The Pilgrim Holiness Church of Erma, New Jersey was born out of a desire to worship God in Spirit and in truth. Although there was already a holiness church in Cape May County, it had ceased living and practicing the very doctrine its name proclaimed. Alter much prayer, church services were held in the home of Edgar and June Raff and family, beginning April 5, 1964.
Rev. and Mrs. H. I. Livingston were contacted and agreed to conduct the services. Due to limited resources, there were not even enough of the same songbooks to sing from among that small, faithful band. This meager yet heartfelt beginning was blessed by the very real Presence of God upon the services.
Shortly thereafter, Edward and Lela Oakley, parents of Sr. June Raff, joined this little group as they moved from New York State to relocate in New Jersey.
The time came when Bro. and Sr. Livingston felt led of God to move on. The lot fell upon Sr. Oakley to preach the Word.
Prior to her move to New Jersey, Sr. Lela Oakley was a faithful member of the Grand Gorge, New York Pilgrim Holiness Church. She attended there even before its connections with our Conference. She had gotten saved while Bro. and Sr. Whipple labored there and surely was “born in the fire.” Her conversion and “death route” sanctification experience proved itself as the stabilizing and motivational force behind this effort ordained by God.
The exact date can’t be recalled when God laid it upon this faithful family to inquire about the purchase of land adjoining the Raft’s property for the sole purpose of erecting a holiness church. However, miraculous is the only explanation for how it was acquired. Melbourne C. and Julia Schellenger, owners of the land in question, had sold the property several times. Each time, the business deal fell through. Edgar Raff approached his neighbor and told him their desire to purchase the land and build a church. Mr. Schellenger, a God-fearing man himself, was delighted with the news. God spared this man, who was very ill for just the purpose of acquiring the land. A few years later, his wife, after selling some other property, gave the tithe on the sale price to our church and yes, it was the exact amount that was paid to the Schellengers for the church property! Praise the Lord!
These people, though members of another area church, have blessed this work of the Lord. On another occasion, they donated a sizable amount of money that we used to purchase our beautiful organ, probably the nicest money could buy. Two plaques commemorate the memory of these kind benefactors.
As a step of faith in July 1971, an architect was hired and drew the plans for our church. Edgar Raff donated much time, energy, and his equipment to clearing the land, an occasion which caused emotions akin to those felt at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. Without ever asking for finances, the Holy Spirit put it upon friends who had heard of the project to donate money. The amounts given ranged from $1,000 to the blessed widow’s mite.
In August 1971, Rev, and Mrs. James Beck came to pastor this little flock for a short time.
Building phases continued as funds and workers were available. Our denominational affiliation during this time was with the Bible Missionary Church. Rev. H. B. Huffman, District Moderator, came with four young men and stayed eight days building the rafters and roof on the combined church and parsonage. This took place in August 1972, and though it was HOT, the Raff Family and their eager helpers enjoyed wonderful fellowship, along with their concerted work efforts. God surely makes the difference in every phase of living.
Finally, our church was completed enough to hold the first service in the summer of 1975. No interruptions - telephone calls, visitors, etc. What a blessing! The exterior was cement block with an interior decor consisting of just a concrete floor, a few mismatched chairs, our pulpit, and mourners’ bench (altar). Sr. Lela Oakley again took up the mantle fallen to her to preach and “held the fort.” Upon this gathering, and thereafter, the Shekinah glory was felt, service after service.
Were our efforts in vain? In 1975, a coworker of Sharon Raff, daughter of Edgar and June Raff, became curiously interested in spiritual matters white observing Sharon’s life. This American heathen knew nothing of salvation and continually bombarded Sharon, and later her family as to Biblical mandates regarding our relationship with God. Through their praying, witnessing, fasting, patience, and Sr. Oakley’s faithful preaching, they saw this young woman and her boyfriend come to Jesus Christ and be converted. Glory to God!
The year 1976 was a great one! Our new couple got married in July. Some other friends from the area left their church desiring true holiness, and sought out our fellowship, casting their lot with us. In December 1976, we contacted Rev. A. J. Whitney, discussing with him the possibility of our joining ranks with the New York Pilgrims. What a gracious and godly couple he and Sr. Whitney were to us. The Conference took us in as a home mission outreach. Thereafter, several Pilgrim Holiness churches sent monthly support to Erma. Rev. John Sherman and Bro. Norman Waterman came from the Grand Gorge church to help work on our parsonage. Rev. Thelma Parker, Sr. Velma Stover and their faithful congregation at the Millville church labored with us not only physically, but involved us in all their church activities and special services. May God bless each and every one that shared a part.
In August 1978, Rev. Jude and Kim Park and son became our first parsonage family and we became their first pastorate. Though only partially finished, they moved into the parsonage and cheerfully and energetically labored in Erma for one year.
During Victory Grove campmeeting, 1981, the Lord laid a burden for the work in Erma on the heart of Rev. M. A. Hobart. Verbalizing this to his wife Ruth, it seemed incredulous as they were caring for her aged parents in Florida. He makes no mistakes! On July 23, 1981, Bro. Steve Elwine, father of Sr. Hobart, passed from this life to his eternal reward. Thus, in October 1981, the Hobarts, along with Sr. Jennie Elwine, Sr. Hobart’s mother, took up residence in Erma, New Jersey. Providentially, they had been former pastor and wife in Grand Gorge, New York while our dear Sr. Oakley and Sr. June Raff lived there.
Shortly after the Hobarts’ arrival, the need for Sunday School rooms and a larger parsonage became the subject of prayer. Bro. and Sr. Hobart purchased and donated a huge, old, movie theater building located on the grounds of the United States Coast Guard Base in Cape May, New Jersey. With this tremendous undertaking, Bro. Hobart began board by board dismantling the building. This endeavor was no small feat and many were the Tobiahs and Sanballats weakening the church’s hands — or trying to. Bro. Delbert Hallenbeck was a great supporter and laborer in this effort, along with our highly esteemed Conference President and wife. Undaunted by the obstacles, our parsonage was erected and our former parsonage was converted into Sunday School rooms. Praise the Lord! Our God reigns!
During this same time period, services were being held in the home of a young family, at intervals, in Hoboken, New Jersey. A real outreach for the Lord was underway. Heaven alone records its first fruits gathered.
Church growth during the 15 years that the Hobarts labored in Erma fluctuated. However, there was always a faithful remnant, a praying band holding on for truth and souls.
May 15, 1982, the following persons became the charter members: Rev. M. A. Hobart, Sr. Ruth Hobart, Sr. Lela Oakley, Sr. June Raff, Sr. Jennie Elwine, Sr. Ida White, Sr. Martha Sundberg, Sr. Judy Fasciano, Bro. Sergio Fasciano. It was a great joy to be taken into full membership of the New York Conference under Bro. Hobart’s shepherdship and Bro. Whitney’s tenure as Conference President.
Many were the spiritual giants that graced our pulpit for revival meetings with some blessed eternal results. Bro. J. M. Sullivan, Billy McCoy, Raymond Zeigler, Millard Downing, Billie and Bobbie Bidwell, Arlan Kratz, A. J. Whitney, B. J. Ward, Willard Jones, Paul Mullen, Leonard Wolfe, Archie B. Atwell, Edward Lecates, the Wolford-Alwardt Team, and the Victory Trio. Brothers and sisters in Christ were borne out of those meetings where God’s Word was preached without fear or favor of man. Is it any wonder God blessed our church? Surely, we’ve sat together in heavenly places.
In July 1996, our third pastor since our affiliation with the New York Pilgrims arrived. Rev. James and Esther Rossman, following in the footsteps of our Lord and coming to Erma on the heels of our beloved pastors, Bro. and Sr. Hobart, took up their new charge. What a blessed transition took place as love for our former pastor abounded and love for our new pastor flourished - with no schism between. Praise God!
And so, the Erma church presses forward under the banner of holiness, the leadership of the Holy Trinity and our Godly pastor. The foresight and compelling desire of one family to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ and promote holy living in Cape May County, New Jersey lives on. By His Grace and until Jesus’ return, we shall continue as God’s children, led by their loving Father’s Unseen Hand.
Last modified 12/9/00