Our Church History

2010 marked a significant milestone for The First United Methodist Church of Oakhurst – our 100thAnniversary.  The cornerstone for our church building was laid on January 2, 1910.

The religious roots which culminated in the erection of the First Methodist Church building at Oakhurst were planted long prior to the year 1900.  There were three somewhat overlapping groups that contributed to the establishment of the church.

First:  The church-going people of the village of Oakhurst were mainly members of the West Long Branch Methodist Church, or attendants at that church.  A number of the children were members of that Sunday School.

Second:  A Sunday School was also maintained throughout the entire year at the Elberon Memorial Church on Park Avenue, financed by the summer residents of Elberon.  The church furnished a horse-drawn stage along the route which started in Oakhurst and then through Pearl Street, now Roosevelt Avenue, to the church.

Third:  Cottage prayer meetings were held weekly at homes on or nearby Pearl Street, and were known as the “Pearl Street Prayer Meetings.”

Other than the cottage prayer meetings in homes, there were no church services in the Village of Oakhurst.  The desire for some local services led to the plan to have Sunday evening services in the Red Men’s Hall, just diagonally across the street from the present church, at 84 Monmouth Road.  This later became the home of longtime church members Leroy and Virginia Smith.  Lay persons led the services one Sunday evening each month.  When there was a fifth Sunday, Rev. Eli Gifford, pastor of the West Long Branch Methodist Church, would be the leader.

These services began about May, 1905.  Arrangements were made to provide 100 chairs, which were paid for by an entertainment given by the young people of the First Baptist Church of Long Branch, led by Miss Beulah Gordon, a teacher in the Oakhurst School.  A pulpit Bible and two dozen Bibles for the Sunday School were donated.

Eventually, the Methodist Society secured the services of Harry A. Relyea, a Drew Theological Seminary student.  He would later become the first pastor of the new Oakhurst Church.

Bishop Luther B. Wilson granted approval for the establishment of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Oakhurst, New Jersey.  There was authority to organize a Board of Trustees and an Official Board, and to proceed with plans for the church building.  Incorporation papers were filed in the County Clerk’s Office on June 19, 1908.  The plot of ground on which the church stands was donated by Mr. and Mrs. William Campbell Clark.  The deed is dated June 25, 1909.  The place of worship was then transferred to a tent erected upon the new location.

A Ladies’ Aid Society was formed, with Miss Valeria Johnston as President.  Mr. William R. Tallman, Sr.was the first Superintendent of the Sunday School.

At a Quarterly Conference (the forerunner of our present Charge Conference) on August 17, 1909, a building committee was appointed and the construction of the new church proceeded as soon as acceptable plans could be secured.  The church is of a Welsh Village construction, having been patterned after a church in Wales.

During the summer of 1909, while the church was under construction, meetings were held in a tent erected on the grounds.  While the superstructure and finishings were in progress during the cold weather, services were held in the basement.

The cornerstone for the new church building was laid on January 2, 1910, with proper ceremonies including the District Superintendent, Dr. John Handley in charge, Rev. C. B. Fisher, pastor of the “mother church,” Old First in West Long Branch, and the first pastor, Rev. Harry A. Relyea, taking part.

The church was dedicated on June 17, 1910.  Dr. John Krantz of New York was the speaker in the morning service.  Bishop Luther B. Wilson delivered the address during the afternoon meeting, and Dr. Handley was the evening speaker with other visiting ministers making short addresses.

Everyone agreed that the new church was off to a good start!

The Rev. Harry A. Relyea was secured from Drew Seminary to begin his career in the pulpit as the first pastor of The First United Methodist Church of Oakhurst.  He was described as a brilliant speaker and a great worker with the young people.  Pastor Relyea left Oakhurst in 1910.

The second pastor of the new church was Rev. Harry T. Fisler and he served from 1911 to 1917. Madame Lillian Nordica, the famous opera singer and a parishioner at this church, donated a beautiful red carpet for the church, and shrubbery for the church grounds.  New pews were installed and paid for.

The third pastor was Rev. Albert H. Eberhardt who served from 1917 to 1919.  During his pastorate, a heavy indebtedness on the church was raised and paid.

Rev. William Disbrow began his ministry in Oakhurst in April, 1920.  Ground was broken for the building of a distinctive and substantial parsonage.  As with the church property, the plot for the parsonage was given by Mrs. William Campbell Clark in 1922.  A contract was signed for the construction of the parsonage for $8,335.  Rev. Disbrow served the church from 1920 to 1921.

When Rev. Herbert H. Neale arrived in April 1922, he lived in a temporary parsonage at 265 Pearl Street, now called Roosevelt Avenue.  In July 1922, the Neale family moved into the new parsonage at 103 Monmouth Road.

On October 23, 1925, an estimate of $2,900, submitted by the Moeller Company, for a new organ was accepted.  The debt on the parsonage was reduced to $4,000.

The Rev. John A. Naylor served Oakhurst from 1927 to 1929.  Through the interest and contributions ofMrs. Oliver S. Hershman of Allenhurst and Pittsburgh, a new carpet and new furnace were installed in the church.  During this time, there was a marked increase in the church membership.

The period of the Great Depression proved to be a difficult period for the church with its heavy financial burdens.  The pastor was Walter L. Shaw.  Only through the faith and sacrifice of each individual official and member, did the church go on.  Rev. Shaw served until March 1933.

Rev. Henry Miller followed Rev. Shaw.  He was responsible for the fine choir, under the leadership of H. Leonard Davis.  The church was still having its financial problems.  However, with his ministry, Rev. Miller greatly enriched the spiritual life of his parish.

In October, 1935, Dr. John D. Blair became the minister of this church.  This was the beginning of a new era.  The Depression years were slowly fading away.  The community was beginning to build up.  There was a decided increase in the interest and membership of the Oakhurst Church.

There was still a debt of $4,000 on the parsonage.  The estate of Mrs. William B. Ireland kindly agreed to accept $3,500 in payment of this note.

Dr. Blair was a tireless and enthusiastic worker, and very popular with the young people.  He served until February, 1946, a little over 12 years.

The Rev. Lynn S. Bugbee was assigned to Oakhurst in April, 1946.  With his friendly, social manner,Rev. Bugbee made many new friends for the church.  During his pastorate, the stairs leading from the basement to the sanctuary were installed.

On August 22, 1948, the 40th anniversary of the incorporation of the church in 1908 was celebrated in the morning worship service.  Rev. Charles S. Whilden of Ocean Grove preached on the theme, “The Church Yesterday and Today.”  The choir sang, “Great Is the Lord,” under the direction of Mrs. Evelyn White Bennett, organist.

In October, 1948, Harland T. Gant assumed the duties as pastor.  Under his leadership, a fund was initiated for the expansion and improvements of the church.  The drive for funds, which began in April, 1949, resulted in total pledges of $9,600.

The Senior Choir sponsored the project of the organ chimes and amplification.  These Maryland Chimes of 25 notes were dedicated on December 4, 1949.

Through the efforts of Pastor Stimson R. Smalley, the south corner lot was acquired from the Township of Ocean.  This purchase in June, 1952, made the later expansion plans possible.

Dr. Smalley was a brilliant scholar and an excellent preacher.  He organized the School for Graded Choirs.  The youth in various age groups were given the opportunity to share in the ministry of music.  The four choirs were named Cherub, Carolers, Chancel, and Senior.

Rev. Champion B. Goldy became the thirteenth pastor, arriving in Oakhurst in October of 1952. Many improvements and expansions occurred under his leadership.

Mr. Harry Greenberger agreed to donate a 25 foot strip in the rear of the church property in November of 1952.  The Methodist Men carried out the project of clearing and planting this new property under the general direction of Sherwood A. Moore, a church member who was the head groundskeeper at the Hollywood Golf Club.  Gravel was placed in the parking area, and floodlights were added at the front of the lot.  Funds from the Expansion Fund of 1949 were used to install a new oil heating system and a new carpet for the sanctuary.

The first issue of The First Methodist Herald, a weekly printed newsletter, was dated March 29, 1953.  It was mailed weekly to all members.

The early 1950’s saw a great growth in the population of Ocean Township and the neighboring communities.  Under the direction of Rev. Goldy, the Commission on Membership and Evangelism conducted periodic visitation programs.  This increased activity resulted in a tremendous addition to the church membership.

In order to better serve the ever growing community, the church recognized the need for a new Church School and recreational building.  A new Expansion Fund Committee was established to begin plans to address that need.

Rev. August Klebsattel was asked by Rev. Goldy to become the Assistant Pastor in 1954.  Rev. Klebsattel was born in Pforzheim, Germany, and he and his wife, Elise, served as missionaries in Angola, Africa, for 35 years.  Under their guidance, the Methodist Church in Luanda, Africa, grew from 50 in 1923 to over 3,000 in 1946.

After returning to the United States, beginning at the age of 74, Rev. Klebsattel served the Oakhurst Church for nearly 20 years.  As he went about his daily service of visiting the sick, comforting the aged and lonely and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, so many souls and spirits were uplifted by his radiant countenance, his fervent faith, and his quiet humility.

Rev. and Mrs. Klebsattel were honored by the congregation at a Testimonial Dinner on January 31, 1971.  A gift on their behalf was made to the Board of Foreign Missions.  Rev. Klebsattel continued to serve the church until he was 90 and fittingly, he was called home to God on Easter Sunday in 1976.

In the mid-1950’s, in order to better serve the ever-growing community, the church recognized the need for a new church school and recreational building.  At a congregational meeting on August 30, 1953, architectural plans for a new addition were approved.  The edition was to be a two-story educational wing to include a Fellowship Hall, Sanctuary Annex, church school classrooms, a modern kitchen, office, study, and choir room.  The total cost was approximately $125,000.

Rev. Goldy expressed the challenge of this undertaking to the congregation with these words:  “The church is our spiritual home.  Our whole life – our defeats and triumphs, our sorrows and joys – all are enfolded within its hallowed walls.  It was here in the church that we were brought for baptism, here that we attended church school and church, here that we were confirmed.  There is scarcely an event in our lives which has not in some way been connected with our church.

“And now, because of the growth of our community, we need to expand our facilities that we may continue in an even greater way to take care of not only our children, but the physical and spiritual needs of the entire family.

“Let us face this endeavor in the way Jesus looked at life – ‘With God, all things are possible.’”

The financial crusade got underway in September of 1953, and the result was $57,334 in pledges.  A mortgage loan of $65,000 was procured and ground was broken at 12:00 noon on Sunday, January 16, 1955.

The new Educational Building was consecrated on June 19, 1955. Following the initial 3-year financial crusade, another Budget and Completion Crusade began in October of 1958 to clear the remaining indebtedness of $43,500, and to raise $31,735 for the 1958-59 annual budget. Rev. Goldy challenged the congregation with these words: “Our church will be as strong tomorrow as our courage is today.”

More improvements were made to the church after the completion of Fellowship Hall: the main parking lot was resurfaced, the church was rewired, new lights were installed in the sanctuary, a new heating plant with baseboard radiation was installed, a two-car garage was added to the parsonage, and the Wesley Hall basement room was completely remodeled by crews consisting of men of the church. In 1959, the land on the north side of the parsonage was purchased.

After a very productive seven-year ministry, Rev. Champion Goldy left the Oakhurst Church to become the senior pastor of the Palmyra Church.

The Golden Anniversary of the First Methodist Church of Oakhurst was celebrated on Sunday, October 16, 1960. The special 50th Anniversary Service held on Sunday afternoon featured the appropriate hymns, “The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ, Her Lord,” “Faith of our Fathers,” and “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord.” The speaker was Rev. Champion B. Goldy who had just left the church a few months before.  An anniversary supper was provided by the women’s organization, then known as the WSCS – Women’s Society of Christian Service.

A commemorative 50th Anniversary booklet was created and the history of the church was written by Mr. Alonzo Clark, church historian, and his wife. The Clark’s concluded their chapter of history with these words: “Fifty years ago, our church was dedicated. We have reason to rejoice and praise God for His great goodness and His many blessings. As we look back over these years, we see and feel the presence of many Christian men and women who have helped so much to make today possible. We are truly grateful to these consecrated people, and to the dedicated ministers for their leadership and guidance. As we look ahead, we believe the best is yet to be. We feel that the coming years can be the greatest the church has ever known, if we remember to ‘expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God.’”  We salute all those who came before us and laid the foundation and prepared the way for us.

In a unique situation, after leaving the Oakhurst Church in 1946 and serving several other churches, Dr. John D. Blair was called to serve the church again in 1959. A young, relatively new minister during his first assignment in Oakhurst from 1935 to 1946, Dr. Blair returned in 1959 as a fully experienced, seasoned pastor. With his Irish brogue, he was a vibrant and passionate preacher, often relying on poetry to illustrate the point of his messages. His ministry was marked by his spiritual inspiration, his warm love and pastoral concern, his abiding faith and the boundless joy with which he served the Lord.

During Dr. Blair’s second assignment at Oakhurst, the sanctuary building was completely remodeled. The changes included a new chancel area, rebuilding of the organ, an addition to the front of the church, and a brickface exterior. The old bell tower was removed and replaced with a heaven-reaching new steeple, making First United Methodist Church a landmark in the community. During construction, worship services were held in Fellowship Hall. With a new modern facility and a growing congregation, for five consecutive years the Oakhurst Church was voted “The Church with the brightest future in the Shore Area.”

On May 20, 1973, a Retirement Dinner was held for Dr. Blair. Over 400 people attended to honor Dr. Blair, and to witness the establishment of The Dr. John D. Blair Scholarship fund in recognition of his 25 years of service as senior pastor of the Oakhurst Church. Since that day, scholarships have been awarded for 36 consecutive years to 83 church members. Dr. Blair continued to serve the church as Parish Visitor until relocating to Ocean City in 1981.

In total, Dr. Blair served the Oakhurst Church for 32 years, a record which has been unsurpassed in the 100 year history of the church. The impact of his ministry during two critical periods in the church’s growth and history is immeasurable.

Dr. Blair was succeeded in 1973 by Rev. Raymond F. Gruezke.  Rev. Gruezke’s ministry lasted only 19 months, as a sudden illness was followed by his tragic death in January of 1975 at the age of 50.  A saddened and heartbroken congregation filled the sanctuary for a memorial service showing their love and respect for this dedicated and loving minister of God.  Despite the shortness of his ministry, his example of the Christian faith in his leadership, in his preaching, and in his life was an inspiration to the congregation who pledged upon his passing “to endeavor with all our hearts to become the kind of Christian persons he encouraged us to be.”

Rev. Gruezke’s young family remained in Oakhurst and made this their home church.  His wife, Ethel, held many leadership positions.  His youngest son, Leonard, is a former lay Leader of the church.

From January through July of 1975, until the next pastoral appointment, pastoral ministry was provided by the Assistant Pastors, Dr. Blair and Rev. Robert C. O’Donnell.  Rev. O’Donnell had come to Oakhurst in 1969 after serving churches in South Carolina.  He continued to serve the Oakhurst Church until 1981 while he also served as a guidance counselor in the Ocean Township school system.

Rev. Hooker D. Davis came to Oakhurst in 1975, following a six-year term as District Superintendent of the Southwest District.  Being a black pastor assigned to an all-white church was a bold experiment for both pastor and congregation.  It was a challenge that Rev. Davis accepted with courage and dignity.  It became a “non-issue” immediately as he quickly won the hearts of the congregation with a genuine humanness and warmth that drew people to him.

Rev. Davis endeared himself to the congregation through his love and unselfish, untiring efforts caring for our spiritual needs, and he was always ready to comfort the sick and troubled.  His ready smile and sense of humor were a joy.  His ministry was marked by his personal pastoral care and “shepherding” of his “flock.”  During his six-year pastorate, he touched countless lives and was always there to bring comfort and caring to those in need.

1981 brought Rev. Jack Johnson as senior pastor of the Oakhurst Church.  Rev. Johnson brought with him a new vision and a new sense of ministry for the church and its people.  He awakened us to the social gospel, and through his preaching and leadership exhorted us to reach out beyond ourselves.  New programs included social clubs for our deinstitutionalized neighbors, being a founding member of Interfaith Neighbors to help the needy and homeless in our communities, and involvement in one social justice issue after another.  In 1985, the Wesley Nursery School was established, reaching out to church and non-church families throughout the surrounding communities.  Another part of his legacy, in 2010, the nursery school celebrated its 25th Anniversary.  Under Rev. Johnson’s leadership of eight years, the Oakhurst Church became – and continues to be – a leader in reaching out to those around us, by living out the social gospel of Jesus Christ.

Also during Rev. Johnson’s pastorate, a new parsonage was purchased on Pear Street, and the remodeling of the downstairs area of the church was completed.  The formerly open basement area brought us the present Wesley Hall and was turned into practical, comfortable classrooms for the growing Church School and many community organizations that used the church, new offices, a music room, and more efficient stairway access to the sanctuary.

Rev. Richard L. Wilson became the seventeenth pastor of the Oakhurst Church in 1989.  During his five-year ministry, Rev. Wilson introduced the congregation to new experiences in worship, including the healing service.  He personalized the worship experience.  The healing service added a new dimension to our relationship with God and brought us hope and comfort, as the body of Christ and as individuals.  This service is his legacy and has been continued as a regular part of our worship.

Rev. Wilson retired from Oakhurst Church in 1994 and, sadly, passed away suddenly less than a year later.  His wife, Ann, who provided dedicated leadership in the Christian education program and the United Methodist Women during his ministry, remained an active member of the church.

At the time of the celebration of our 100th Anniversary, our pastor is Rev. Brian Eble.  Rev. Eble came to Oakhurst in 1994 and (except for the split pastorate of Dr. Blair) has the distinction of being the longest-serving pastor in the history of the church, now in his sixteenth year.  His ministry has centered around an emphasis on Biblical-based preaching and studying the Word of God, both as they relate to how we manage our everyday lives.  Through the years of his ministry, he has conducted many study groups around a provocative book which help us to examine the essence of our faith.

During Rev. Eble’s pastorate, the final phase of construction and remodeling of the church building was completed and all debt was satisfied.  An addition including a foyer, more accessible office space, a library and easy access to all three levels of the building was provided.  The sanctuary overflow room was relocated.  New bathrooms on each level and an elevator were installed and the church building became entirely handicapped accessible.

On November 20, 2010, we celebrated our 100th Anniversary with a gala dinner held at the Sheraton in Eatontown.  Ronald Danielson served as the Master of Ceremonies.  We were blessed to be joined by Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar and former pastors Rev. Champ Goldy (1953-1959) and Rev. Jack Johnson (1981-1989).  Diane Maher entertained and amused us with a reading of a memoir written by her aunts, Marie Meadows and Frances Miller, who were 90 and 92 years of age when it was written 2005.

At the time of the dinner, there were fifty people who have been members of our congregation for 50 years or longer — including two who have been members for 78 years.  Those long-standing members in attendance at the dinner received recognition from Phyllis Fyfe on behalf of the Centennial Committee.  The President of the Township of Ocean Historical Museum, and church member, Virginia Richmond, presented the church with a Centennial Plaque.  A video presentation by Michael Miccio, Sr. entitled “Images of the Past: Our Inspiration for the Future”, entertained us, and brought back many fond memories.

On Sunday, November 21, 2010, was the presentation of “A CENTURY’S CELEBRATION!”: an original cantata composed by our Director of Music, Gary Farquhar, with texts by congregation member, Margaret Juckett.  Our Youth and Children’s Choirs, directed by Denise Furda, and our Adult Chancel Choir, joined together, accompanied by Steven Taylor on bongos, and percussionist Kathy Goff.

Over these 100 years, the Oakhurst Church has had 18 pastors.  Each has brought his own gifts and graces and has contributed to the growth and development of this church and its congregation.  From this vantage point of 100 years, it is clear that we have been blessed by those whom God has sent to be our pastoral leaders.  Our hope and prayer is God will continue to so bless our congregations for the next 100 years!