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New Jersey: A Guide to Its Present and Past

By Federal Writers' Project (N.J.) | Go to book overview

Religion

WORSHIP in New Jersey is as various as the population itself, ranging from the guttural chants of the Greek Orthodoxy to the carefully accented English of the Episcopalians; from the enthusiastic disorder of revival meetings to the heavy dignity of urban churches; from crossroads houses of God to massive cathedrals.

In the city areas religious interest has become mainly a matter of Sunday observance; seemingly the church exerts a diminishing influence over its members' private lives. To attract the individual's time and support, a number of denominations in New Jersey, as elsewhere, have developed forums, athletics, and entertainments similar to those of civic, fraternal and labor organizations.

In smaller communities, especially those of the rural south and the residential north, the church has preserved an important measure of prestige and control. It remains strong enough in many small towns to enforce local Blue Laws; ministers in certain communities may reprove publicly women who smoke and men who drink. Frequently the churches continue to be the principal charitable and social welfare agencies.

Historically New Jersey has a reputation for ecclesiastical tolerance and liberalism. It was one of the four original Colonies that successfully resisted attempts of the Church of England to create an established church. The several individual churches, however, achieved a local hegemony no less stringent than that of an official church. Despite the brave statement entered into the records of West New Jersey in 1676 that "No men, nor number of men upon earth, hath power or authority to rule over men's consciences in religious matters," the separate churches remained until well after the Civil War jealous institutions that would brook no other loyalties.

Early Dutch immigrants established in 1662 at Bergen (now Jersey City Heights) the first duly instituted church in the Colony, the Bergen Reformed Church of the Dutch Reformed denomination under the jurisdiction of the Classis of Amsterdam. This denomination, however, was ham

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