Twenty seven persons met in January of 1823 to leave the local Dutch Reformed Classis and form a new congregation, the True Reformed Church. They worshipped in homes and barns. "Victorian churchliness" was the desired behavior, and the congregation lamented the "laxness" of their fellow congregations. Church members swore allegiance first, to the United States, then to the State of New Jersey and finally to the Gospel work of the church.
By 1858, a building was necessary and a white frame structure was built for $2300 at East Ridgewood and North Pleasant Avenues (the current site of the Somerville School). True to the custom of the day, pews (seats) were sold to individual families. As growth continued, the congregation wrestled with changing social and religious views concerning dancing, drinking and church attendance. In 1890, both male and female members were allowed to vote on church matters, and an organ was purchased for the church. Many pastors came and went during these hectic Post-Victorian years.
At last finding Victorian expectations too rigid, the congregation petitioned the Presbyterian Church in 1899, asking to become The First Presbyterian Church of Ridgewood. The questions of property ownership (Presbyterian vs. Dutch Reformed Churches) was finally settled by the Supreme Court of new Jersey which declared that the congregation had to right to withdraw and retain its property.
The small church struggled with changing pastorates and meager finances until 1919, when the current church property at Van Dien and Ridgewood Avenues was purchased for $3000, and a new sanctuary built in 1927. The new church was a Norman Gothic Design, floored with stone, with interior bricks from Holland, stained glass windows from England, a slate roof from Pennsylvania and a new three manual Hall pipe organ. During the stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed, the Church Women's Guild provided essential financial support to the regular church income.
As the Ridgewood church grew stronger and established its permanent roots at the corner of East Ridgewood and Van Dien Avenues the congregation began to focus on seeking a more consistent spiritual leadership.
Dr. Charles A. Platt was called by the congregation in 1942 and served as Senior Pastor until 1973. His extended conservative pastorate gave the church a stable and secure presence in the community. During his 30 years the church added an Education Building , a new Sanctuary and Chancel, new Sunday school rooms and also acquired an Austin pipe organ. Dr. Platt also delivered consistent inspiring messages in his weekly sermons which set a standard that was to be a hallmark for future ministries at the church.
Dr. Howard J. Hansen was called to follow Dr. Platt as Senior Pastor in 1974 and served the church until 1991. Dr. Hansen was known for his homiletic skills and challenged the congregation to expand their vocabularies along with their faith journeys. He also had a wonderful singing voice and often sang “There is a Balm in Gilead” during Communion. He delighted in hearty verbal jousting during Bible study courses. He supported the church’s hands on participation with Habitat for Humanity and the church became known as a “Sponsoring Church” for other community projects. During his tenure he began a building project called “The Renaissance Fund” to add a new wing with a Chapel and gymnasium.
The Rev. Bertram G. Watkins was called to follow Dr. Hansen as Senior Pastor in May of 1997. and served the church until September of 2016. Rev. Watkins led the congregation with challenging, well-researched sermons that incorporated theology, history, and humor that always emphasized the nature of the human condition. On Christmas Eve in 2009 Rev. Watkins introduced the congregation to the back story of the writing of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the deeper meanings of the classic tale. He followed up with an extended study of the impact of the story on the British culture and began an annual December showing of various film versions of the work. Rev. Watkins consistently challenged the congregation to act on God’s call to care for each other and to actively feed the hungry and comfort the sick and infirm. The congregation responded with the ministry of Caring Cook’s for meals to members during illness or loss; and to community outreach projects such as Family Promise, sending homeless children to camp each summer, walk in dinners for the homeless and St Paul’s Family Mission, cooking dinner for 20-30 homeless men every month. The church enthusiastically continues to support these missions. In September of 2016 Rev. Bertram G. Watkins retired after faithfully serving our church for 20 years.
In August of 2016, the Transition Team to find an Interim Pastor was formed and looked for a Pastor who would not only preach to the congregation but lead a fairly large staff. On February 28, 2017, Session approved the Transition Team's recommendation for interim pastor and on April 2, 2017 we welcomed Rev. Bruce Ballantine to First Pres. Pastor Bruce brought a calmness to the congregation who had just experienced a big change and also brought structure and an open ear to the voices of the staff. Pastor Bruce worked with the Mission Study team and Session to discern what our congregation needed in a pastor and after 18 months, the Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) was formed to look for a permanent Head of Staff. After dozens of applications, interviews, and reviewing sermons, the PNC felt that they had already found their Head of Staff and asked Pastor Bruce to fill the role of Head of Staff. On February 9, 2020 the Congregation voted on the terms of call and we elected Rev. Bruce Ballantine to the position of Head of Staff. Due to the global pandemic, Pastor Bruce was not officially installed until November 28, 2021. Since his election, Pastor Bruce has worked with our staff to bring us meaningful worship services both online and in-person and has reinvigorated committees to remind us who we are at First Pres and why we do what we do. Pastor Bruce led two separate youth mission trips to West Virginia to work with Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity and he most recently traveled on an adult mission trip with The Outreach Foundation to Syria in 2022!