Abiding Peace in Budd Lake Marks 50th Anniversary

By Elsie Walker

 

The blessing of the site and groundbreaking for the Abiding Peace Lutheran Church took place on May 15, 1977.

Howard Corneilson, of Flanders, recalls it started with a knock at his door.  Corneilson, 

and his wife, Sue, had graduated from Upsala College.  “We were young adults and thought 

we could do without the church,” explained Sue Corneilson.  The person at the door was someone 

working for a mission startup [Lutheran Church] to be in Budd Lake. “I jumped at the chance,” said

Howard Corneilson.  While his wife shared they wanted to see what the mission was about, Howard 

Corneilson had an ulterior motive.  He thought it would be a way to get away from his parents’ 

Lutheran church:  “My mother wouldn’t be asking me, ‘Where were you on Sunday?”  He could say that

he was at the new church.  Although that was the intent, it didn’t work out that way.   Howard 

Corneilson got involved and he and his wife became two of the charter members of the Abiding 

Peace Lutheran Church which formally became the 179th congregation in the New Jersey Synod of 

the Lutheran Church in America on May 22, 1971.   While delayed by COVID, this year, 

the church, located at 305 US Highway 46 in Budd Lake, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Abiding Peace’s first pastor, Rev. Jim Parks, charter members Howard and Sue Corneilson, and current pastor, Rev. Serena Rice pose with the church charter signed by the first church members.

 

Jim Parks, of Pennsylvania, was Mission Developer and First Pastor of Abiding Peace 

Lutheran Church.  He shared what he had hoped for the church.  “I think that 

the hopes were twofold:  First, we wanted to be a viable option for people in regards to 

church and how it tackled the problems of the day. Remember that ‘Woodstock’ was in 

August  of 1969 and the drug culture was just gaining ground.  The congregation was

organized in 1971 in what I would call ‘The age of questioning.’  Second, we knew that

many of the potential members of the new congregation would be from Vasa Park with 

Lutheranism being the state religion of Sweden and most of the residents of Vasa Park 

were Lutheran.  But, we wanted Abiding  Peace to be a welcoming church for all in the 

community.  My hope, as I knocked on almost every door in the community, 

was that we could become an inclusive church, and that was long before the word 

‘inclusive’ was the thing to attain.”

A history church characterized the early worshippers as nomads.  Although a parsonage had been provided and a site for the church had been selected, it would be years before the church building would be erected.  Thus, the worshippers had to find a place to hold worship, Church School, etc.   The church’s history explains “Facilities for worship, church school, and meetings were secured, with the cooperation of the Mount Olive Board of Education, at the Upper Elementary School on Sunset Drive (now the Chester A. Stevens School). Members worshipped in such places as the school cafeteria, band room, home economics room, and library.”  Finally, the groundbreaking for the Abiding Peace Lutheran Church took place on May 15, 1977, and its Parrish Life and Ministry Center opened May 1978.

Today, members of the church today gather for a group photo.

The church’s name, Abiding Peace, came as a last-minute suggestion when the membership was choosing a name for its church back on Easter 1971.   Members had been invited to come up with possible names for the church that were unique and those were put on a ballot to be voted upon.  However, before the vote, it was asked if anyone had a name to “write in” on the ballot.   A person asked them to consider the name, “Abiding Peace” explaining that “peace” seemed to be something most wanted in the name as many of the proposed names on the ballot had the word in it.  Also, the person had thought of the peacefulness of the lake across from the church.    The church history explains why the person put the word “abiding” in the name:  “the word ‘abiding’ reminded that person of the feeling of the closeness of God and Christ as one looked over the lake.  The person stated that this is how we should look at the congregation—as a group of people from different backgrounds, ages, and viewpoints brought together by the abiding peace of God and Christ.”  The vote was taken, and ‘Abiding Peace” became the church’s name.

“I’ve been a member of Abiding Peace since 1983. I joined because I immediately sensed that this was a congregation were my faith could grow, creativity was welcomed, and friends could be made. I was encouraged to start a sacred dance ministry [The Messenger Dancers] which has been embraced by the congregation over many years and which has blessed me immeasurably. I pray that 50 years is only the beginning,” said Mary Kasakove of Budd Lake. 

As it celebrates its 50th anniversary, the church’s current pastor, Serena Rice, was asked about the church today.   The first thing she shared has a common thread throughout the church’s history.

Today, the sanctuary of Abiding Peace Lutheran Church.

“Welcoming has always been a big part of the [Abiding Peace] congregation,” said Rice.    Rice noted that she is excited about the church becoming a Reconciling In Christ (RIC) congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.    That means that the church publicly proclaims that it is open and affirming to the LBGTQ+  and other traditionally marginalized communities.  She explained that people in congregations tend to gather into groups based on their similarities:  age, race, etc.  To get the designation of an RIC congregation, congregations go through training to move toward creating a more welcoming environment for all.   Rice noted that all benefit when people push past their comfort zones.  The purpose of being a RIC congregation is for all to experience the depth of God’s welcome.

Rice also shared some of the ministries of the church today.  She has been at Abiding Peace for five and a half years; for almost half of that time, the world has been dealing with COVID.  Dealing with COVID has meant that some of the ministries of the church have had to adjust to the circumstances.

The church has a sign ministry which reaches out to people via a lighted sign on Route 46.  The group works on having messages that are encouraging and affirming (in addition to announcing news of the church).   Rice noted that the sign is “a voice of welcome”.  It reminds those who see it that people care.  Rice’s particular favorite of the messages that have been displayed is, “Faith is a journey, not a guilt trip”. 

The church has a feeding ministry.   The church has a pantry which serves any family in need by giving out several bags of food once a month.  The church’s garden grows organic vegetables which are given to Mount Olive Manor and the Mount Olive Food Pantry.   Due to changes in available volunteers, the garden is changing to be partly a pollination garden hosting bugs which help with process of growing food.

The current Abiding Peace Lutheran Church

A ministry that was an outgrowth of the COVID situation, but is here to stay, is the church’s digital ministry.   It lets people from all over worship with those in the pews on Sunday.  Besides snowbirds or former parishioners who moved away, people who did not have a previous connection to the church have found it via its video ministry. 

“Our half-century anniversary is a great time to thank God for the opportunity we have to grow in faith and be of service in our community,” shared member Ray Mueller of Byram Township who has been working on a photo project on the church’s history. 

The anniversary celebration will be the weekend of June 20th. It will start with a reception at the Holiday Inn with current members, former members, former pastors and Synod guests and a video of the charter members of the church with their memories of it.  On June 21st, the Sunday service will include special prayers of intersession, former pastor Jim Parks doing communion and a message on God’s faithfulness to the church as a place of peace.  The scripture used will be John 14:27 which talks about peace.  Rice noted that her first name means “Peaceful”.  The scripture used that Sunday has been special to her since childhood because it conveys the meaning of her name.  In talking about “peace” that Sunday, it will be peace in the sense of “abiding peace” as not the absence of conflict but the peace in living despite matters of conflict.    

In reflecting on what the anniversary means to him as the mission developer and first pastor of the church, Parks shared, “First, it means a lot both professionally and personally in that something that I helped initiate, organize, and blend together is still here.  Second, Abiding Peace remains a viable option in the community, tackling the problems of the day in today’s ‘age of questioning’, and has progressed well beyond what we considered to be inclusive.  The charter members and I must have done something right.”

 

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