It all started when Reverend Jacob H. Cunningham was visiting his in-laws in Packanack Lake. As a graduate student at Columbia University, he was searching for a doctoral project, so he mailed a questionnaire to 400 families in the community inquiring as to whether there was an interest in starting a Protestant church. From this questionnaire, a "Committee on Religious Education" was formed. The first congregational meeting was held on February 27, 1947 and from this meeting, the Packanack Community Church was born. Dr. Cunningham agreed to serve as the interim minister until June, and the first service was held at the Packanack Clubhouse on March 2, 1947. In spite of a major snowstorm, 226 people showed up.
In September 1947, Reverend C. Stuart Simmons was called as the church's first full-time minister. Under his leadership, Sunday school classes were held at the Packanack Inn. Within two years, the congregation had grown to more than 300 members from 34 different denominations. Concerned that a particular doctrine would destroy the fellowship and service of the church, the congregation chose not to join a denomination.
Obviously lacking, however, was a permanent building. The congregation had outgrown the clubhouse, and the Sunday school was so crowded with 250 children that they would soon have to turn people away. So, on May 8, 1949, the congregation set out to raise the $55,000 needed to build the structure. Deciding against a long-term fund drive, the congregation decided to raise the money in only 8 days. On May 8-15, they asked people to make a pledge payable in two annual installments. After only 5 days, they had raised $40,000.
In March 1950, on the third anniversary of the formation of the church, ground was broken for the new building. Impressive ground-breaking ceremonies were attended by more than 100 members and guests. The ceremonies were held at the new church site, Lake Drive East and Mountainside Avenue. This would be the first church to be built in this rapidly-growing lake community.
In June 1950, a tragic event occurred in the life of the young church. The pastor, Mr. Simmons, was instantly killed when a car careened across the highway and hit his automobile. His death might have frustrated the building program, but "his dynamic leadership produced a firm resolution by the building committee and people to finish the church which had just been started."
In October 1950, Reverend R. Cameron Fisher, a frequent guest preacher at the church, became the new minister. Seven days later, he laid the cornerstone of the Sanctuary.
On Easter Sunday, March 25, 1951, the first worhip service was held in the newly-constructed building in which Rev. R. Cameron Fisher and his congregation of 520 worshipped for the first time. From the steeple of Packanack Lake's first house of worship, bells rang out Eastertide greetings. In the chancel at 9 and 11 o'clock services, 70 voices representing the senior and junior choirs sang music of promise and fulfillment and, in the pulpit, Rev. Fisher spoke on "The Soul's Invincible Surmise."
Indeed, the soul of the Packanack Community Church is invincible, having survived many rough roads ahead to become what it is today. The church has been blessed with many gifted and dedicated ministers who have continued the ministry of the congregation, expanding it beyond the borders of Wayne to other neighboring communities. We invite you to join us as we continue to expand the kingdom of heaven on earth.
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Article about Portrait of Rev. C. Stuart Simmons