United Methodist Churches of Atlantic Highlands and Navesink will merge with First Presbyterian Church
PHOTO: (l-r) First Presbyterian Pastor Rev. Kathy Genus and United Methodist Pastor Rev. Jill Hubbard-Smith.
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ - Two of the oldest churches in Atlantic Highlands are joining forces with a new vision for the Bayshore community.
The First Presbyterian and United Methodist churches – which have been mainstays in the town since the 1800s – are uniting their congregations in a new mission to meet the 21st Century needs of the borough.
“We are all one family, the family of God,” said Methodist Pastor Rev. Jill Hubbard-Smith. “And in these divided times that is a message we really need to share. All are welcome in our church family, no matter their background.”
First Presbyterian minister, Rev. Kathy Genus: “This is a wonderful opportunity for our churches and our community.” And she stressed her colleague's message that all are welcome. “We are family and we’ve got a seat saved for you.”
The two congregations held their first joint service on Sunday (Oct 7) in the Methodist church with Rev. Genus preaching. Appropriately it was World Communion Sunday with churches around the globe celebrating the universal community of believers.
Both pastors see this as an exciting opportunity to strengthen the mission of the church in the local community – not just with Sunday services but also with other opportunities through the week.
Already a new weekly Bible study group is meeting on Wednesday evenings. There is a movie night this Friday (Oct 12) with a showing of Blindside. On Wednesday mornings from 9 am to noon The Open Door craft group meets at the church. Starting Tuesday Oct.30 a book club will be getting together to read and discuss Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. And there is a community soup luncheon, open to all, the first Monday of every month.
Rev. Hubbard-Smith said: “These are all great opportunities for people to come explore who we are in a time of fellowship.”
But more is being planned. “The canvas is ours to imagine, dream, and draw,” said Rev. Hubbard-Smith, “and we are busy exploring new opportunities for this joint ministry.”
Currently a mission trip to Puerto Rico to help people still struggling in the aftermath of last year’s hurricane is being organized for January.
PHOTO: Both groups held their first joint worship service Oct 7.
As the saying goes, God never closes a door without opening another. And this new opportunity was born of misfortune. The First Presbyterian Church on East Highland Ave was damaged by flooding which created a serious mold issue that made the building unsafe.
The Methodist church, three blocks away on the corner of Third Avenue and Garfield Ave, immediately offered its buildings to their Presbyterian sisters and brothers for worship and other activities. But in a matter of weeks the two ministers went to their congregations and suggested uniting.
Rev. Genus said: “At First Presbyterian, we were trying to figure out how to do things on our own. The crisis with our building pushed us to look for help, which reminded us we are all in this mission of being disciples of Christ together.
"Jesus recruited disciples because we need one another, we need to hear other voices and support one another and at the end of the day, we are just better together.
“That is how we are viewing this opportunity. It is a way for us to bring all of our selves, our ideas, our traditions, and our love of the Lord and together ask ourselves how we can be better neighbors in Atlantic Highlands.
“There is so much that separates us, blending these two congregations gives us a renewed understanding of what joins us is the love of God. If we can focus and spread that message through our love of the community that will surely spread out to the world.
“The message both ministers emphasize is that there is a warm welcome to anyone who wants to explore what the church can do in their lives in a comfortable and non-judgmental space.
Sunday services are at 9 a.m. in the Navesink UMC and 10.30 at Atlantic Highlands UMC. And if you can’t make it in person, there is a live feed of the service on the Atlantic Highlands UMC Facebook page where you will also find updates on other events.
This Sunday, Rev. Hubbard-Smith will be preaching. Her message is What Do You Need To Let Go Of? (Mark 10 17-31)
[editor's note: the following note was sent from Rev. Jill Hubbard-Smith to her congregation]
A Note from Our Pastor
Wikipedia defines family as a group of people related either by consanguinity (recognized birth), affinity (marriage or other relationship), or co-residence. God’s family comes together by relationship/affinity and co-residence into God’s World. So, wouldn’t Christianity define family as all those living in this world because we are all children of God. Faith families or church families would then be people who have a relationship with God the Creator and Jesus Christ our Redeemer lived out in fellowship, worship, study, mission and ministry. Otherwise, what did Jesus mean when he referred to us as one body in Christ? And why do we say that we are brothers and sisters in faith, if we are not family?
I believe it was August 29th when I received a call from Kathy. (The pastor of 1st Presbyterian Church of AH - our neighbors in the white church two blocks away). Kathy relayed the challenge that was facing our friends, they needed to step out of their building due to high water in their lower level. They asked if they could have space to worship on Sunday. On your behalf, I didn’t hesitate to say YES! Of Course! Is there any other way to respond to family? Especially in a time of need?
Since Labor Day weekend they have been worshipping in our spaces following our worship services. Since that first call; Kathy and I, the Presbyterian congregation, and our church council has been in conversation. Much of which was confidential till recently.
Our friends find themselves in a season of grief, as they come to the realization that their building will need to be sold. In this time, as faithful Christians as well as the family of God, we walk beside them, listen, and suggest a new chapter to their story. One that invites both the AHN Methodist family and the AH Presbyterian family to become blended. What that exactly looks like is not complete clear or sure. At minimum, it is to worship together, have Bible study together, be in mission, ministry and leadership in these communities together. Maybe more… but more will take a process of exploration.
Today though it means that we have had bible study together. Today it means that we will enter into a blended worship services with blended leadership. Today it means that we look forward to viewing the movie Blindside together in a week. Tomorrow it may mean co-leadership at meetings. Tomorrow it may look like having a community of Deacons teaching the Methodist their understanding of community care. The canvas is ours to image, dream, and draw.
Like all families… we have various personalities, understandings, beliefs, etc. but we still gather to walk beside each other, help each other grow, serve our greater community, and unite in times of challenge and moments of great celebration. Most importantly, we love each other.
Growing up (and still today) I loved when family comes together and shares a meal. That was true of my family of origin as well as my church family.
This Sunday is one of those Sundays of Great Celebration as a family! This Sunday is marked as World Communion Sunday, where churches throughout the world will gather around the table for Holy Communion. It is an ideal Sunday to blend our faith communities together and celebrate that we are one family in God.
So, let us bring this newly blended and growing family together around the table where all are welcome…
- to the table of holy communion.
- to the table of fellowship following the 10:30 worship service.
Bring your favorite dishes to share. There will be tables in the hall for the foods you bring.Be sure to stay and enjoy greeting one another over a plate of yummies!What kind of food you ask?Whatever you choose will be perfect!
See you Sunday,