By Dorothy Fenniman
It began on October 17, 1926, when a small group of Maywood Episcopalians met in the borough hall for the first service of a new Mission to be named St. Martin’s after St. Martin of Tours, a 4th century bishop who was the symbol of the readiness of Christian men and women to share their blessings with others. The first vicar was the Reverend William J. White who had been a curate at Christ Church in Hackensack.
One of the first things the parishioners did was to set up a building fund and seek out a suitable site on which to build their own church. After four years of meeting in the borough hall, their church was built on the corner of Parkway and Oak and the first service was held on Easter Sunday, 1930.
During the first 25 years, St. Martin’s Mission was served by nine part-time vicars who also held services with congregations in Oradell, Westwood, or Dumont. In 1943, the Board of Missions took title to the house at 122 Parkway, which became the vicarage for the Reverend B. DeFries Brien, newly called to St. Martin’s. In 1949, reverend Brien became the first full-time vicar, marking a milestone in the history of the church because it meant that for the first time, St. Martin’s was entirely self-sufficient.
In January, 1955, St. Martin’s was incorporated and elevated to Parish status and the Reverend Brien was called to be its first Rector. During his tenure, money was raised and memorials given for the stained glass windows, and new pews, altar and clerical vestments. Plans were also begun for much-needed expansion, as the congregation had grown tremendously during the 50’s.
Early in 1962, the Reverend Kenneth Polglase succeed Father Brien and led the parish through the construction of a new Parish Hall to house the activities and outreach programs of the growing parish.
The Reverend W. Alan King was called to St. Martin’s in October 1964 and served as its Rector for 22 years. During his tenure, St. Martin’s became a leader in the outreach programs of the Maywood religious organizations and helped spearhead the drive to build Lydecker Manor, the senior citizens housing facility. Through his dedication to ecumenically-sponsored programs in Maywood, Father King became a much-loved and respected leader of the community. During his tenure, the church sold the house on Parkway and bought the present Rectory on Oak Avenue and Mendez.
In August of 1987, the Reverend James Thompson became the Rector of St. Martin’s. He carried on the traditions established before him and took an active part in the ecumenical outreach programs in Maywood. After his untimely death in September 1994, the church was served by several interim priests and the Diocese began to explore the possibility of forming a cluster ministry in Bergen County.
In September 1996, St. Martin’s joined three other churches – St. Peter’s in Rochelle Park, St. Matthew’s in Paramus and The Church of the Atonement in Fair Lawn – to form BEAM (The Bergen Episcopal Area Ministry). It was hoped that by sharing clergy, program and expenses they could revitalize their churches. The congregations committed themselves to four years in the experiment, but BEAM did not fulfill the dreams the parishes had hoped for and it was disbanded in September 2000.
In October 2000, St. Martin’s began a new chapter when they called the Reverend Lois Schembs, who had served as an interim after Father Thompson’s death, to be their new part-time Rector.
St. Martin’s has always tried to live up to the symbol of giving to others personified by the saint for whom it was named. The Parish Hall has provided a home to a variety of community groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, the Maywood Co-op Nursery School, and various Scout groups.
The congregation has been cooking and serving meals to the men in the Homeless Shelter of St. Paul’s in Paterson for many years. They raise money for the Heifer Project, and give their support to Holley Center, St. Jude’s Ranch for Children and the North Porch, as well as other worthwhile projects.
Three members of the congregation were mayors of Maywood, at least seven or eight were on the Board of Education (including president), and others have served on the borough council, in the fire department (including chaplain) and the first aid squad, all volunteer positions in Maywood. Members of St. Martin’s can always be expected to respond whenever there is a need and often, in unique ways.
On October 21, there will be a special service at 9:30 a.m. to which everyone is invited. Two former priests, Father Polglase from Maryland and Father King from Florida, will help to officiate and several old-time parishioners are coming from far and wide.
The congregation and friends will continue the celebration at the Venetian in Garfield for a gala dinner and sharing of remembrances.
As we reflect on the 75 years of our history, we honor the memories of that small band of folks who worked so hard in the beginning to build a church and a congregation here in Maywood. And we are so proud of the generation that followed who carried on and brought St. Martin’s to new heights.
Finally, we praise God for the continued dedication of all our present members to the preservation of what Father Thompson called "a little jewel in Maywood."