This past Sunday, heavenly voices filled the little sanctuary of the Wallkill Reformed Church as singers from area congregatations performed a concert to commemorate the church’s 150th anniversary. Dressed all in white, congregants of all ages sang to a packed house.
The church’s history is long and storied. In the seventeenth century, the Dutch founded a church for settlers from the Netherlands in Wiltwyke, which is now Kingston, New York. As their descendants grew in number and moved to other areas, they took their faith with them. By 1737, there were enough families in this to form a congregation, the New Hurley Reformed Church.
In 1868, a committee of three well-known farmers and businessmen- J. P. Andrews, D. W. Rapalje and J. Tears- met in a colonial farmhouse on a hill overlooking the Wallkill River. They hired Mr. Seymour and Company to build a brick edifice, costing about $10,650, which was to seat 250, a very large capacity for a sparsely populated community. A site was bought for $1,000 and the church was built and dedicated in 1871.
In 1872, the first pastor, Rev. Benjamin C. Lippincott, received a call and was offered the usual $1,000 salary with an increase to $1,200 when there was a sufficient congregation, hay for his horse and use of a parsonage.
But then, tragedy struck. On Christmas Eve morning in 1888, fire broke out in the sanctuary of the Gothic-styled building and the lack of an organized fire company resulted in a total loss. When the smoke cleared, the stark framework of the building stood against the cold winter sky. All that remained were the brick walls, a brass church bell and one altar chair.
The community physician, Dr. Millspaugh, formed a building committee while the congregation met in a nearby public hall (the present Parkview Hotel). Soon the church was rebuilt utilizing the still standing walls of the original building.
For a time, D. W. Rapelje brought a small organ, known as a melodeon, to the church each Sunday for services. It is now owned by the church’s longtime organist, Carolyn Crowell. This instrument was brought to the church by horse and wagon in April of this year as part of the church’s 150th Anniversary Celebration. In 1894, the present pipe organ, costing about $2,000, was installed.
The Borden Family played a vital part in the ministry of Wallkill Reformed Church. Marian Borden contributed $9,000 for the building of a Community Hall. The church was to repay her $4,000 without time limit or interest but Miss Borden died and left $10,000 for general church purposes, thus relieving the church of that debt. The hall was formally dedicated in October of 1920.
The church continued to prosper and when World War II arrived, thirty-one members of the congregation served in the war. Between 1948 and 1953, major renovations were made to the Community Hall, kitchen and sanctuary. The kitchen was moved from the basement to the main floor of the hall, replacing the stage.
Longevity for ministers serving the congregation belongs to the Rev. Walter Van Popering, who served from 1953 to 1972. He regarded his most rewarding accomplishment to be the four young men of the church who answered the call to the ministry (E. D. Seely, Paul Walther, Robert Terwilliger and Charles Morris). During this time Rev. Van Popering counseled the consistory on the urgent need for more Sunday School classrooms, resulting in the construction of the education wing.
During the Rev. Bruce Penn’s pastorate, from 1973 to 1991, the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry was begun from the basement of the church.
During the pastorate of the Rev. Keith Tamlyn, from 1992 to 2002, Children and Worship, a time of worship which speaks to the developmental stages of children, was introduced. The exterior of the church was brought up-to-date with an upgrading of the church’s utilities and the restoration of brick and stone elements, roofs, and flashing.
During the pastorate of the Rev. Toni Macon, from 2004 to 2016, the Golden Rule Thrift Shop was organized by the Local Mission Committee to provide people with clothing at no charge. From that venture and the free will donations, the Snackin’ Kids Club was started. It provides meals on the weekends for children who qualify for free or reduced lunch in the Wallkill School District.
In January of 2018, the congregation welcomed the Rev. Dr. Stan Seagren and his wife, Karrie. He has introduced new programs such as Churches Learning Change, a journey of discipleship and transformation; and Growing Young, an initiative aimed at helping younger people discover and love the Church.