By Elsie Walker
The Mt. Olive Bible Church has had a Pastor Lines leading it for more than 50 years. It has not been a single pastor, but two: Father and son.
“We worked side by side,” noted Neil Bruce Lines. After his father’s death, the church voted for the younger Lines to take the pastor’s role and he has been in that for the past 26 years. “Family” is a key word in describing this church, however, it isn’t all about blood relations.
Mary Sanders of Rockaway has attended the church since 1987. When asked what the church is best known for, she shared, “This is a hard one to put into words. It is an experience; it’s how we treat everyone like family. Our doors are open to everyone. We are always willing to help whoever needs help. If someone needs a lawn mowed, someone in the congregation will help. If someone is in need, it’s all hands on deck.”
The church also has an extended family of sorts, from local nursing homes to missionaries in Africa. Sanders noted of Lines’ influence, “we have a compassionate, understanding, spiritual, wise and caring pastor.”
The current Lines noted that at first he wasn’t going to enter the ministry. He had planned to go into family counseling. During his studies for that career, he shared that he began to think, “it would be good to find out about man from God’s perspective,” so he attended Dallas Theological Seminary. There, he shared he had begun to think, “God was grooming me for a pastor’s role.” After he graduated in 1991, he went back to his dad’s church, feeling a calling to be there. He went in to be a youth pastor. They served the church together, the younger Lines filling in for his father the last year of his life as his health started to fail.
Now, at 53, Lines leads a church he describes as “alive and well and growing.”
What is now known as the Mt. Olive Community Bible Church has a history dating back to 1753. Its first two church structures were shared with other denominations, and the church name denoted a location rather than a denomination: the Roxbury Church for the first and the Schooley Mountain Church for the second.
In 1855, the then Baptist congregation built a structure all its own. The new structure was built of stone drawn from the mountains by oxen on sledge and was located on Drakestown Rd. In the late 1800s, the church changed its name from the Schooley Mountain Church to the Mt. Olive Baptist Church.
Pastor Lines explained the story of how the current church building and name came to be: “In reference to our present church, it was built in the mid 70’s by our church as a Sunday school building. We allowed the public schools to use it during the week in the late 70’s. In the early 80’s, the town no longer needed the space. We subsequently renovated the inside to accommodate our need for a larger body of parishioners and moved in, making it our new and present church. We continued to use our old church until it was donated to the town.” The old church’s bell had been removed from that building’s belfry due to structural concerns, and it had been brought with the move to the new location to be used as a memorial marker. “After we donated the old church to the town, at some point later, they asked if we would consider returning the bell,” explains Lines. “We agreed it was best from a historic viewpoint.”
“The reason the congregation chose a new name was to avoid being labeled as a certain denomination and to appeal to a wider spectrum of church seekers who may come from a variety of religious backgrounds,” said Lines.
Worship service is at 11a.m. on Sundays. Sanders described it as a “blended mixture,” noting that they have, not only praise bands (an adult band and a youth band that plays one Sunday a month), but also sing traditional hymns. Also, enhancing the worship on occasion are a flutist and an interpretive dancer. Nursery care is provided during worship.
The church also has a variety of Sunday School offerings from 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. on Sundays. Jessica Lines, wife of the pastor, noted that for ages five to grade seven, there are the Kingdom Kids Children’s Sunday School Classes. There is a high school class for grades eight to 12 and there is an adult class.
“We offer free transportation,” she noted. In addition, the church holds an annual Vacation Bible School.
“Our children’s Sunday School is unique; they start in class and have Bible time, then go and play games and then have a full breakfast,” said Sanders. “During church after praise songs, we do dismiss the children from grades one – six for children’s church, which members of our church rotate in teaching.”
For girls, the church also offers the Explorer Girls (EG), every Wednesday from 6:45 p.m.-8:15 p.m. Explorer Girls is part of EG Ministries Inc, which is based in Pennsylvania. Sanders, who is the church EG coordinator, noted, Explorer Girls is an all-girl group learning about Jesus and life. It’s what [other] churches call their youth group, only ours is for girls.”
Sanders added that the girls get awards for things such as cooking, car care like how to change a tire, pet [care], sign language, finances and friendship. There are more than 80 awards. Explorer Girls is for ages four through 12th grade.
“We teach the girls how to have a relationship with Jesus and one another,” she said. “We teach them praise songs. We have mother-daughter night and dad-daughter night. We work on missions once a month. Also, [The girls] fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.”
In addition to those previously mentioned offerings, other educational opportunities include a women’s Bible study and a Bible study for all that meets on Tuesday nights at the church.
Outreach, missions, and fellowship are also part of the life of this congregation. For example, Neil Lines shared that the church has a Deacon’s fund through which it has helped people in need. The church also reaches out in other ways and touches many people.
The church makes sure the spiritual needs of those in local nursing homes are not forgotten. A team of four provides a Sunday chapel service at Heath Village in Hackettstown twice a month. Those who can, join them to add to the experience through song, interpretative dance and music. Lines noted those from outside the church are welcome to join them. Also, once a month, a person from the church goes to a nursing home in Califon to provide worship there.
Sanders noted a variety of other projects, which mix outreach with fellowship. “We have Friendship Sunday in October where we invite friends to church and afterwards enjoy many different soups and sandwiches,” said Sanders. “We have done a jewelry swap which entails you bringing jewelry you no longer want and placing it on a table. We have appetizers and pick different pieces of jewelry we may like. All the leftover jewelry goes to a battered women’s shelter so the children can pick out jewelry for their moms for Christmas. With Explorer Girls Ministries Inc. we do many events. One big one is in November. We serve a turkey dinner to the girls and their families.”
The church just ended its annual coat drive on Oct. 15, with the coats collected going to the Salvation Army.
Besides collections, the church is active outside the local area through its mission work.
“Our Missions Program is designed to support five current missionaries in the United States and outside of the U.S.[ a married couple in Togo, Africa ],” said Jessica Lines. “We have a monthly mission’s budget in which we disperse funds to them to help with their needs. We also highlight one missionary a month updating the congregation on their ministry. Occasionally, our missionaries will visit the church personally and fellowship with us.”
The church is active in North Jersey Christian Softball League. The league has both a competitive league and a fellowship (for fun) league. The church participates in both. Those in the congregation, who don’t play, can come to games and cheer on the teams.
A new activity, held this past May, was the church’s first fundraising coffeehouse. Talent came from within the church, including its band. It is expected that another coffeehouse will be held in 2019.
Reflecting on the church and what it does, pastor Lines said, “We make a significant difference in the community.”