A History of the Congregation

When The Echo Lake Church of Christ was begun in 1951, there were six congregations in the State of New Jersey. The churches met in Newark, Fairlawn, Bernardsville, Eatontown, Tabernacle, and Trenton. There were scattered Christians living in Union, Middlesex, and Somerset counties who drove for worship on Sunday mornings to one of the above locations, or to Manhattan. In July 1951, a young couple moved to Roselle Park, NJ with the express purpose of organizing a congregation in Union County. They contacted some of the Christians living in Central New Jersey and proposed the establishment of a congregation nearer to their homes. The response was favorable and enthusiastic.

On Sunday evening, September 9, 1951, 16 persons met together for the first time in the living room of Glen and Betty Hemingway at 15 Balmiere Parkway in Cranford, NJ. They met on Sunday and Wednesday evenings for 3 weeks and on September 30, 1951, began meeting on Sunday mornings as well.

The group numbered 35 in September 1952. On September 21, 1952, the first weekly bulletin was published. Sewell Hall, a recent graduate of David Lipscomb College, became the congregation’s first “paid” preacher in September 1953. Before that, several men took turns preaching with Arthur Moody preaching most Sunday mornings. When Sewell Hall resigned in mid 1956 to serve as missionary in Nigeria, the congregation numbered about 50.

Burney Bawcom, returning from mission work in Nigeria, replaced brother Hall in 1956. From 1956 through mid 1961, while brother Bawcom was the minister, the church grew rapidly reaching about 180 members by 1960. We had outgrown our facilities. Both the auditorium and class-room space were inadequate, and we began planning our new (present) building. We moved into our present facilities in May 1968.

In 1956, meetings were held in the YMCA in Morristown, NJ, and out of this outreach, the Whippany Church of Christ was begun in 1957. In 1961, three elders and eight deacons were appointed.

Brother Bawcom left in 1961 and was followed by Bernard Lemmons who also led another surge of growth. But, at about this time, an economic recession and the movement of industry to other sections of the country caused many families to be transferred. Our loss of members was much faster than they could be replaced by new converts, and the church’s membership declined sharply.

The Lemmons family moved into the new minister’s residence in late 1963. In 1964, brother Lemmons suffered a severe heart attack and in 1966 he died from an aneurysm. In late 1966, about one half of the congregation, who lived in communities to the north of Westfield purchased a church building in their vicinity and began meeting in Chatham, NJ. This development left the congregation in the midst of a building program they could no longer support, and plunged the group into years of struggle for survival. During these years, two of the three original elders moved away as did the elders appointed more recently. Financial help from the Hillsboro Church of Christ in Nashville, TN, for 2-3 years enabled the church to avoid defaulting on their mortgage payments, support a minister, and carry on minimal local programs – conditions that are usually not conductive to growth.

In the lean years, J. Paul DuBois served as minister in 1969 and 1970, Jerry Daniel was minister from August 1971 until his death in June 1993. Brother Daniel’s death left only one elder. Therefore, the congregation was without elders once again, until 1996. Two elders were appointed in 1996 but one moved away in late 1997. Since then, the congregation has been without the leadership and shepherding of elders.

The building debt was finally completely paid in November 1992.

Ellis Long was minister from September 1994 until June 1997 when he and his wife, Doris, returned to Brazil to resume mission work there into which they have invested so many years of their lives.

Jeff Harris was minister from December 1998 until July 2002.

Brian Nicklaus was the minister of the church from October 2003 until June 2013 with Ken Brown serving as interim minister until the end of the year.

Doug Allen and his wife Cathy moved to Westfield from Ohio to begin work as full time minister on the first Sunday in January 2014.

Having a Heart for the Harvest