THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AT WOODBURY
1721 – 2015
CELEBRATING 294 YEARS of SERVICE and MINISTRY
A handful of Presbyterians in the Woodbury region wanted a meeting house where they could hold worship services when a pastor was available. They organized officially August 10, 1721 when one of them, John Tatum, provided one acre of land “for a meeting house and burial ground.” On that site, a log meeting house was built. Eleven years later they organized into a congregation under the Presbytery of Philadelphia.
During the Revolutionary War, the British occupied Woodbury in November 1777, taking over the church for use as a commissary. After the War, the congregation refused to worship in the log house, claiming it was “haunted.” Permission was received to use the Academy, a private school on Broad Street, for worship (1817-1834).
The first 100 years were most difficult. Supply pastors were available on rare occasions. September 1751, Rev. Benjamin Chestnutt became the first permanent minister. He also served a sister congregation, “at the head of Timber Creek.” In May 1753, he asked Presbytery to release him of his charge. In 1766, Rev. Chestnutt was sent to Woodbury as one of the supply pastors when the congregation convinced him to return. This call was made by Blackwood town and signed also by the Woodbury and Berlin congregations. He preached and performed pastoral duties for the three congregations until his death in 1775.
Nearly 25 years passed before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was again administered to the Woodbury congregation. Four more pastors served and left for inadequate support before the congregation completed the first century.
Early in the 19th century, conditions started to improve. In 1834, a new church was erected on Broad Street opposite the Academy. The church was colonial in design, built of red brick with white trim. By 1906, the congregation had grown; and there was a need to enlarge the sanctuary.
At this point in history, the red brick was encased in stone and a small vestibule, a tower for the bell, a pipe organ, and stained glass windows were added.
Considerable progress was made during the second hundred years. The church had nearly continuous leadership from thirteen pastors during this period. Also, the Pastor’s tenure started to increase from two years to as many as twelve years. Support of missions and benevolence giving became increasingly important. Membership increased from a small group to 458 by 1921.
Dedicated leadership continued to strengthen the congregation during the next 75 years. The pastoral support staff was increased. The five pastors during this period remained for increasing periods of time, from 6 to 23 years. Rev. Richard Craven served from 1964–1987. He was Pastor Emeritus from 1987 until his death in February of 2007.
In 1965, the church was restored to its original brick colonial style. The building was extended on the front to include a narthex and cloakroom on the first floor with a boardroom and Pastor’s study on the second floor. A cupola was erected to make possible the ringing of the historic bell that had not been heard for many years.
Benevolence giving has always been a large priority of this church. By 1968, giving to others became 35% of the budget and remained at that level for several years. Since 1976, the percentage has fluctuated in the 20-33% range to this day. Membership peaked in 1969 at 1,284 but declined by 16% during each of the next two decades. The current membership is 336.
A new era in the life of The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury started on February 12, 1989 when Rev. Andrew T. Barton was installed as Pastor. Over the last few years, the church has also added a Director of Christian Education and Director of Youth Ministries in order to meet the growing needs of our congregation. In 2006, as we celebrated our 285th anniversary, The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury continues to uphold its mission statement by serving one another in Christ.