Our Story

How it all started...

            West Park Church traces its roots back to the Fourth Methodist Church, built on South Avenue in 1889.  The Methodist plan was to have a central-hub church, then to have four churches radiating out on the compass points:  north, south, east and west.  Fourth Methodist covered the neighborhoods to the south, and served the Lord and the community for eighty years in that location.

            Over time, many changes took place outside and inside the church.  The nucleus of church families began spreading out into surrounding districts.  The automobile became a primary means of travel, making it possible for people to go to the church of their choosing, not just the church in the neighborhood.  Parking in these older structures was inadequate for the needs of all these families with cars.  Flights of steps into the church inhibited the attendance of elderly people.  Amid the changing times and circumstances, a new vision was birthed by the adventurous congregation at Fourth Methodist:  to relocate to an area where there was no Methodist Church; to a facility with plenty of parking and few steps, making it possible for everyone to attend.

            Working with the Southern NJ Conference of the Methodist Church, a new location was selected in Hopewell Township.  It was a frightening, intimidating prospect for this small congregation which didn’t have a lot of money.  But they had a wondrous God, and they had a lot of faith in His ability to do beyond whatever they could ask or imagine.  And so, a vigorous building program at the corner of Shiloh Pike and West Park Drive began.  Russ Bell suggested the new name:  West Park United Methodist Church.

            Henry Backenson served as Chairman of the Building Committee.  Working with him were Annabelle Frazeur, Dorothy Moore, Howard Gruber, Hershel Sterman, Mildred Bell, Russ Bell, and George Woodruff.  Through the faithfulness of God and the bold vision of that small congregation, the new West Park United Methodist Church was built at a cost of $190,050 (fifty years later in 2018, the equivalent cost would be about  $1.8 million.)

            Ground-breaking was held on March 24th, 1968.  The first service in the new church building took place on November 24th, 1968.  The Rev. Dr. Robert Acheson gave the first sermon in the new sanctuary, and later in the afternoon, the cornerstone was laid, followed by an open house fellowship time.  A consecration service was held on December 22, 1968, with Bishop Prince Taylor presiding.

            Fourteen years later, on Sunday, November 21st, 1982, a special service was held to burn the mortgage.  Led by current pastor Rev. Raymond Hughes, the celebration service jubilantly welcomed back the Rev. Dr. Robert Acheson, who preached the first sermon at West Park Church.  The church reveled in the faithfulness of God!

            Through the years, many dynamic ministries were launched to glorify Christ and serve the needs of people in the congregation and community.   A representative – not exhaustive – list includes:  “Second Fifties”, a luncheon-based program led by BJ Richman; a Summer Missionary program in which West Park youth travelled through neighborhoods ministering to children; “Compassionate Kitchen,” formed by Anis Dixon, Betty Cain and Mildred Bell as a service to grieving families; and Vacation Bible School, whose initial attendance was around fifty, but has since exceeded upwards of 250 children in recent years.

            On September 18, 1988, Rev. John DuBois launched a second service at 8:30am.  The initial attendance was so small that for many months they worshiped in the choir loft.  Walter Webster became the organist on that first Sunday, and he is still our organist – 30 years later!  This became a bustling service which amassed an average attendance of approximately 100 before the Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020.  Unfortunately, this caused us to move away from the early service, to our current format which is a single service time at 10am on Sunday mornings.  

Expanding the vision...

            As more people came to Christ, it became increasingly apparent that West Park was running out of space.  It was a happy problem to have!  A new building committee was formed and met for the first time on November 9, 1999.  Larry Hepner was elected to be the Chairperson.  Between 1999 to 2005, the building committee prayerfully studied the demographics and developed a bold new vision for the future expansion of West Park.  The following people served in various sub-committee capacities on the building committee:  Henry Backenson, Ken Blizzard, Scott Burnley, Sam Elwell, Roger Getsinger, Bryan Hawkins, Phil Heckman, Bobbi Jo Hewitt, Kelly Holst, John Johns, Tom Lake, Matt Lawrence, Kevin Ludwig, Mary Reimer, BJ Richman, John Roberts, Ed Salmon, David Strope and Barb Vinzinski.

             The NJ Annual Conference sent a representative to study the demographics of the Greater Bridgeton Area as well as the finances and giving patterns of people at West Park.  The conclusion presented was that West Park was located in an economically-depressed area and could not afford to build.  In spite of this, the people of West Park had a vision!  They believed that God had a purpose and mission for them to accomplish; that as they trusted and obeyed God, He would be faithful to them.  The church voted to proceed with the building program.

            Ground-breaking for the $1.2 million-dollar addition was held on March 14, 2004.  Everyone was invited to bring a shovel.  Mildred Bell and Howard Gruber, members of the original building committee, moved the first shovels of earth, followed by an excited congregation.  The Dedication Service for the new addition was held on September 25, 2005.  Ribbon cutting was done by Henry Backenson, Mildred Bell, and Jessica Strope.  The addition included an expansion of the sanctuary (and new padded pews), six new classrooms, a music room, additional restrooms, an enlarged “gathering space/lobby”, a new kitchen, extra storage, and a “celebration space/gym” which can seat 300 people around tables.  Great is God’s faithfulness to us!

Where we are headed...

          Currently West Park Church provides multi-faceted, inter-generational ministry for the glory of Jesus Christ.
            The West Park Women continue their tradition of service by supporting numerous missions including Code Blue, local shelters, and providing Thanksgiving meals.  They also host an annual “soup and bread supper” on a cold winter night in February.  Women’s ministries include workshops, Mom’s Bible Study, and Kingdom Quilters, among many others.

            The West Park Men enjoy a monthly breakfast and Bible study at the Bridgeton Family Diner.  They also provide assistance through Weekend Warriors and local missions projects as need arises.

            From “Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF)” to our current P.U.L.S.E (Power, Unlimited, Love, So, Epic), our youth are an important part of West Park Church.  The youth ministry team leads an innovative time of Bible study, small group discussion, worship, and recreation on Wednesday nights.  Additional events such as Winter Camp, missions trips and service projects help to build a solid foundation in Christ.

           Hundreds of college students have benefited from the “Harold Woodruff Book Scholarship Fund” which provides money for college textbooks.  This group has been influential in helping out our college students each year and support them however needed.  

            Sunday School is a vital part of West Park’s ministry.  There are classes for all ages, from nursery through adults.  The late Henry Backenson served as our Sunday School Superintendent for 70 years, going back to Fourth Methodist Church.  Currently, our established classes are enhanced by topical and need-based small-group ministries.  Additionally, West Park 101 – an introduction to West Park Church and a requirement for membership.  All of our classes begin each Sunday morning at 8:45am before our church service.  
            The Missions team involves people and resources in support of local missions projects such as Ranch Hope, Code Blue, Cornerstone Women’s Resource Center.  We also have been involved in short-terms missions trips to Haiti through Emmaus Biblical Seminary.  We resource international missionaries as well.
        The church provides recreational and fitness ministries such as indoor hockey and softball as a part of the All Faiths Co-Ed Softball League.  

This is only scratching the surface of what God is doing here at West Park Church.  We are excited about where God is leading us and look forward to being a part of His plans!  Won't you join us?