Jersey City First Wesleyan Church (JCFWC) in Jersey City, New Jersey, is celebrating its 100th year of ministry in 2019.
Nestled in urban Jersey City, JCFWC is made up of lay and clergy who exemplify the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16 – 20) in the midst of various ethnicities and races and religious and political views.
According to NJ.com, Jersey City is the most diverse city in the United States. The community is home to more than 264,000 people and is growing. A study of the city’s school district in 2015 revealed “over 40 different languages are spoken in the homes of its students.”
As the JCFWC leadership team reflected on how the church could celebrate one hundred years of ministry, they felt convicted that they must not only celebrate the church’s past but seek God for its future role in kingdom ministry.
JCFWC is part of several initiatives in serving those in Jersey City. One example is Operation Warm Toes, an initiative that provides socks to local shelters, launched in January 2019. More than 275 pairs of socks have been collected as a tangible means to meet a community need.
Additional initiatives include:
- Vegetable distribution on Saturday mornings: area residents pick up vegetables in the church’s parking lot. The food comes from the Table to Table program. Several houses of faith and organizations also distribute vegetables at their locations.
- Food pantry: groceries are distributed upon request, including turkeys and groceries at Thanksgiving.
- Soup kitchen: a full meal is provided to approximately 40 – 50 people monthly.
- Family Fall Festival: annual community outreach in the church parking lot with games, bounce houses, cotton candy, popcorn, music, face painting, etc.
- Thanksgiving dinner: nearly 200 meals were prepared in 2018; served at the church and delivered to seniors and shut-ins.
- Open Air Service: every August, people from the community stop by, while others sit on their porches to listen; dinner is provided, and backpacks and school supplies are distributed to area children.
- Encouragement card ministry: sent to various folks in need of an encouraging word.
- Transportation: provided to seniors and shut-ins.
- Sunday breakfast: breakfast is served to people who arrive early for Sunday school.
JCFWC is also part of Jersey City Together, a “growing coalition of congregations and non-profits that work together to make a difference across Jersey City.” More than 30 organizations and churches participate. The group addresses quality-of-life issues, including public safety (e.g. illegal gun control, violence, cameras, etc.), education and housing concerns (e.g. rent control enforcement, violation enforcement and new city developments that will include more affordable units).
Examples of Jersey City Together activities include recent meetings by Donavon Shoemaker, lead JCFWC pastor, with New Jersey’s governor concerning illegal gun usage and with the Jersey City Public Schools superintendent concerning an educational funding crisis.
“We have developed a solid reputation with people, including leaders, throughout the city,” said Shoemaker. He notes that outside organizations sometimes use the church building for meetings.
“How does one church effectively reach a changing community for 100 years?” said Pastor Phyllis Isaac, assistant pastor at JCFWC. “We believe that, in order for a church to be sustained, it must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and submitted to the will of God. A church led by leaders who can sincerely embrace not ‘my will,’ but thy will be done.”
Over the last 100 years, several people have heard the voice of God calling them to this location. The JCFWC ministry has been sustained through obedient leaders (including 14 pastors and their spouses), faithfully casting their nets in waters where many others would not have chosen to fish for men and women.
“The demographics of the membership of JCFWC have changed from its early years to the present,” said Isaac. “Ephesians 4:4-6 serves as a reminder that ‘there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’”
JCFWC continues casting its nets in multiple places through multiple people for one purpose: to make Jesus known.