Over 150 years ago, a religious revival which began during the Civil War and continued into the following decade caused a growth of religious activity across the land. This, coupled with the wave of immigrants who sought to express their deepest religious beliefs– whether freedom from religion or some newly discovered spiritual truth– led to the establishment of many congregations across the nation. This climate also fostered the growth of our own church: the First Presbyterian Church of Carlstadt.
The church began as the German Evangelical Church of Carlstadt. The records we have on hand are garbled in crediting a founder, but they are clear that this congregation was received into the Presbytery of Jersey City on August 18th, 1869. The earliest recorded place of meeting was a little red schoolhouse on Hackensack Street in Wood-Ridge, but the fellowship soon sought a home of its own. On December 17th, 1871, the new sanctuary at our present location was dedicated. Past church histories state “the story of the dedication and loyalty of that hardy group despite the indifference and scorn of many around demands that we give them honor for their steadfastness in the face of opposition”.
Despite several strong ministries, by the turn of the century, the church was struggling to maintain its life. The buildings needed repair and the church required a stimulus and challenge in order to move forward. The young Reverend F.N. Kohler was to be the stalwart leader to issue the challenge and to consolidate the position of the Church in the community. The enthusiasm of youth and an abiding and sincere interest in people and their needs endeared Rev. Kohler to all segments of the community and brought the influence of religion into all areas of life.
Shortly after Rev. Kohler arrived, the Ladies’ Aid Society was founded to be a strong support to him in fulfilling the work of the Church by providing many of the needed service and gifts. The Sunday School Hall was added in 1904, providing that the minutes of the Session from 1889– when the Session resolved there would have to be a closer tie between Sunday School and the Church if both were to prosper– had borne fruit.
In 1914, the pipe organ was added after the initiation of a fund by the Ladies’ Aid Society as a result of a charitable venture by the congregation. In addition, the third story of the parsonage was added in 1918. Our unique and beautiful stained glass windows were also added around this time, and are today priceless in the worship atmosphere they create and in their exquisite workmanship.
As the community grew and the congregation prospered, a need was felt for added space; and so, the dream of the Community Hall became a reality in the early days of the depression when most dreams were lost. In 1931, the Community Hall was built and has served ably since for events, meetings, banquets, coffee hour, and other affairs.
A Call to Serve
In 1937, Rev. Kohler moved on to the Presbyterian Church in Moonachie. Reverend E. Wm. Geitner was called to the pastorate in May 1938, and served until the gathering storm clouds of world affairs seemed to pose a threat to our nation. Rev. Geitner felt a call to serve in the Army. Reverend Melvin Morris served from 1941 to 1943 and oversaw a successful drive to obtain funds for a manse. After 9 months in August 1944, the Reverend Lowell C. Hine accepted the call to the congregation at the time of its 75th anniversary. This was a period of building and growing, in which the entrance to the church was remodeled. Rev. Hine left the congregation to serve in Presbytery, and in September of 1957, Reverend Cyril Jenkins was called by the congregation, serving until 1964.
In March 1965, Reverend William G. Doxey was called to serve the congregation. The years ahead held both threat and promise in the turbulent years of the Vietnam War and the rapidly changing American culture. Rev. Doxey maintained stability while reaching out to the community by being involved in local organizations. His long tenure of service brought a cohesiveness and a bond within the church.
Into the 21st Century
In the fall of 1984, Rev. Donald Pitches was called to service by the congregation. With a spring in his step and a zest for life, “Rev”– as he is best known– injected a positive influence upon the congregation and community. Rev. Pitches joined many civic organizations and led by example, also serving on the Carlstadt Fire Department. Many physical improvements to the church occurred over the course of Rev.'s tenure: renovation of the apartment, the community hall, the Sunday School room, the choir room, the offices, the Third street windows, and many more. In spring of 2019, Rev. announced his retirement effective 2020, after 35 years years of dedicated service, compassion, and leadership.
In 2017, lifelong congregant Debra Gargiulo was installed as a Commissioned Ruling Elder. She serves the church in many ways beyond Sunday Service, such as leading Prayer Group and weekly devotionals.
As other churches in the area have found themselves downsizing and regionalizing, we are fortunate that our hard working and dedicated congregation– our “church family” as so many of us call it– have kept the Carlstadt First Presbyterian Church vibrant with their love and devotion. Because of the efforts of those that came before us and the enthusiasm of our current congregation, we look forward to the future with the comfort of knowing that this 153-year-old institution remains vital and strong.