By Steve Sears
Helen McNerney, a member of the congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Livingston since 1952, celebrated her 100th birthday on July 7, 2019.
During the Sunday, June 30, 10:30 a.m. Worship service, McNerney addressed the congregation, and at 12:00 p.m. a special 100th birthday luncheon was celebrated by 65 people, including McNerney’s granddaughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Vincent.
The luncheon was not a surprise party. It was a planned event with Helen. “We were all counting the days,” says McNerney, a widow, who for many years was married to her loving late husband, Ted, and also lived a while in Argentina following his job transfer. “I was getting worried that I wouldn’t make it. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.”
She didn’t. She made it.
McNerney, a vibrant human being who currently lives at Morris View Health Center in Morris Plains, has seen many changes while a 67-year member of Presbyterian Church of Livingston. “It’s been a long while,” McNerney says with a chuckle. “Oh, my goodness,” she says, “before we had this beautiful church, in small rooms we would have our Sunday school, and when that was over, we would rearrange everything so we could have our services in the same room. It was a big change when we finally got our beautiful little church. For a long time, (Reverend) Bill Ackerman was the preacher when I joined.” Ackerman, founder of the church, served as its leader for 33 years. “We also had a Woman’s Association; we used to go to each woman’s house once a month, and gradually it got less and less, and we would have it in the church. It kind of dwindled down there after a while. I did that and I taught Sunday school there – I think I had more children in my class than we have in the church now.”
Reverend Daniel Martian, who has been Pastor since 2005, also says that McNerney used to be one of the congregation’s liturgists. “She would read scripture and do the Call to Prayer, and read the prayers during some of our service, and she did a great job. A nice clear voice, the spacing and timing of the whole thing – she did a great, great job. I loved serving with her.”
“We started talking about this back in February,” continues Rev. Martian. “I went to visit Helen and we were talking about birthdays, and her 100th was coming up. Anyway, we started talking about this and I went to my Deacons and I mentioned it to them, and my Deacons started to plan a wonderful celebration of life for Helen with her in the worship service, where she gave us some words of wisdom, which included: don’t worry, things usually work out.”
“It’s not worth it worrying about small things, and just take it one day at a time,” McNerney adds.
“Helen gave us words of wisdom,” says Rev. Martian, “and the congregation was very receptive to what she was saying. I reiterate, I think a lot of her passion for people, her passion for the church here, really came through.”
McNerney, who also in the past has delivered flowers to shut-ins (“They were big baskets of flowers – almost as big as me!” she says) and has always had a get up and go attitude, is also a book author. Jersey Girl: A Book of My Life, was published in 2014 and is available on Amazon.
Helen McNerney, in her words, has lived a “very simple life.” Her advice to all? “Make the best of things,” she says.