History of the First Presbyterian Church of Woodbury Heights


        The first religious meeting was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Mayhew in November, 1896, in the form of a prayer meeting.  Other meetings were held in the community in other homes as well.  On the 24th in January – a Sunday evening of 1897, marked the first religious meeting held in Borough Hall. Judge Pancoast and John Mayhew each gave a building lot to erect the Borough Hall which was built in 1894 by a group of businessmen including Pancoast and Mayhew.  (The hall was on the site where the present sanctuary stands).  At this first “worship service” in 1897, a Board of Trustees was appointed along with officers, an organist and teachers. On that same Sunday in 1897 the organization known as the Union Sunday School was also established there at the Borough Hall.   


           Preaching, at first, was by neighboring ministers and Princeton Seminary men. (Only until recent history we have had women guest and interim pastors) However, women were very involved with the church from the start and in 1900 they formed the Ladies Aid Society “for the purpose of devising entertainments, etc., to help the church financially and the congregation socially.”  Mrs. Mayhew was the first president and served for 32 years. 

These early beginnings led to the organization of our church to join the West Jersey Presbytery – this petition went into effect July 12, 1910 and the First Presbyterian Church of Woodbury Heights was official. The civil organization and incorporation was on August 27, 1910.   On June 19, 1911 ground was broken and the new church on the corner of Fourth St. and Elm Ave. was built.  The land was donated by Mr. John Mayhew (two lots)  The cornerstone laid Oct. 7, 1911 contains unique contents – money of that date, a Bible, lists of all residents, charter members and a Woodbury Newspaper. Needless to say the founders of our church organized quickly and got things done.


          Since these humble beginnings there have been many pastors that have served our church, many times from Pulpit Supply and Interim ministers. There have been fifteen regularly installed pastors with varied lengths of time of service.  The longest term was our last regular pastor, Rev. John Shedwick with just under 34 years.  Needless to say many members and their children and grandchildren grew up with only one pastor during Rev. Shedwick’s term.

Over the years our church has gone through many changes in memberships (people and numbers).  Also many changes to our physical appearance in our buildings and sanctuary have taken place since 1920 as you see some of the things highlighted in the Church Timeline.


          We praise God for all we are as a CHURCH FAMILY.

This Church Timeline highlights events and important milestones of our church: (needless to say, that not everything is listed!)


1896: First religious meeting held at Mr.& Mrs. John Mayhew’s home

1897: First church service led by Charles Miller was the first of many Princeton Seminary Students to preach.

1900:  The Ladies Aid Society was formed.  Mrs. Mayhew served as president for 32 yrs.

 1910: A petition to form a Presbyterian Church was presented to West Jersey Presbytery,  which became a reality July 12, 1920.

1911: The new church on the corner of 4th St. &  Elm Ave.  is built and open for worship  (ground donated by John Mayhew) . (note:  Former member of our church Helen Cooper (Wheaton) is born  to Mr. & Mrs. Raymond Cooper on 12/30/1911 –she was the third baptism in the new church - -her descendants are current members.)

1912: A definitive Sunday School  was organized. 

1913:  First regular pastor, Rev. George J. Becker was installed and served two years. There were 21 members.

1915: The church bell, a gift from Samuel Wallace, was dedicated in memory of Catherine Scott Wallace and her sister Jane Shelton Culver..  Rev. William C. Little served 1 yr. as pastor. A library was started in the basement of the church then moved to Borough Hall.

1918: Communion table was dedicated in memory of Paul H. Mayhew (son of John & Henrietta Mayhew).  Rev. Russell Paynter served one year as pastor.

1919: Rev. William H. Johnson took over as pastor but not installed until 1920. Session approved forming a Boy Scout and a Girl Scout Troop. 

1920: Our first summer Bible School.   10th anniversary of the church was celebrated.  Rev. William H. Johnston serves two years as pastor.

1921:  Church has 101 members.

1922: Rev. John Sexton served as pastor for only one month (the shortest term)

1923: Rev. George J. Riester becomes pastor until 1925.

1924:  A business manager is appointed.

1925: 15th anniversary.  Rev. Alden Paterson is new pastor and installed in 1926 until 1935.

1926: Anti-Saloon League is approved to meet at our church.

1927: 114 members and 145 Sunday School students.  Father-son banquet was held.

1928: Burning of the mortgage on the church on the corner. 

1929:  Our church family collected funds for the famine in China.

1936: Rev. Charles B. Almond is installed as pastor until 1942.

1937: The 25th anniversary of the Dedication of the Present Edifice. An historical survey was taken at luncheon after this special service. 

1938: John Mayhew enters God’s Kingdom.

1941: Our church protested a proposed liquor license to the Blue Moon Café.

1943:  Rev. Earl W. Klein is pastor until 1945.

1945: Rev. A. Raymond Eckels installed and served until 1947.

1946: Restoration Fund is established to aid Europe and Asia to “recover some of the ravages of war”.

1949: Rev. Jarvis S. Morris is a supply pastor in 1947 and installed in 1949, serves until 1951 then Interim Pastor, Rev. Andrew M. Blackwood served.

1952: Rev. Ernest C. Einslin serves for 9 years (1952-1961). 275 members.

1953: lnstalled tower chimes and sound system as memorial to Prentice Hall, a former choir director.

1954:  The lighted bulletin board for the front lawn is donated.  Expansion of building begins.

1955:  Gladys DuPell Backensto donates silver communion service and brass collection plate.

1956: Began holding 2 services on Easter Sunday.  Building is used as a voting venue for the Borough.  123 hymnals given as memorial, 117 hymnals are repaired.  Helen & George Wheaton joined church. (Helen lived to be 99 yr. old in 2011)

1957: Education Building is dedicated .

1958: Concern for Rev. Einslin’s health, medical leave for 4-6 weeks was granted.

1959: Plans for a new church are accepted.

 1960: The congregation approved $100,000 for new church to be built.

1961: Our first service in the new Sanctuary, Oct. 1.  2 Sunday services were held (AM & evening). Robert Shunk pays for the organ as a memorial to his parents, M. Jennie & R.C. Shunk.

1962: 429 members.  Rev. James. E. Powl is installed in 1962 until 1976 (14 years – longest to serve to date) A monthly newsletter is instituted.  Henrietta Mayhew dies 9/17

1963: The Session and Board of Trustees merged to form a unicameral board of 24 members.  Four women’s Circles with 57 members: Mildred Almond Circle, The STAR Circle, Henrietta Mayhew Circle and Laura Davenport Circle.  Rev. Powl led a memorial service for President John F. Kennedy, 286 attended.

1964:  New 20 yr. mortgage is approved by congregation.

 1965: The front stained glass windows were installed.  The Memorial Fund was used to commission the work…one of the largest stained glass displays in South Jersey.  Dorcas and Hannah Circles are added, Mayhew/Almond circles merge.  The cross hanging in Sanctuary was made by Joe Foerst (member), Frank Gartner (a Roman Catholic) and a Jewish gentleman friend…The cross was named  “ The Cross of Three Faiths”

1966: The church purchased the Foerst cottage for $15,000.  A roof on the original Sanctuary cost $1350.00.  Mr. Michael Culbert was hired as organist and choir director.

1970: The Greenwood Nursery School opens in our nursery rooms.  Van Etta Family donates funds in honor of their father for the future Bell Tower.

1971: Descriptions of the Shields in front of the Sanctuary are placed in hymnals.

1972:  494 members.  Mr. & Mrs. Scott were hired as Sextons and lived in the cottage as payment.  Sanctuary walls were painted pink…yes pink…

1974: Van Etta Bell Tower Memorial was created. Our newsletter is renamed “The Church Bell”. Organ fund was established.

1975: Organ Fund Committee sold plates with an image of the church.

1976: The church helps America celebrate the Bicentennial with colonial costumes and service.  

1977: Rev. Wayne C. Peach serves 7 years as our pastor (1977-1984). A sound system was installed.

1979: New organ delivered, dedicated and an organ recital was given.

1981: Gold choir robes were given by Edith Moore in memory of her husband George.

1982: Final payment on church mortgage was made.

1983: The Bonds are paid and we are burning them at a special service. 

1984-85: Rev. Dan Pure serves 1 yr. as interim pastor.

1985: Rev. John Shedwick begins his pastoral service of 33 years (retired in 2019).  Manse on Temple Ave. was purchased ($76,000) and Shedwick family moved in.

1986: Youth group planted trees on 4th Street.

1987: Men’s Breakfast held.

1989: 288 members.

1990: 297 members. Member Missionary Brett McMichael is in Honduras until 1994.  Brett also was in Romania ’94-96 PCUSA, then in Balkan region from ’96-2007.

1991: Youth choir presented music for “Godspell”.

 1992: Fire Alarm system and front door are installed.  A dinner was held for Dr. Michael Culbert retiring as our choir director.

1993: Bell choirs are formed by new choir director Carol McDaniel. Holleny family donates a TV for SS.  Youth held musical “Rainbow Express”. Chain of Friends group formed (those who lost spouses).  The Sanctuary doors are painted red.  Deacons establish “Tree of Life” to help those in church or community for financial needs.  We helped Woodbury Heights celebrate their 80th anniversary.

1998: An evening service is held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first church service. 

1999: Purchased the Davenport property. ($179,000.) Property will house the church office and meeting rooms.  509 members -139 attend on average

2000: SCG. lnc. is assuming cost for our new web page, "thefriendlychurch.org".  The David Geserick Scholarship Fund is established in memory of Dave.  Memorial Garden plan was presented by Robert Shunk Jr.memorial fund will finance.  Deacons and Elders can now serve communion to Shut-ins .

2001: Dedication of the Memorial Garden.  Florescent lighting donated by Edith Moore is installed in Primary Room.  Food Pantry started in church.  Terrorists attack Twin Towers in NYC & Pentagon led to donations to NY Disaster Relief.  George Tice Memorial  Fund will be used to install a sound system in Fellowship Hall.  George Tice Memorial Scholarship Fund was established for a yearly scholarship to HS graduates for continuing education. Kathy Pedicone travels to Cuba for a mission trip.

 2002: Family exchange begins 2x/year with Mt. Zion Methodist Church and will continue after pandemic subsides.  Flag pole is a gift from John Albert (former Sexton with wife Phyllis many years ago – she also was a long time SS teacher)

 2003: Sale of the 4th avenue cottage ($125,000). First Golf outing was held.  Prayer Quilt Ministry started by Pat Wilkins.

2004: Dedication of the first parking lot around the Davenport Annex. 

2005: Bert Davenport Memorial Fund used to purchase new tables in Fellowship Hall.

2006: Ben Lowers Memorial Fund used to repay bonds and help with new roof on Sanctuary & installed hot water heater in upstairs kitchen.

2009: New choir robes are dedicated.  Greenwood Nursery did not renew their lease (they started their lease in 1970). New floor in Fellowship Hall was installed and dedicated in honor of Betty O’Donnell.  Narthex display cabinets were made by Phil String.

2O1O: 100TH Anniversary celebration. An original hymn titled “Long Ago, as Evening Gathered” is commissioned for the 100th celebration, it’s written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. We re-designed our church web site,"Presbywoodburyhts.org". A Time Capsule was buried in Memorial Garden.  The History Committee was formed.

2011:  Women’s Association established “Woman of the Year” recognition.  The first was posthumously awarded to Helen Wheaton and this award was then named for her the following years. Cathedral Kitchen was chosen as the food kitchen to support.  This was the year of Earth, Wind, Fire & Rain: an earthquake thankfully didn’t shake the church, Hurricane Irene caused flooding in bell tower, lounge, primary rooms and classrooms and fire codes were updated.

2012: Bonds were paid off.

2013:  History Committee listed a plethora of work that was done to organize and make sense of artifacts and historical documents. 

2014: Phil String made display cabinets in Narthex, & glass donated by Jim Golding. Sanctuary rocking chair donated by Kris Lott in memory of her grandmother, Dawn Fachinger.

2015: Our church participated in the 100th anniversary of Woodbury Heights.  The new handicapped accessible restroom was installed in the Narthex of Sanctuary. 

2016: 40th anniversary of Rev. Shedwick’s ordination was celebrated.  Member Dave Kershaw was installed as Moderator of WJ Presbytery.

2017: A new chair lift was installed on 4th St. steps due to a donation from Joyce & Mike Woodrow. 500th Anniversary of Reformation was celebrated. Fellowship Hall was dedicated as Cooper Memorial Hall in memory of Lois Cooper.

2018: A/C & heating units installed in Sanctuary and A/C units installed in Cooper Hall

2019: Rev. Shedwick retires after almost 34 years. Many pastors from Pulpit Supply  are hired. The Manse was sold ($135,000).

2020:  Pastor Marie Branigan is hired as interim pastor just one month before and through the world wide pandemic of Covid-19 to present day.  Church closed from March to Nov. but online worship services were held each week!  For something normal, we decorated our church for Thanksgiving and Christmas!  Our annual Christmas Giving Tree was conducted through SignUpGenius., helping 10 families which were  helped at Thanksgiving time also.

2021: Transition team works on mission study to proceed with pastor search in the near future. A church survey was given to all members and friends who attend our church regularly…RESULT: We are a vital church even through the pandemic!! A new website will be completed this year.  Since 2003 to July 11, 2021, 789 prayer quilts were made and prayed upon (virtual knots replaced real knot tying during the pandemic for a bit)


To Be Cont'd… This Timeline will continue and be edited in our future!

Note: Many dedicated members and pastors have contributed over the past 110+ years since our church’s existence, a few names sprung up in the timeline at random…it was impossible to list everyone who did meaningful things either great or small..the list would be endless. Endless hours can be spent reading through all the interesting historical documents if you wish to do so…

Compiled by Joyce Woodrow, Board of Deacons Moderator and Member of The Transition Team, 2021 with wonderful resources taken from the Historical documents organized from the diligence of the History Committee.