BROOKVILLE – Old Brookville Road winds past charming homes and a pristine pond to a tiny white church adorned with a bright red door at its center point.
The marquee board outside the Barnegat Community Church wishes those who pass a Happy Spring without reference to scheduled worship service times.
That’s because – there’s nothing set in stone when it comes to gathering people inside the quintessential building with an interesting past.
Once known as the Brookville United Methodist Church, the property changed hands just shy of a year ago when a small group of neighbors formed a non-profit and bought the property for $5,000.
The investment not only preserves history and the picturesque landscape, it also provides a sense of unity and fellowship opportunities as a non-denominational house of worship.
Back in 1865, the original deed to the property conveyed the church grounds to some old familiar area names. Mosley Headley transferred his interest in the land to himself and four members of the Corlis family as Trustees for the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Vearl Harrington, one of the church’s owners, said she researched the history leading to the start of the Brookville United Methodist Church. She discovered it was initially a small shed located by the pond down the road.
“I have about six or seven little children’s Bibles dating back to 1862,” said Harrington. “At some point during the end of the 1800s, early 1900s, a lot of people moved out of Brookville, and the church closed.”
Harrington said she read a woman named Myra Bachman who said the church was not open in 1923. But, as more people moved into the community, Bachman became part of the group who decided they wanted to reopen the small plain-looking building – albeit with some changes.
The new upgrades included the addition of wainscoting, floors, pews, and the belfry bell.
Fifty years ago, Barnegat volunteer firefighter Tom Tansley attended Sunday School classes at the Brookville United Methodist Church as a ten-year-old boy. He credited both the Bachman and Pierce families’ active roles in the local church.
“We had church on the last Sunday of the month,” Tansley recalled. “Reverend Stanley Wagg, who was the pastor of the Barnegat United Methodist Church, came out there for our formal church service at noon on those fourth Sundays.”
On the other three Sundays of the month, Tansley said children sat in one part of the church and used flannel graphs to discuss Bible stories. Meanwhile, the adults formed a separate circle and read through the Bible after singing a couple of hymns.
According to Tansley, he saw the largest gathering of the congregation back in 1968 or 1969 when people actually stood outside to attend the Christmas Eve service.
Twenty years later, Brookville resident Tracey Betrix and her family found a home at the same church. Betrix, raised Catholic, said she instantly bonded with the congregation and enrolled her children in the Sunday school.
By that time, services were the first Sunday of the month, led by a different Reverend Wagg.
“Carole Wagg was our minister at that time,” said Betrix. “She’s since passed away.”
Although there’s no indication that the two were related, both led services at the Barnegat United Methodist Church and the Brookville United Methodist Church.
During a tour of the inside building, Betrix provided some insight regarding the stained glass windows. She credited the late Frank Milano, the owner of Milano Tile Showroom, with their artistic design.
Even before the locals took ownership of the property, Brookville residents became involved in preserving the church area. Money raised from a Brooksville Days Festival in 2000 helped fund a new retaining wall. Two years later, the community came together and paid to lift the crumbling foundation and put a new one under it.
A Bible verse proclaims that “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” According to Betrix, the pews were sometimes occupied by just that number of people.
Throughout the country, the Methodist Church owned significant real estate. However, a decline in congregational sizes has made keeping churches open a concerning issue.
“In 2020, the Methodists called the church treasurer and said they wanted to close the building,” Harrington recalled. “We talked about it for about a year before we decided to buy it. Finally, we all decided to invest in it because we really love the church.”
The neighbors involved in the project all contributed their talents to make improvements to the structure. One person worked on the floors, another the HVAC, while someone else helped with the electrical and another, the tree work.
People who want to use the church for a special occasion can do so. However, a possible limitation is that the building has no bathrooms or running water.
One thing appears reminiscent of the days when Tom Tansley and his family went to the Waretown United Methodist Church.
“We had people standing for our Christmas Eve service,” said Tracey Betrix. “We haven’t had another since then and aren’t sure when we’ll plan our next one.”