BY KATHY CHANG
METUCHEN — Sponsoring and supporting refugees, collecting donations and holding mission trips are just some of the things the Centenary United Methodist Church thrives on.
“We are a very mission oriented church,” said Rev. Anna Thomas, who has been the pastor at the church since 2011.
The church celebrated its 150 years in the borough with a milestone anniversary weekend, Nov. 12-13.
The anniversary weekend included a dinner/reception on Nov. 12 held at the social center of the First Presbyterian Church in Metuchen, with a number of former pastors, who flew in from across the country, and a special Sunday Worship and fellowship hour on Nov. 13.
Centenary United Methodist Church was founded one year following the conclusion of the Civil War, in 1866, when the certificate of incorporation for Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church (as it was then known) was signed.
The congregation took the name “Centenary” because 1866 was the 100th anniversary of the first Methodist Society meeting in America. Centenary’s original church building was erected in 1869 at the corner of Main Street and Middlesex Avenue, the current location of the Chase Bank. Centenary moved to its current location, 200 Hillside Ave., Metuchen, in 1964.
Bob Carlson, who is the unofficial historian for the church, became a member in 1966.
“The church has gone through changes over the years,” he said.
He said after World War II, families were going back to church.
At one point, the church was approaching 800 members.
Thomas said their congregation, which now has 200 members, is filled with diversity.
“It’s crucial to become the church of the community,” she said. “To show love to people of every color and rejoice diversity.”
Carlson said in 1967, the congregation welcomed diversity with members Austin Banks and his wife, who are still members of the church.
He said in the 1970s, Banks was an instrumental part in engaging the community and was part of an Interracial Committee at the church working on better race relations at the time.
Banks is a World War II United States Marine Corps veteran having served with the 51st Defense Battalion and in 2012 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his combat service.
He served with the Montford Point Marines, which the Marine Corps had established for African-Americans in 1943.
This year Banks served as the grand marshal for the 89th annual Metuchen Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony.
For the anniversary year, Carlson said some of the highlights that he has found include sponsoring seven Vietnam refugees in 1975 — a couple with three young children and two young men.
“We helped find them jobs and housing … we were their support group,” he said.
In 1985, the church sponsored two Polish refugees and currently church officials are helping a member of their congregation from Liberia, Africa bring his family to the United States.
Another highlight includes a program called Great Expectations, which was established by Anne Beattie, a registered nurse, in 1985.
The program provided prenatal and early parenting support and information to expectant parents.
In a report by Beattie in 1987, she said in the past year, the program fielded 520 phone calls from expectant and new parents with questions about their pregnancy or new baby, 84 babies have been born to families taking advantage of the program and 20 families had requested in-home assistance with their newborns, which was free of charge.
In 1967, the church started a nursery school and 10 years later a day care center was developed. In the 1990s, the Metuchen-Edison YMCA took over and now it is the Centenary Early Learning Center.
The church saw its first woman pastor in 2010 in Rev. Jisun Kwak before Thomas took over the role in 2011.
In continuation with mission work, Centenary has volunteered its time with The United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey’s “A Future With Hope” helping in the recovery and rebuilding process for those affected by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and in 2013 Centenary began supporting “Breaking the Chain through Education.”
The project, which was founded by Metuchen High School Teacher Evan Robbins, is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and education of enslaved children in impoverished regions of Ghana.
To date, Centenary has contributed more than $7,000 to the cause.
The church joins the United Methodist Appalachian Ministry Network to collect mittens, hats, scarves and gloves for children in need in Appalachia.
In December, members of the church adopt a child with HIV through a special Christmas collection with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick providing those children with what they want for Christmas.
During the summer, they developed a vegetable garden and joined the Centenary Early Learning Center, in donating produce to Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick.
“Not only did the children learn the value of healthy eating, but helping people, who don’t have food,” said Thomas.
Throughout the year, the church holds special collections including collecting nonperishable food items for the Middlesex County Food Bank and currently the church is collecting donations for Haiti, which was devastated by Hurricane Matthew in October.
For three years, the church has also held vacation bible school in the evenings for children and their families.
Member John Wooding, who joined the congregation 15 to 16 years ago, said what resonated with him were the words “Our worship has ended, now our service begins,” which is printed in the weekly bulletin.
“It stuck with me … we are very mission oriented with the projects we do,” he said.