black-and-white photographs from that era.
The church continued to grow, and, in 1986, an 8.5-acre lot was purchased on Seashore Road. The third church was dedicated May 7, 1995, and renamed Seashore Community Church of the Nazarene. A few years ago they opened a second church in North Cape May.
The Seashore Road site has plenty of room for a parsonage, day care, a food bank, thrift store and a Children’s Learning Center. While the congregations of many churches are aging rapidly, the church has a big emphasis on youth.
“I work with students from seventh grade to senior year in high school,” said Tim Golden, 23, who serves as youth pastor for the church.
Golden also advises young adults, ages 18 to 35, as he works toward being ordained.
The church had been using trailers for some of its compassionate care programs, including its food pantry, but is hoping to construct a larger building. The church supplied 130 families in need with Thanksgiving dinners.
“We’re praying God helps us put a larger building there,” Jones said.
The philosophy seems for have worked for 100 years now.
Contact Richard Degener: