In the late 1950’s a small group of dedicated people from an essentially agricultural Chatham Township realized a vision of establishing a Presbyterian congregation. The Township was growing and the need for the church was enthusiastically welcomed. The Rev. Dr. Chester M. Davis was assigned by Presbytery to verify the interest and work on its organization. In December, 1959, along with the purchase of an 8-acre site, over 200 people signed the Covenant of Membership, thereby establishing The Presbyterian Church of Chatham Township.
Early worship services were held in the basement of the Southern Boulevard School until a permanent building could be constructed. One of the first organizing decisions to be made was the establishment of TIDINGS, the church newsletter, which is still produced to this day.
The Rev. Dr. Lincoln Griswold became PCCT’s first senior pastor in 1960. 1960 also marked groundbreaking for the new fellowship hall. In two years the building was completed. Much of the finishing touches and yard work were done by the members. The new building was home to a library, Sunday School classrooms, staff offices, a kitchen and space for the many programs and meetings already going on.
Within 5 years, the Women’s Association, adult and children’s choirs, Bible classes and many activities were well underway. Membership was up to 480 members.
1967 marked a new era for PCCT in that we welcomed a new Senior Pastor, Rev. David Mulford. For the next twenty years, during which time he received his doctorate, Dr. Mulford remained our pastor.
The construction of the Fellowship Hall prior to that of the sanctuary was done specifically with the idea of establishing the size and more specific needs of the congregation before building a more permanent worship hall. Now with about 600 members, it was time to build a church. In 1970 groundbreaking for a new, 350-people sanctuary began. With a 75-foot steeple place atop, the first worship service was on March 20, 1971. By 1973, PCCT was a very active part of the community with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Bible studies, Townshippers, a prayer worship, Women’s Circle meetings, craft workshop, all taking place in our larger facilities. Reminding the neighborhood of God’s peace, the memorial gift of a carillon rings out a hymn from the steeple each day at noon. In 1977 the Memorial Garden was dedicated, an outdoor area designed as a place for remembrance and reflection.
The 1980’s – a new decade with new ideas and activities and a time of growth for PCCT. Membership was up to almost 800, church school enrolled 250. We burned the mortgage, thus paying off the debt for the Fellowship Hall, the sanctuary and the manse, and in only 20 years.
The Women’s Association published the second Serve With Grace cookbook, a handicapped access ramp was constructed, SCEEP (Suburban Cultural & Educational Program) were all well underway during this time. New mission projects included the Morris Shelter, Johnsonburg Camp, the Box Project at Christmastime, CROP Walk and Reader’s Service to name a few. In 1983 Session approved sponsorship of June, Niloo and Samantha James, three sisters, to come to the U.S. from the riots and bloodshed of Sri Lanka. Our “adopted” girls became part our community, eventually graduated college with the love and support of their PCCT family.
After 20 years of service to PCCT, Dr. Mulford moved on to a position in Vero Beach, FL. In his honor, Fellowship Hall was renamed Mulford Hall.
1988 brought us our third senior pastor, The Rev. Dr. Edward M. Halldorson. His new energy led PCCT to new projects and goals. The first Senior High Fellowship mission trip to Buffalo, NY for Habitat For Humanity lead the way to future mission trips to New Orleans, Missouri, Port Arthur, TX, to name a few. Journey to Bethlehem engaged children and adults alike by recreating the Christmas story with live vignettes. A partnership with a Kenyon congregation in Nairobi, Africa led to an ongoing exchange of ideas and visits.
After twenty-five years, it was time for updating the sanctuary. Refurbishing all the pews, new carpeting, wall colors, extending the chancel area, a new organ and sound system enhanced PCCT’s worship arena, now serving two worship services.
By the late 1990’s our music program had grown to include not only the Chancel Choir and Youth Choirs, but Psalm Singers, Carol Choir, Chime Time, Youth Bells and Sanctuary Ringers. With the new millennium came the Manna Band, Folklore group and an annual Christmas Concert spectacular.
There was always something for everyone at PCCT in the 2000’s. Mission work could be done through the Market Street Mission, Jersey Battered Women’s Services, Hospitality Network of Morris County, or Harvest Festival. The Pumpkin Patch soon became a favorite, with thousands of pumpkins across our front lawn, proceeds of their sale to aid the homeless. Making cookies for the Cookie Walk, participating in Vacation Bible School, or making soup for the Lenten Soup Suppers kept members busy all year long. It was time to expand the church facilities to meet all the needs of the programs.
The new challenge was to raise enough money for another expansion. Goals set were the addition of office space, church school classrooms, another fellowship hall and importantly, to provide handicapped access for both floors of the building, all with the idea of Building for the Future. The original plans 50 years earlier had included a third phase of PCCT and it was now time to fulfill those plans. Eleven months later, in 2007, the new building was complete.
By 2009, PCCT had welcomed 3,021 members, baptized 838 infants, married 462 couples and laid to rest 636 good people. But that was only the first 50 years. In the next few years new mission projects would be started.
Our ministries include Sandy Relief, Family Promise, America’s Grow-a-Row, Bridges, Nourish.nj (formerly the Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center), the Hillside Foodbank, Prayer Shawl ministry, Next Act, A New Day widows’ support, and Healing Partners Cancer support group. Our goals reflect the changing times as PCCT has become an Earth Care congregation, emphasizing the importance of caring for God’s creation. Our office systems and communication methods are much different from those of the past as we are able to keep up with today’s technologies and stay in step with our members.
The 60th year of 2019 was a year of great transition and celebration for PCCT. In January 2019, our senior pastor, The Rev. Edward M. Halldorson, retired after 30 years of service. In March of 2019, The Rev. Heather Morrison Yaden became our interim pastor tasked with guiding PCCT through the steps towards hiring the next senior pastor who will help us lead this church into the future. On September 8, 2019, we celebrated PCCT’s 60 years of faith, fellowship and service. A special worship featuring all musical groups started the festivities followed by a picnic on the front lawn and a short program to commemorate six decades of connections we have with the church, with our community, and with each other. Through photos and storytelling, everyone was encouraged to share fond moments of how the church has played a role in their life.
Like Jesus’ challenge to Peter, PCCT has been a foundation for Christian faith in our community since 1959. We have been through three construction projects but our church is not just the building, it’s the people. Serving others, praying together, playing, and caring is what PCCT has always held as its strengths and will keep us strong in the future.