New Chapter for Historic Church
The historic village of Blawenburg, on Route 518, is known to many for its big, white church, built in 1832. Now Blawenburg Reformed Church, one of the oldest continuously operated churches in central New Jersey, is partnering with Marble Collegiate Church (RCA), a historic landmark on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Marble Collegiate, the oldest Protestant church in the U.S., is one of the anchor churches in the Reformed Church in America. It was famously home to author/philosopher/theologian Norman Vincent Peale. Marble Collegiate wants to establish partnering ministries with like-minded churches, and Blawenburg is its first partner. Blawenburg fits the search model—adjacent to Princeton, an easy travel distance to Manhattan, and on the same page theologically. A three-year partnership began in October.
“We’re working for a common goal, and it’s really for the glory of God,” says David Cochran, vice president of Blawenburg’s consistory. “We believe that by working together, we can do more than we can do separately. We envision both congregations will grow in spirit and life during the partnership term—that BRC will become a vibrant and growing congregation again, and Marble Collegiate will learn and prosper from the experience in order to establish other partnerships later on.”
Blawenburg called Travis B. Winckler as pastor to lead its congregation and work with Marble Collegiate on the partnering ministry. The church had not had a full-time pastor since 2011.
“We were a church who was declining with an older population, and we were seeking to become a growing church with a younger population,” Cochran says. Within a month and a half, they were already seeing progress. “We have a few more community members attending, and some younger families. This is a very hopeful sign for us.”
Since the partnership is a new venture for both churches, much effort will be put into assessing the needs of the local community and determining the best ways to work together to serve residents.
Many plans are in the works, but the church has already revived an old tradition of Christmas caroling in the community. It is planning a new type of Bible study, and hosting evening programs during Advent about staying sane during the holiday season.
Access to Marble Collegiate’s professional staff will allow Blawenburg to expand its ministry to the local area. “Look for changes in how we present ourselves to the community,” says Cochran. “We will work with Marble to reach out to our community with a strong message of hope and love. They have people on staff who specialize in education and outreach programs, so we’ll have them come down and work with us, and we’ll plan something together and they’ll help us monitor it.
“I see that as probably one of the biggest benefits for us—the use of their many resources. They’re a much larger church, and they’ve been very generous with their support.”
“We’re excited about this partnership,” says Michael Brown, senior minister at Marble Collegiate. “Partnering with a church like Blawenburg has been a goal of ours for a while now. And as much as we hope Blawenburg benefits from this arrangement, we feel certain that the membership of Marble Collegiate, and those we serve, will benefit as well.”
“We’re off to a great start, and we look forward to doing many things,” Cochran says. “What’s really exciting is we don’t know what they’ll be yet. It’s like an adventure.”