In August 1955, the Reverend Charles L. Ertman, missionary-at-large for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) established a residence in Hackettstown to do the organizational groundwork for a Lutheran church. The first service was held on January 22, 1956 at the American Legion Hall (ALH) on Willow Grove Street. Four hundred and thirty people attended, a district record for an Opening Service.
Worship services and Sunday School were conducted thereafter on a regular basis and the nucleus of worshippers grew. By May 5, 1957, ninety-three adults were ready to commit themselves to establish a Lutheran church in Hackettstown. At a specially-designated service on that date, they signed a charter, making the church an official congregation of the LCMS. Shortly thereafter, the congregation selected the name Gethsemane. The congregation was incorporated under state law on October 23, 1957.
Using the facilities of the ALH, members faithfully set up a hand-crafted altar at the front of the hall and lined up rows of folding chairs each Sunday. When fire gutted the ALH in March 1958, services were temporarily held in the Middle School Auditorium until facilities at the ALH were restored and available for occupancy in September 1958. Meanwhile Pastor Ertman was called and installed on May 15, 1958.
A Building Fund Dinner was held on December 9, 1959, and the evaluation of available property began. Based on open land available in the area, and on price, 3.9 acres of land on the corner of Fourth and E. Baldwin Streets was eventually purchased from Fairlawn, Inc, with a subsidy from the Atlantic District-LCMS.
The Building Committee, and later members of the Voters’ Assembly, toured various churches throughout New Jersey and thereby determined to commission Robert L. Clothier of Newton, New Jersey, as architect. Charles E. Thompson was hired as general contractor. Work on the $110,000 structure began officially with a Ground Breaking Ceremony on September 11, 1960.
The completed church and fellowship hall totaling 6382 square feet was dedicated on June 4, 1961. Reverend Victor G. Albers spoke at the morning service and noted Lutheran Hour Speaker Dr. Oswald Hoffman highlighted the four o’clock vespers worship.
Pastor Ertman accepted a call to Long Island in 1965, and there followed a period of almost two years when Gethsemane was without a permanent full-time pastor. In November 1966 Reverend Thomas P. Armour accepted Gethsemane’s call. The service of installation, officiated by Reverend Bruce Opsahl, took place on January 8, 1967. A slow but steady growth was experienced once again during the years that followed. Another milestone was set in the fall of 1973 when a nursery school was opened using the fellowship hall as the weekday classroom. The first class consisted of 12 four-year-olds with Joann Pool its first Director.
A mortgage-burning ceremony highlighted 1975, retiring that portion of the congregation’s indebtedness which had been held by the People’s Bank of New Jersey.
After serving the congregation for 32 years, Pastor Armour retired in 1998. Since then, Gethsemane has had four pastors with the Rev. Timothy Drawbaugh currently serving as pastor since May 2019.