About Our Church
People have been worshipping and learning at Willow Grove since 1826 when a Sunday school began to meet in the local schoolhouse. In 1887, local farmers built the small stone “Union Chapel.”
Willow Grove Presbyterian Church was established in 1953 when the congregation was formally affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA. Today our beautiful sanctuary, inviting classrooms and multi-purpose rooms, Alexander Hall and Ryno Hall, are used by the congregation and community groups seven days a week.
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Our Vision and Our Mission
Our church family grows as we worship and follow God's call
Reflecting God's love, we love and serve all neighbors
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The ministry of Willow Grove was begun by Susan Aymar, founder of the original Willow Grove Sunday School, in 1826. The Old Stone Chapel was originally constructed to be used as a Sunday School for local children at a time when education was primarily the responsibility of parents, churches, or other private patrons. The land was donated by the Lambert family, owners of the local mill. Records show that the first official use of the chapel was Christmas Day of 1888 and that it was first used as a Sunday school in 1889. The total cost of the chapel was $1,500, which did not include the cost of furniture or the shed for buggies. Willow Grove Community Chapel was incorporated in 1952 and became a Presbyterian Church new church development in 1952-53. Willow Grove had been a mission of The Presbyterian Church in Westfield, which installed Julian Alexander, who was a student at Princeton Seminary, as a pastor to preach on Sundays. In 1982 when Julian retired, he was honored as our Pastor Emeritus and Alexander Hall is named to honor his ministry and that of his wife, Betty. For a small church, Willow Grove has made an impact on the civic life of our local communities. Three members served on the Scotch Plains Board of Education, and each was elected as Board President for many years. One WG member, who has since returned to his native Wisconsin in retirement, served on the Fanwood Town Council and was elected Mayor of Fanwood for four years. This congregation has long been primarily people engaged in learning about their faith, but many have also pursued post-graduate education in other areas. Over the years since 1952, nine members from this congregation completed degrees at Seminary, of whom six became ordained ministers.
Following two interim pastors, Rev. Robert Vroon was the next called pastor in 1984 to follow Rev. Alexander. Before joining Willow Grove, Rev. Vroon served a rural church in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania after graduating from a Baptist Seminary. In 1986, a group of church members were part of a coalition of churches in the area that were founding members of the “Union County Interfaith Hospitality Network”, which later expanded nationwide to become “Family Promise.” In 1988, the Session then chose a designated pastor, Rev. Ralph Acerno. He had attended Northeastern Bible College as well as New Brunswick Theological Seminary and then served as an interim pastor in Bloomfield. Following two more interim pastors, Rev. Kenneth Hetzel, a retired military officer from Indiana who had attended Gordon-Conwell Seminary, was the next called pastor in 1995 and served for eight years. Ultimately, Pastor Hetzel received a call to a church in Michigan, which has been a good pastoral experience ending with his recent retirement there. Rev. George Betz, our next interim pastor, helped energize the congregation. We began working on the Re-visioning Mission Study using The Purpose Driven Church. He encouraged Willow Grove to develop a blended worship style, and even bought and played a keyboard during contemporary songs. He was followed, after two years, by Rev. Diane Curtis, an extremely capable interim pastor. She influenced some who were opposed to having a woman pastor and prepared the congregation to call Rev. Cynthia Cochran-Carney. By unanimous vote in March 2006, Rev. Cochran-Carney became the first female called pastor. Pastor Cynthia welcomed young parents to Willow Grove, often through contacts with parents of children in her sons’ classes. She supported parents in the church in creating an active Youth Group and organized annual summer Mission trips for them, which she and adult leaders attended and supervised. Rev. Cynthia Cochran-Carney’s gifts of warmth, welcome and hospitality to guests both at worship and in sharing the building with community groups, were very much appreciated. Rev. Cochran-Carney also served on Presbytery Committee on Ministry and was one of the catalysts for beginning the Refugee Assistance Partners of NJ (RAP), founded by Willow Grove and another church in town. This partnership is a community ecumenical group which welcomes and aids refugees in our community and county. From her previous pastorates, she had ministry skills in community involvement and new church development, which assisted our church in its development. Her gifts of leadership, family and youth ministry revitalized our church. All her gifts and skills strengthened our sense of God’s call to serve the community. In October 2017, after an 11 ½ -year pastorate at Willow Grove, the Rev. Cynthia Cochran-Carney announced that she would accept a call in November to return to southern California to care for family there and to serve a church in transition. The Session together with the Congregation guided the beginning of the transition. Willow Grove Church was able to use four Elders from the congregation as well as pulpit supply preachers from the Elizabeth Presbytery from November 2017 to January 2018. During that time, the diversity of worship styles reminded us how important blended worship, visual imagery in worship, and our monthly contemporary worship service are to our congregation were. Two ministers then served as temporary pastors. In February 2018, Rev. Heather Morrison-Yaden began a one-year call as interim pastor. In March 2019, a subcommittee of Session interviewed and recommended Rev. Dave Myers for the position.
In Dec. 2019, the Session interviewed and selected Rev. Dr. LL DuBreuil as a half-time interim pastor after she had served as pulpit supply at Willow Grove for three Sundays and Christmas Eve. With her guidance, we have learned a great deal about how to adjust to working with a half-time pastor. Although interim pasters usually serve less than 2 years, Dr. DuBreuil was given permission to stay with Willow Grove until a permanent pastor could be called. She tackled the difficulties of serving during a time of Covid, which saw the church begin to integrate on-line worship, meetings, and Bible studies. Many lessons were learned: •We care deeply for each other and want to be together. But being together does not always mean gathering in person in the sanctuary. We find each other online, the phone, and at a safe distance. •We can worship in new ways. Technology enables us to reach out to those who have not been physically present. People who have moved out of the area, family members far away, and house bound members are often regularly attending online worship. We also learned that technology may exclude those without internet or devices. We are still learning to be inclusive technologically. •We can hear scripture in new ways. •More and more we tune in to what is happening on our television and computer screens. Many people are dependent on these for news and information. •We now feel a new urgency to discern how the sacred texts speak to our situations and questions. Willow Grove Presbyterian Church is currently interviewing candidates to answer the call to be our part-time, settled pastor. The Session continues to faithfully provide leadership in areas of Worship, Congregational Life, Mission, Communications, Spiritual Life, Finances, and Administration. As we look to a future with all the changes that are coming, we will approach each challenge with a strong and courageous faith. As Psalm 121 reminds us: I lift up my eyes to the hills, From where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD Who made heaven and earth.