This church is a merger of two of the oldest churches in Monmouth County, yet one of the youngest within the United Church of Christ denomination. Our historical ties go back to the Middletown Baptist Church (1668) and the Dutch Reformed congregation (1699), which became known as the Holmdel Baptist Church and the Holmdel Reformed Church with the separation of Holmdel from Middletown in 1836.
The Holmdel Baptist Church
The Baptist Church (American Baptist Convention) was founded by Baptists from the colony of Rhode Island, who came to New Jersey seeking religious freedom. Formally organized as the Middletown Baptist Church in 1668, it was one of the first Baptist churches in the colonies and the first in New Jersey. Ours was the “upper meeting house” of the Middletown Baptist church and shared preachers with the “lower meeting house” which is now Old First Church in Middletown. Eighteen of the 36 men who signed the original patent with the King of England in 1664 were Baptists and members of this church. The charter included the words “freedom of conscience in matters of religion”. This spirit of religious freedom continues in our faith today. By 1705, the first edifice was on the site where we worship today, as was the first ‘parsonage’ for the ministers. The present building, which was built in 1809 with beams from the earlier church, underwent considerable remodeling in the late 1800’s.
Congregations and pastors fought on the patriot side for freedom during the Revolutionary War. Under the leadership of Ann Taylor, a Baptist Sunday School was formed in 1816 that was one of the first integrated schools in the nation. With its sister-church, Old First Church in Middletown, the Holmdel Baptist Church (from 1688 -1836) helped to mother 107 daughter churches.
The Dutch Reformed Congregation
The Dutch Reformed congregation, begun in 1699, was first known as the Middletown Church of the Navesink, and later as the Dutch Reformed Church of Freehold and Middletown. The first house of worship was erected between 1719 -1721, about a mile from Holmdel Village on Middletown Road where the old cemetery continues to mark the spot. One of its pastors, Reynard Erickzon, was voted the first president of the “American Classis” in 1747, when it split from Amsterdam. Benjamin DuBois, who began his ministry in 1764, is still the longest serving Reformed minister in history – serving 63 years! Rev. DuBois was an ardent patriot and fought in several battles in the Revolutionary War. This church worshiped in Dutch and English until the mid-1800’s. The church prospered in the late 1800’s when the area was a thriving farming community. But then the economy changed. Loss of membership and severe financial problems began to set in by 1916.
Although the Holmdel Baptist Church and its neighbor, the Holmdel Reformed Church, prospered throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, both churches began dying with the onset of the depression in the 1920’s and 30’s. In 1935, these two small but historic congregations could not afford to pay their ministers and both pastors resigned within months of each other. The two churches then voted to become a federated body to be known as The Holmdel Church. This arrangement preserved the lives of the two congregations, although the fortunes of the federated church continued to decline. For many years they were without a full-time pastor. In 1953, in an act of faith, they called Dr. Wallace Gallup to be full-time pastor. During his tenure a Community Church was created within the federation for those who did not want to be formally part of either denomination. Now three different congregations existed within the federation, with two church buildings, each used six months out of the year.
Finally, the population of the area began to grow and, under successive pastorates of Rev. Burkhart, Rev. McNally and Rev. John Waldron, the church again became an influence in the region. Under John Waldron’s leadership and with much negotiation by leaders of the church, these three bodies merged into one church in 1968. The parent denominations graciously agreed to allow the church to sever its historic ties and to become part of an ecumenical denomination: the United Church of Christ.
Reverend Russell Eidmann-Hicks, was called in 1991, and under his leadership the church decided to make outreach to others in need a primary focus of its ministry, and to strengthen the church school and educational ministry of the church. Since then, the worship attendance has tripled and the ministries of the church have flourished. We pride ourselves on being an ecumenical church, acknowledging the depth of our historic traditions, yet being open to the diversity of backgrounds in the congregation and the new directions to which God is calling us. We welcome all who desire to walk on our continuing pilgrimage of discovery.