2013-06-13 / Front Page

Holmdel church to update 1880s hall

Staff Writer

The Holmdel Community United Church of Christ, Main Street, was built in 1809 on the foundation of one built in the early 18th century. 
PHOTOS BY KEITH HEUMILLER/STAFF The Holmdel Community United Church of Christ, Main Street, was built in 1809 on the foundation of one built in the early 18th century. PHOTOS BY KEITH HEUMILLER/STAFF A fter more than four years of planning, patience and perseverance, the Holmdel Community United Church of Christ has broken ground on a new, expanded Fellowship Hall.

First built in the 1880s, the existing hall will almost double in size under the project, which is being financed by 123 church supporters who have donated almost $1 million to the effort since it was first proposed in late 2008.

“It’s been really an uphill climb,” said Rev. Russell “Rusty” Eidmann-Hicks, speaking during a groundbreaking ceremony and community barbecue at the West Main Street church on June 9.

“We are a congregational church, so we vote on everything. And we actually had the vote for the building the day after the stock market went down 777 points.

The cemetery at the Holmdel Community United Church of Christ includes the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers. The cemetery at the Holmdel Community United Church of Christ includes the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers. “But it shows the courage of this congregation. They really want to see this happen.”

The renovations have been a long time coming for the 130-year-old building, which is used by the church’s 140 weekly attendees and more than 100 additional members for post-service coffee hours, gatherings, community events, Sunday school, youth classes and more.

“Our membership is growing, and it has been for some time,” said Peter Sach, trustee with the church. “It’s also getting younger. We’re finding that, like today, you can’t fit everybody in the Fellowship Hall. So how can you grow if you don’t have room to fit people? You can’t be welcoming unless you are big enough.”

The first phase of the renovation project will add more than 3,100 square feet of space to the hall, including 700 square feet of additional communal space and a number of new meeting rooms and offices.

Existing bathrooms and other facilities, some of which need to be updated to comply with 21st-century building codes, will be redone as well.

“It’s a community church, so space is made available to a number of groups that meet here on a regular basis,” said Tom Eddy, chairman of the church’s fundraising and construction committees for the project.

“There is a Newcomers Club, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts; a chapter of AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meets here. The space will make it better for all of them.”

Rev. Eidmann-Hicks, taking a break from a water balloon fight with a dozen of the church’s younger members, said the project is about more than just updating an aging building.

“I’ve been here 21 years, and when I first came there were about 40 to 50 people in worship. The big question was, ‘Is this congregation going to survive? Is this church going to survive?’ ” he said.

“But now it’s gotten to a point where it has probably tripled in size. There is a sense that the church has momentum and it will be here for future generations. There is a desire to really build something for the future and to leave a legacy.”

For the Holmdel Community United Church of Christ, legacy is a big deal. Established in 1705, the congregation’s current church was built in 1809. Revolutionary War soldiers are buried in the church cemetery, which rests at the edge of the property. As a church community with such a long, storied history, it is no wonder that current members have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to build something for the future, Rev. Eidmann-Hicks said.

“Most of the larger gifts — the real legacy gifts — were given by older people who have been in this congregation for generations,” he said. “So they really wanted to leave something for the future generations.”

Watching the youngsters lob balloons at their pastor and play hide-and-seek on the future site of the church’s new Fellowship Hall, Sach agreed.

“These are the kids we’re building for. We have a lot of youth, and that’s why we need to build a building that will have bigger classrooms for the kids [and] more space for them to share time together,” he said.

“We’re a welcoming, open congregation. We teach our children that. So hopefully when they meet with other kids, it becomes an expansive belief.”

Fundraising is still ongoing for the first phase of construction, which Eddy estimates will cost a little more than $1 million and be completed by early 2014.

The church has an established credit line of $450,000, Sach said, but the congregation has only voted to authorize $250,000 in debt spending. Members continue to solicit donations from public and commercial supporters in an effort to borrow as little as possible, he added.

“Debt kills churches,” he said.

The second phase, slated for sometime in the future, will connect the new Fellowship Hall to the church with an 800-squarefoot, open-air pavilion, according to congregation member and architect Marilyn Gentile, who developed the entire project along with Kaplan Gaunt DeSantis, Red Bank.

The second phase will also create a small courtyard at the rear of the hall, centered around a commemorative bell that is currently in the church cemetery.

The Holmdel Community Church has its roots in two 17th-century churches — the Middletown Baptist Church and the Dutch Reformed congregation. Holmdel was still a part of Middletown when the church first opened their doors.

In the centuries since, members and ministers of both churches fought in the Revolutionary War campaigned for personal and religious freedom, and in 1816 opened a Baptist Sunday school that was one of the first integrated schools in the nation. After a merger in 1968, the church aligned itself with the United Church of Christ, an ecumenical denomination.

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