Presbyterians came to the Rahway area many years before the American Revolution. They grew to become a vital witness here to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. First Presbyterian Church was established in 1741, and Second Presbyterian Church was formed in 1849 from members of First. At that time, feelings of both happiness and loss attended the separation between the members. As Rev. Charles K. Imbrie put it almost 160+ years ago, “The Session would record their gratitude to God that the whole affair has been throughout conducted with the utmost harmony and fraternal feeling. Our brethren leave us with the fervent wishes and prayers of the whole church for their success and happiness. We feel deeply their loss; but we bid them God-speed in the new enterprise to which the Lord has called them.” Happiness and loss now attend the merger—no, the homecoming!–of First and Second churches. Second Church voted unanimously to merge with First, and First voted on January 22, 2012. Presbytery approved the merger at their regular stated meeting on January 28. The next day they worshipped together as one body, just like their ancestors did all those years ago. Much else is the same: there is loss, in declining church memberships, of Second’s beloved building and sanctuary; yet still there is the fact that Presbyterians in Rahway continue to be a vital witness here to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What is more, the homecoming process has been filled with “the utmost harmony and fraternal feeling” as was the birth of Second from First.
A gala celebration in the first worship of the newly merged church was held on Sunday, January 29, 2012. An exciting new adventure has begun in the life of Presbyterians in the Rahway area!
Below are brief histories of both churches:
As the population of the Rahway area increased, settlers expressed a desire to form a local church. Prior to 1741, Presbyterians who had been making the long walk to Elizabethtown for many years were partially served by the Elizabethtown church sending their ministers to preach in the homes and barns of their Rahway members. Reverend Jonathan Dickinson of the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethtown and Mr. Vaun, the Episcopal minister from the same place, often led services in a barn on St. Georges Avenue. The Rahway Presbyterians met in this manner until the latter part of 1741 which came to be known as the “Hard Winter’. That winter the congregation experienced a season so unbearably cold that the journey to Elizabethtown became almost impossible. It was during this winter that Reverend Dickinson helped to organize the first Presbyterian Church in the Rahway area.
The construction of the church commenced in 1741 and was completed within the next year. It was built near the bend in the main driveway of the Rahway Cemetery. The cemetery, which became the church’s burial ground, contains many 18th century headstones that are still in fine condition. This first church was two stories high and constructed of heavy timbers. It was a shingled building with two rows of windows that let in an abundance of light. A bell tower rose from the roof and was topped with a copper weathercock…read more
In 1825, two young women, the Misses Lee, organized two small Sunday schools in Lower Rahway setting in place a chain of events they could have never imagined. In 1830, these two schools united under the name of the Leesville Sunday School Association. This association was “the nucleus around which different religious elements clustered for a term of years in Lower Rahway, ultimating finally in the organizing of the Second [Presbyterian] Church.”1.
On November 9 1849, the committee of the Presbytery met in the First Presbyterian Church and, seeing the way being clear, proceeded to the organization of this church. There were enrolled at this time four elders from First Church and 57 members. For historical context, this was two years after Abraham Lincoln became a member of the House of Representatives…read more