Spirit-led and Built on Prayer
In the early 1930s the need for a Bible-believing, fundamental work in the City of Trenton was recognized by several born again Christians. Two men, Philip Weiss and Charles Messler, called on Rev. Theodore Elsner, pastor of the Non-Sectarian Christian Association in Philadelphia. They discussed their burden with Rev. Elsner who recommended Rev. Victor E. Jacobson, a student pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church located on the corner of Market and Mercer Streets in Trenton. Rev. Jacobson shared this vision for he, too, had a burden for a fundamental testimony in Trenton.
After several meetings with Rev. Jacobson, plans were made for a ministry of tent meetings during the summer of 1933. The first tent accommodated approximately 100 people. The response to the meetings was far greater than expected and soon this tent became inadequate. Another tent was purchased that seated 400 people and for three consecutive summers, meetings were held. The Lord blessed this ministry and many souls came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The work was growing and it was decided to name this ministry the Non-Sectarian Christian Association of New Jersey. It was duly incorporated under and by virtue of the laws of the State of New Jersey by a certificate filed in the Department of State on the seventh day of June, 1934.
The purposes for which the Non-Sectarian Christian Association was formed were to proclaim the gospel of grace to all men of all creeds and races, in church, tabernacle, tent, on the street, in the home, and by radio whenever possible; to teach the Word of God; to promote love and fellowship among all Christians; and to train them in personal work and in the grace of giving. Ten trustees were selected. The Charter was signed by 152 people, 10 different denominations, and 24 different churches in the Trenton area. All of these shared a common purpose and goal that a fundamental Christian testimony and Bible-teaching ministry be achieved and used for the edification of saints and the winning of souls for the Lord.
During the winter months, the Stacy-Trent Ballroom was rented as a place of meeting. This was the largest hotel in Trenton at that time located on the corner of West State and Willow Streets. During this period, the attendance grew to between 600 and 700 people each Sunday evening.
In September 1935 the Eastern Star Temple located on the corner of Front and Stockton Streets was rented for Sunday meetings. It also marked the beginning of Sunday School as well as morning and evening worship services. A “Fishing Club” for the purpose of “fishing for Souls for the Lord” was formed and met on Saturday nights. Part of this activity was a live 30-minute radio broadcast with Charles Messler as engineer. At that time there were no magnetic tape recordings; practice was held prior to the broadcast and then went on the air live. After the broadcast, open air meetings were held during the warm weather on various corners of Trenton.
After Rev. Jacobson accepted a call in 1937 to minister to another area, Rev. David D. Allen who was a graduate of Philadelphia School of the Bible accepted the call to pastor the Non-Sectarian Church of New Jersey. It was during his ministry that the name changed to the Church of the Open Bible.
On July 15, 1946 while Rev. Virgil Geren was pastoring the now Church of the Open Bible, the congregation decided to purchase the Eastern Star Temple which had been put up for sale.
On May 8, 1957 another name change took place during the ministry of Rev. C. Uhle Wagner. It was decided to change the name of the church to Bible Baptist Church, Independent, due to a false identification as a Pentecostal church. The church was Baptist in doctrine and wanted to keep the word “Bible” in its name.
About that same time, the community in which the church was located was noticeably deteriorating. Additionally, the church had no parking lot, which was making it difficult to find adequate parking for missionary conferences and evangelistic meetings. The church leadership decided to consider building in the outskirts of Trenton.
Several locations were considered by the Board and after much prayer and seeking the Lord’s will, the purchase of the present 3-1/2 acre location on the corners of White Horse-Mercerville & Klockner Roads in Hamilton was completed. It was ideally situated on one of the main arteries of the township, was easily accessible from all areas in the greater Trenton community, and provided unlimited potentialities in building and service to the Lord. This was under Rev. George Crosbie’s pastorate who contributed a great deal to the planning and construction of the building, which was started in October 1962. A special outdoor meeting was held in May 1963 for the laying of the cornerstone and on June 16, 1963, a church dedication service was held. The original mortgage of the building was paid on April 3, 1979.
In 1988, under the pastoral ministry of Rev. Roger Rose, the church undertook a large building project. This expansion included a Family Life Center, new offices, classrooms, library and rest rooms for both men and women. The Service of Dedication for this Family Life Center was held on March 12, 1989. The building was now able to accommodate a growing church body and ministries.
Early 1990 saw the departure of Rev. and Donna Rose from Bible Baptist to return to their roots in Michigan to begin a ministry of ministering to churches in crisis. Rev. Kevin Oessenich and Dr. Richard Emmons both serviced as interim pastors until Dr. Emmons was installed as Senior Pastor in the summer of 1993.
As Bible Baptist continued to grow and expand into the twenty-first century, it was becoming evident, once again, that the name was no longer representative of the church. The identification with the Bible Baptist denominations in the mid-west was confusing to many and the leadership began to consider another name change which would continue to reflect the church doctrine and independent status. After much consideration and input from the body of the church, the name was changed to GraceWay Bible Church which became effective in March of 2009.
For several years Pastor Emmons and the leadership of GraceWay felt God’s call to start a summer camp. Not knowing their dreams, Michelle Capizzi had also felt God’s call to start a camp several years earlier. Through a conversation with the Dunscombs (GraceWay’s director of children’s ministry and his wife), God brought the dreams together and Camp Mercyville was founded in 2010. This ministry expanded the church’s ability to provide the children in the community with up to eight weeks of Biblical teaching, fun, friendship, engaging activities, and lifelong memories.
Another vision of the leadership of the church was being planned within this same period of time, and a major outreach to the community was developed under the leadership of Mrs. Fran Emmons. Christmas Live: A Walk Thru Time and Beyond provided a guided tour of eleven Biblical events from creation to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the weeks prior to Christmas. For many seasons, Christmas Live was host to thousands of people in the community who heard God’s Word as well as the message of salvation through dramatic presentation and personal interaction.
In 2012, yet another building project was identified to help meet the ever-expanding needs of the church. After much prayer and many meetings, we embarked on our GEM Project (GraceWay’s Entry Makeover) in the spring of 2013. Despite some initial technical delays, GEM was expeditiously completed in October 2013 and we were blessed with a new nursery, a much-needed elevator, a new space for our church library (also used for a classroom) as well as additional rest rooms.
With the passage of time comes changes in leadership and GraceWay has been blessed with many godly leaders & pastors over the years. Pastor Don Schwing joined the staff in 2017 and was called to be our Executive Pastor and ordained to the Gospel ministry in 2021. That year also saw the retirement of Dr. Richard Emmons after 28 years of leadership. Graceway Bible Church called Dr. Scott Turansky as its new teaching pastor in May of 2022 and continues to grow under his teaching ministry.
Our story may have begun in the 1930s but has continued through over eighty years thus far. Our conception was Spirit-led and built on prayer; and we remain so to this day. Our name may have changed from Non-Sectarian Christian Association of New Jersey to Church of the Open Bible to Bible Baptist Church, Independent to its current name GraceWay Bible Church, but the message of the gospel of grace it set out to proclaim has remained unchanged. It is still the common purpose and goal of this church that a Christian testimony and Bible-teaching ministry be achieved and used for the edification of saints and the winning of souls for the Lord Jesus Christ Who has redeemed us!