Who we are/our history

Our Seventeenth-Century Ancestors:

First Baptist Church of Middletown

1688: Date of organization of the first Baptist church by a group of immigrants from Rhode Island and Long Island, NY. in what was to become New Jersey—“a wild, unsettled place, possessed with Indians in great abundance.” There is no record of the location of the first building.

1688-1731: church served by the Rev. John Ashton

For nearly 150 years the congregation met alternately in the [photo] “Upper Meeting House” (Baptisttown, now Holmdel United Church of Christ) and [photo] “Lower Meeting House” (Middletown).

 

 


18th Century and

Revolutionary War Years

1720: Second building burned down

1738: The Rev. Abel Morgan served the church until his death in 1785; 

 

 

The large cemetery monument bears witness to his prominence during the American Revolutionary War period. Morgan boldly led his congregation in support of the new American government, in direct opposition to the British. In 1778, the church was taken over by the British for their wounded soldiers following their defeat at the Battle of Monmouth.

[cemetery photo]

1738: The Rev. Abel Morgan served the church until his death in 1785.


The large cemetery monument bears witness to Morgan's prominence during the American Revolutionary War period. Morgan boldly led his congregation in support of the new American government, in direct opposition to the British.


In 1778, the church was taken over by the British for their wounded soldiers following their defeat at the Battle of Monmouth.




A New Nation and

New Ways of Worship

1800s: The issues of temperance and slavery helped define the church as well as a powerful religious revival.

1825-1837: the Rev. Thomas Roberts. Known as a fiery preacher who could convert up to 500 souls at one revival meeting

1832: The Greek Revival edifice, the third on the site, was built on a 1720 stone foundation, “by members who contributed their labor, lumber or money"

1836: Upper Meeting House established as separate congregation in Holmdel know as Second Middletown served by the Rev. William D. Hires.

1837-1875: the Rev. David B. Stout, known as a hard and steady worker in the vineyards; membership increased to 567, the largest ever

1849: addition of front portico (later enclosed and known at the narthex; 1910-15) and bell tower

1863: New Jersey Baptist Convention resolution “That since the war into which we have been forced is essentially a conflict between freedom and slavery we see no method of terminating this conflict . . . than by the utter extinction of system of slavery throughout all the national territory.”

The church supported the anti-slavery cause and the temperance movement and worked for social reform.

Harvey Jenkins (1822-1908): A talented portrait painter, the traveled on foot throughout the area painting portraits and giving piano lessons. He was a member of the church for 60 years. See Monmouth County Historical Association.

1888: 200th Anniversary—baptistry was added in the sanctuary; adjoining lot purchased.

1890 Its tall, narrow steeple fell in an 1890 storm, and was replaced with the present, shorter steeple in 1891.

James Drumm, son of a slave, served as a sexton at the church for many years. 


The Modern Age

1905-1920: (1904-1019) served by the Rev. Horace Goodchild who designed the stained-glass windows and painted “Angels of the Tomb/Resurrection” [Women at the Empty Tomb] hanging in our sanctuary [and a Nativity scene, check whereabouts]

1908-1910: renovations included closing in the front portico, removing side balconies, and adding stained-glass windows (1915?); old-style pews replaced.

1920s: Women’s Christian Temperance Union Hall,(c. 1894) was sold to the church and moved from Conover Street near the railroad station; served as Fellowship Hall; church installed electric lights and a new organ

1930s: Economic woes of the Great Depression throughout this farm area.

 

1938: 250th Anniversary celebrated with a full-dress pageant, which depicted the history of the church

 

1941: The old pipe organ in the balcony was replaced by a Wurlitzer pipe organ, originally in Radio City Music Hall [Note: Evelyn Starke Hartman and her mother, Sarah Morford Taylor Starke]


Growth in the

Twentieth Century

1948-1964: the Rev. John E. Bates served during several major changes in direction; the sanctuary building was renovated; the administration wing was added connecting the sanctuary with the former Temperance Hall.

1950s: Completion of the Garden State Parkway brought new residents into Monmouth County. The church attracted people from many denominations during this period of rapid population growth.

1955: The membership voted to become a “community church” serving the needs of all in the Protestant tradition.

1963: the church entered an ecumenical union with the United Church of Christ a newly formed union of Congregational and Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church; Middletown Baptist changed its name to Old First Church.

 

1960s and 1970s: Following in the tradition of active social concerns, members participated in the civil rights movement and anti-war protests during the Vietnam War.

 

1973: The Wurlitzer pipe organ was replaced with a new 700-pipe Fritzsche organ.


1980s: AIDS Crisis: under leadership of the Rev. Earle (Mac) McCullough (retired), the church sponsored forums and worked to educate the public beyond its fears and prejudices.

1988: Old First celebrated its 300th Anniversary.

1964-2003: The church was served by a number of short-term and interim ministers.

 

2000: In line with its historic covenant in support of soul liberty, freedom of conscience, and respect for diversity, Old First took a bold stand in 2000 and passed a church resolution to be an Open and Affirming/Welcoming and Affirming congregation, stating clearly that the church is the embodiment of Christ in the world, welcoming all who search for God’s truth and confess Christ as Lord.


2003-current: Ministerial leadership of the Rev. Dr. Joyce Antilla Phipps


Twenty-first Century

Where Tradition and the Future Meet