by Brenda Havens and Alice Henthorn of the Alpha congregation
The building at the corner of East Boulevard and North Street in Alpha, NJ sits in beauty and dignity–tall, with steeple pointed to the Creator. Built many years ago as a Hungarian Presbyterian church, the house of God looks relatively small in area. Peeking inside, a newcomer would see that the sanctuary seats about 90 folks, and might be about one-third full on a typical Sunday morning.
Henry and Ida Swartley, originally of Eastern PA and then living in Warren County, NJ, planted Alpha Mennonite Church after they were asked by Franconia leaders to start a mission in this area. A crew of interested people refurbished the old building and opened doors for the first service in November, 1975. Through the next decade, the congregation grew, peaking at about 125 attendees in ’85.
In the case of Alpha Mennonite Church, small does not mean weak, or in decline, or inactive. This church hosts a community of people who come together in joy and committed love, and then work to share that love with neighbors. New attendees, visitors and neighbors consistently point to the outreach and hospitality of our congregation as strong factors in building their first impressions.
In our community, many families need help with food, as well as hygiene items. We contribute to this effort, as well as regular Sunday donations to the worldwide Worm Project (meds to eliminate abdominal parasites) and The Water Project (for village wells that produce clean water)—in response to guest speakers who work in these areas.
We participate in Interfaith Hospitality Network–helping to provide meals and shelter to homeless families. And, each spring, we meet neighbors by participating in a town-wide yard sale as we provide water, snacks and facilities to shoppers.
And we frequently respond to individual calls for material help.
One very strong program met with much enthusiasm is a Wednesday-night Bible study. For the past two years, one of our members has led the group in some serious and thoughtful history while going through the Pentateuch, the prophets and wisdom lit. Adults in Sunday School address a variety of topics through discussion, journaling, poetry and study. Our Sunday School kids sing, dance, pray and create awesome artifacts.
These kids, led by a long-time member and dance instructor, spend some of their Sunday time rehearsing dynamic, kinetic expressions of the Christian story for special programs through the year, and teens help with choreography.
Young people and adults take turns leading some very creative children’s times during worship. We’ve had giraffe days, candle-holder making, and the march of the animals, all recently, among other fun endeavors.
Church dinners, parties, and celebrations abound at Alpha Church. Folks gather for a love feast and games around every Valentines Day. We celebrate Sunday School starting, Sunday School ending, graduations, babies, college kids leaving, Maundy Thursday, Seder, Easter breakfast, and any other reason we find to get together.
We need a pastor–for guidance, spiritual direction, and generally overseeing congregational matters.
We have dearly loved all our pastors, and we anticipate a solid working and loving relationship with a new one. In the 18 months since our last minister left, we have taken up the challenge of keeping this family of God ticking and connecting. We thank God for giving us the strength, love and community to keep the flock moving, and we see this as a testament to our readiness to continue until and after that long-awaited shepherd comes to us.
We await, with hope and faith, the sending of a new pastor, who would serve us on a part-time basis.
We want to find effective ways to connect with and reach out to the neighbors in our community.