Church Outside

First Baptist Church of Perth Amboy, New Jersey is an Independent Baptist church that has served the community for over 200 years. Originally part of the American Baptist Convention, First Baptist Church slowly established itself as an Independent Baptist church in 1984 with the calling of Pastor William A. Gerak, Sr.

The First Baptist Church of Perth Amboy, New Jersey was planted by a Yankee preacher from Connecticut, Pastor Drake Wilson, in 1817. After a year of clergyman meetings, the church officially organized on August 26, 1818, with Pastor Thomas Winters called to take charge of the congregation. The Perth Amboy Evening News (1904) writes, “At the time that the church was constituted, August 26th., 1818, just one hundred years after the city was chartered, Perth Amboy’s population was 800. Of this number but a few families were inclined to the Baptist belief. The church was organized with fifteen members” with nine of the new members “converted to the faith by Rev. Drake Wilson” (p. 4).

Church InformationAt the end of Pastor Winters pastorate in 1823, the church had been meeting “in the old court-house or at the homes of individual members. The number gradually increased until, in 1823, it was necessary to procure a regular meeting-house. In the following year, the erection of a building was commenced, it being completed in three years. It was erected at the comer of High and Fayette streets. It was dedicated July 21st., 1827. In 1855, the building underwent extensive alterations and in 1867, it was removed from its corner location, facing on High street to its present site” (Perth Amboy News, 1904, p. 4).

The present building at Market and High Streets was formally dedicated on June 8, 1924, during the pastorate of Pastor Desmond Heyliger. “The completion of the new edifice is the crowning event in the history of the church which was organized in 1818 and has gradually grown in strength until the congregation now boasts of one of the finest buildings in the city and the membership is growing steadily. Forty new members will be welcomed at the morning services tomorrow” (Perth Amboy News, 1924, p. 1). At the dedication service, it was noted that “The new building is now complete with the exception of the installation of the large window in the front of the building, facing High street. This window has not yet been completed. Church InformationThe grounds about the new building have been graded and the edifice is a big asset to the city. A building such as the Baptist now boast of has long been their desire, but the making of these dreams a reality was largely the result of conscientious work by the building committee” (Perth Amboy News, 1924, p. 4).

Since the middle 1980s, the church has strengthened its stand doctrinally over several issues including the sufficiency and preservation of the Scriptures, personal evangelism, world-wide missions, the historic distinctives held by Baptists, and the Fundamentals of the Faith. In fact, the church believes the following doctrines to be essential to the Christian faith: Christ’s Virgin Birth (Isa. 7:14; Luke 1:26-35), the Deity of Christ (Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), Jesus’ Blood Atonement (Heb. 9:12-14; Rom. 5:9), Jesus’ Bodily Resurrection (John 2:19-22; Luke 24:39), the Inerrancy of the Scriptures (Prov. 30:5-6; Ps. 12:6), and the Imminent return of Christ (Js. 5:7-9; Heb. 10:24-27,37).

To preserve the rich history of the First Baptist Church, all previous Pastors are listed below with their known years of service. Some biographical information is missing due to lost historical records.

Pastor William A. Gerak, Sr. (1984-2021)

Pastor William A. Gerak, Sr.

Pastor William A. Gerak, Sr. became the 41st pastor of the First Baptist Church on April 1, 1984 when the congregation asked his church plant ministry, New Life Baptist Church in Fords, NJ, to merge with the established First Baptist Church. Pastor Gerak was involved in full-time ministry since the late 1970s. He is the longest-serving pastor of the First Baptist Church with just shy of 37 years in the ministry.

In his ministry, Pastor Gerak emphasized the importance of the three essentials of the Christian life: church attendance, prayer, and Bible reading. He believed that these essentials were important for spiritual growth and taking believers to new heights with the Lord. In addition, he practiced these essentials daily as he spent many hours in prayer and Bible reading each day. Pastor Gerak’s tremendous testimony to this was that he was found spending time with His Lord in the last few moments of his life.

Born in Perth Amboy on August 3, 1948 to the late William and Susan Gerak, he was raised in the Avenel section of Woodbridge Township and has resided in Perth Amboy since 1984. Pastor Gerak graduated from Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education. He took further graduate work from Kean University earning 15 credit hours toward a Master of Arts degree in Educational Administration. After college graduation, he taught in the Woodbridge Public School system while politically campaigning for local district races focused on the Woodbridge, NJ area.

Before his conversion, he was raised in a religious home based on family tradition. "My father, a Baptist, had stopped going to church when I was just 4-5 years old. Until my junior year in high school, I had faithfully attended Sunday School and church, at which time I lost complete interest in any kind of church activity, religion, and God," he recalled. "For the next ten years, my life was selfishly lived and centered around the world."

He trusted Christ as his Lord and Savior on November 27, 1975 while viewing a television program of a church service. "I saw clearly what a miserable life I was living," he said. "It was at that time, upon bended knee, I called upon Him to give me a new life...As old things began to pass away, all is becoming new." Six months later, he was baptized as a public profession of his faith at the Central Baptist Church in Avenel, NJ. It was there, under the ministry of Pastor Jim Gent, that he answered God’s call to the ministry. In 1978, he pursued church planting and started the New Life Baptist Church in Fords, NJ. Eventually that ministry, which met in a storefront, merged with First Baptist Church in Perth Amboy in 1984.

On February 1, 2021, Pastor Gerak passed away while he was spending time with the Lord in prayer. Pastor Gerak's impact upon First Baptist Church will be felt for years to come as he introduced the congregation to many important ministries. The following are some highlights of Pastor Gerak's ministry to the First Baptist Church of Perth Amboy.

  • Established a Faith-Promise missions ministry with over 20 missionaries supported.
  • Established a bus ministry that has reached hundreds of children with the gospel.
  • Established the online outreach ministry by Livestreaming on Facebook Live.
  • Established an active outreach of personal evangelism throughout Perth Amboy.
  • Strengthened core doctrines such as Bible supremacy and preservation, the Baptist distinctives, and the Fundamentals of the Faith.

Pastor Gerak's life verse was Romans 8:28, which says, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

Testimonials

"I [would] not be saved today living the transformed life that Jesus brings without [Pastor Gerak's] powerful influence in my life. My family [would] not be where they are today in the Christian life without his powerful influence in their lives. Thank you pastor Gerak, my friend, my mentor, my pastor, for allowing God to use you mightily to touch our lives." - Pastor Jose A. Santos

"Pastor Bill was instrumental in my walk of faith. I was saved at 18 yrs old at his church 35 yrs ago ('85). His sermons and discipleship still resonate in my life." - Ed Padilla

"I was saved at the age of 15 (almost 40 years ago) and baptized by “Brother Bill.” I first attended when it was New Life Baptist at the school in Fords. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, so Pastor Bill was a spiritual father and the foundation of my life was laid at First Baptist (discipleship class). I served as a deacon for 25 years at another church and have children involved in ministry (one training to be a pastor). This is the legacy that Pastor Bill left behind because he allowed God to use him mightily and I know that he was faithful to the end." - Bob Velez

"Forever grateful to our dear Pastor Gerak for bringing the gospel to us the evening of October 23, 1997. Our lives changed forever with the sweet presence of our Savior in our lives. Thank you Pastor for being a good and faithful servant till the end." - Pastor Alex Ramirez

"I was on Staff at First Baptist from 1988 to 1990. My ministry and life [were] greatly influenced by his love and concern for the lost." - Tom Roche, Jr.

Pastor Edward B. Hardwick (1976-1982)

Pastor Hardwick became the 40th pastor of the First Baptist Church fresh out of Princeton Theological Seminary in 1976. During his pastorate, he established All God's Children Christian Child Care Center in 1979 that cared for pre-school children and eventually for kindergarten students in 1981. He left the pastorate in 1982.

Pastor W. Timothy Peterson (1971-1973)

Pastor Peterson became the 39th pastor of the First Baptist Church in 1971. He left the pastorate in 1973.

Pastor Garrett Detwiler (1964-1971)

Pastor Garrett Detwiler

Pastor Detwiler began his ministry as the 38th pastor of the First Baptist Church on November 1, 1964. Pastor Detwiler graduated from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1933. Before coming to the First Baptist Church of Perth Amboy, he held pastorates at the First Baptist Church in Baptistown, New Jersey; the First Baptist Church in Matawan, New Jersey; and the Memorial Baptist Church in Salem, New Jersey. He resigned his position at the First Baptist Church of Perth Amboy in 1971.

Pastor Peter Kowalchuk (1952-1964)

Pastor Kowalchuk began his ministry as the 37th pastor of the First Baptist Church on February 15, 1952. Pastor Kowalchuk oversaw the complete elimination of the church debt and held a mortgage burning ceremony on May 27, 1952. Under his ministry, Pastor Kowalchuk turned to expansion and revitalized the Sunday School program by purchasing their first bus in November 1952 to transport children to and from the church on Sunday mornings. Due to a sharp attendance rise in Sunday School, the church purchased their second bus in 1954. Needing more space, the lower auditorium was remodeled to accommodate more children and the balcony was widened to create four additional classroom spaces. During the church's 140th Anniversary, Pastor Kowalchuk oversaw wonderful growth in all ministries. He left the pastorate in 1964.

Pastor Arthur L. Maye (1946-1951)

Pastor Arthur L. Maye

Pastor Maye became the 36th pastor of the First Baptist Church in 1946. He was ordained to the ministry at the First Baptist Church. Born in Westbrook, Missouri, Dr. Maye received his early education by earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1942 at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He then went on to earn a Bachelor of Theology from Eastern Baptist College and Seminary. He pursued further graduate work from New York University where he was awarded the Master of Arts and Doctor of Education degrees.

In his affiliation with the American Baptist Convention, Dr. Maye served as state director of Christian Education in Oregon and New Jersey. He left as pastor of the First Baptist Church in 1951 to accept the position as State Director of Christian Education in Oregon. He later returned to New Jersey to become the Baptist Chaplain at Rutgers State University on the New Brunswick campus and Director of Christian Higher Education for the New Jersey Baptist Convention.

Pastor Eugene G. Mintz (1945-1946)

Pastor Eugene Mintz

Pastor Eugene G. Mintz became the 35th pastor of the First Baptist Church in April 1945. Before his pastorate in Perth Amboy, NJ, he began his prior pastorate at the First Baptist Church in Westfield, NJ in September 1931 and for five years at the First Baptist Church in Niagara Falls.

Pastor Mintz was born in Southport, North Carolina in 1894 and received his education at Campbell Academy in North Carolina. He entered the University of Richmond when he was 15 years old and ordained in Fine Creek, Virginia where he was chosen pastor of a circuit of four country churches, holding services in each chapel once a month. For two years following his graduation from the University of Richmond with a Bachelor of Arts degree, he continued as pastor simultaneously with his teaching in a country high school.

Pastor Mintz enrolled at the Colgate-Rochester Divinity School while preaching in churches over the weekends and in the summer in Rochester and Nunda, New York, and in Southampton, Ontario. He was graduated from the divinity school in 1919 with the degree of Bachelor of Divinity. He served in the North and Midwest pastoring churches in Oshkosh and in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Niagara Falls, New York, before coming to Westfield, NJ to accept the pastorate of the First Baptist Church.

Unfortunately, Pastor Mintz died unexpectedly on Saturday, February 2, 1946 from complications of a stroke that he had suffered on the previous Wednesday.

Pastor Edward P. Brinkman (1935-1944)

Pastor Brinkman began his ministry as the 34th pastor of the First Baptist Church on March 1, 1935. Pastor Edward P. Brinkman was born in New Jersey on June 5, 1879 to Peter and Ida Brinkman. He was formally educated at Shelton College and Columbia University. He served lengthy pastorates in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

During his 41 years of ministry, he was absent from his pulpit only twice. Although retiring at age 65, he soon returned to the active ministry to serve needy churches. While at First Baptist Church, Pastor Brinkman worked hard at eliminating the church debt which had accrued over the years to almost $70,000. He resigned his position as Pastor in 1944. Pastor Brinkman died on Friday, September 12, 1969 while pastoring the First Baptist Church in Richford, Vermont.

Pastor George Horace Wood (1933-1934)

Pastor Wood began his ministry as the 33rd pastor of the First Baptist Church in 1933. He left the pastorate in 1934.

Pastor William A. Atchley (1925-1931)

Pastor William A. Atchley

Pastor Atchley became the 32nd pastor of the First Baptist Church in 1925. He was given the affectionate title “the beloved pastor” from his former congregation at Asbury Park Baptist Church. Born in Sevierville, Tennessee on April 20, 1860, his early schooling was in a rude log building where classes were held only three months in the year.

He went into the teaching profession, and at the end of eight years turned to the ministry, where he served over 50 years. He pastored in Knoxville, Tennessee where he oversaw one of the largest churches in the city. He also held pastorates in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Montana. He served at First Baptist Church for six years before resigning in 1931.

Pastor George K. Allen (1893-1900)

Pastor Allen began his ministry as the 26th pastor of the First Baptist Church in 1893. Pastor Allen served in the Baptist ministry until he was 80 years old. Born in a family of eight, he decided early in life to take up the ministry. He entered Colgate University in 1866 and graduated with honors in 1870, having made the Phi Beta Kappa honorary society. He was also a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and was the winner of the first prize in oratory in 1868. Pastor Allen attended Hamilton Theological Seminary completing his course there in 1872. He was honored with the Doctor of Divinity degree by Colgate University in 1895.

His first charge was at the First Baptist church in Skaneateles, New York, where he served from 1872 to 1875. His other pastorates included the North Baptist church in Jersey City, New Jersey; First Baptist Church in Palatka, Florida; Tabernacle Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida; Amity Baptist Church in New York City; and the Baptist Church in Cornwall, New York. While at First Baptist Church, Pastor Allen added 53 members making the enrollment 178 members. He left the First Baptist Church pastorate in 1900.

Pastor George K. Allen established an endowment at Colgate University named "The Allen Prizes in English Composition" that awards two prizes in English composition in honor of his wife, Hattie Boyd Allen. These endowment awards are still active for Colgate University students that demonstrate scholarly accomplishments in the English department. Dr. Allen passed away on January 17, 1920.

Pastor Albert G. Lawson (1862-1866)

Pastor Albert G. Lawson

Pastor Lawson became the 17th pastor of the First Baptist Church in 1862. Known as the “Boy Preacher,” Pastor Lawson was ordained to the gospel ministry through the First Baptist Church in June 1862 and assumed the pastorate at just twenty years old. From his early start in the ministry, it was noted that Pastor Lawson was “destined to become one of the outstanding Baptist ministers of the next fifty years.” Due to the heavy financial burden created in 1854 through remodeling the church building and installation of a bell tower, Pastor Lawson freed the church from all worldly debts at the start of his pastorate in 1862. He served at First Baptist Church for nearly five years before resigning from the pastorate in 1866.

Pastor Lawson was born on January 5, 1842 in Poughkeepsie, New York and studied in the College of the City of New York and at Madison University. He received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Colgate University. In addition to pastoring in Perth Amboy, he served as pastor in the following local church ministries:

  • Poughkeepsie, NY (1866-1867)
  • Greenwood Baptist Church, Brooklyn, NY (1867-1884)
  • North Baptist Church, Camden, NJ (1890-1902)
  • Clinton Avenue Baptist Church, Newark, NJ (1902-1905)
  • Waterbury, CT (1909-1912)
  • Woodside, NY (1912-1918)

Pastor Lawson became a popular speaker for various events including preaching in tent meetings with R. A. Torrey and being selected to speak during a commemoration on the death of President Abraham Lincoln. Pastor Lawson published two significant articles that are still in existence today. First, he published an article entitled The Personal Religion of Jesus in the July 1914 edition of The Biblical World which served as a shorter article to his published pamphlet under the same title. Second, he published a 56-page pamphlet in 1902 entitled A Short Method with Christian Science through the American Baptist Publication Society of which he served as Chairman of the Publication Committee.

Pastor Lawson preached hard on the liquor industry and served as Chairman of the Committee of the National Temperance Society. Pastor Lawson contributed frequently to the cause of prohibition by writing for the publication Temperance in All Nations: History of the Cause in All Countries of the Globe in 1893. In this publication, Pastor Lawson wrote about the dangers of alcohol and compared it to I Peter 5:8 by stating that the liquor lion “goeth about constantly, seeking whom he may devour.”

From 1884 to 1886 he was Secretary of The American Baptist Missionary Union in Boston and from 1905 to 1910 Secretary of the Board of Managers. In the early 1900s, Pastor Lawson served on the Executive Committee for the Annual Session of the Baptist Congress in Philadelphia. He had also served as Chairman of the Administrative Committee of Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America and President of the Baptist Education Society of New York State.

Throughout his long ministry, whether in the pastorate or in an administrative capacity, Pastor Lawson proved himself a faithful minister of Jesus Christ by always manifesting a keen interest in all the affairs of his own denomination as well as in the larger enterprises of the Kingdom of Christ. Pastor Lawson died on March 8, 1929.

Pastor John E. Reynolds (1852-1854)

Pastor John Reynolds was the thirteenth pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1852. He left the pastorate in 1854.

Pastor John M. Carpenter (1849-1852)

Pastor John Carpenter was the twelfth pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1849. He left the pastorate in 1852. Pastor Carpenter was born on September 30, 1804 in Mechanicstown, New York. He was converted and baptized at about twenty years old and was licensed to preach in 1830. He was immediately appointed by the board of the New Jersey Baptist State Convention. He was ordained in 1837. Besides his work at First Baptist Church, Pastor Carpenter pastored for thirteen years in Jacobstown, New Jersey and filled other important pastorates. He served as secretary of the Baptist Convention for seventeen years and in other capacities for the board in which his work has been very useful.

He had a thorough knowledge of denominational statistics and had a thorough memory of Baptist history in New Jersey making him the source of information for all who wish to obtain facts and figures on those topics. He assisted many historians regarding Baptist history in New Jersey and had a library that was rich in associational minutes, pamphlets, and works pertaining to the Baptists. He was known as a logical thinker, sermonizer, and an energetic preacher. He was aptly known as "The living Baptist Cyclopedia of New Jersey." Pastor Carpenter died at 90 years old on January 25, 1890.

Pastor George F. Hendrickson (1845-1849)

Pastor George Hendrickson was the eleventh pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1845. He left the pastorate in 1849.

Pastor John Rodgers (1841-1845)

Pastor John Rodgers was the tenth pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1841. He left the pastorate in 1845.

Pastor John B. Case (1839-1841)

Pastor John Case was the ninth pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1839. He left the pastorate in 1841.

Pastor John Blaine (1837-1839)

Pastor John Blaine was the eighth pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1837. He left the pastorate in 1839.

Pastor Thomas Ritchie (1835-1837)

Pastor Thomas Ritchie was the seventh pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1835. He left the pastorate in 1837.

Pastor Jacob Sloper (1832-1835)

Pastor Jacob Sloper was the sixth pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1832. He left the pastorate in 1835.

Pastor John Bloomer (1828-1832)

Pastor John Bloomer was the fifth pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1828. He left the pastorate in 1832.

Pastor John Booth (1826-1828)

Pastor John Booth was the fourth pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1826. He was born in Chatham, England in 1796. At four years of age, his parents brought him to Philadelphia where he demonstrated superior intelligence for education. In early manhood, he was converted and was ordained to the Baptist ministry at Lambertville, New Jersey, in 1825. He transitioned to Michigan in 1829, and died in Fenton in 1869, having labored in the Michigan ministry forty years.

"Elder Booth," as he was familiarly called, was a cultivated gentleman by inheritance, and by early association with the best ministers and churches in Philadelphia. Throughout his life he held positions of influence among popular men of affairs. Known as peace-loving and edifying in his pastorates; judicious, industrious, and careful in his agency labors for domestic and home missions; liberal alike toward foreign missions, the Bible cause, the religious press and our educational enterprises, he everywhere helped to put the right imprint upon the cause of Christ.

Besides his pastorate at First Baptist Church, he pastored at least two other churches in New Jersey while also serving for some time as a missionary in Pennsylvania. He left New Jersey in 1829 for Michigan where he began his ministry in Troy which soon became the largest and strongest church in the Territory. He was held in high esteem among the brethren and lived a long life adorned in the Christian profession. Pastor Booth died in 1869. His burial took place in one of Michigan's largest ministerial institutes held in Fenton. He preached more than six thousand sermons, baptized many hundred persons, and through abundant labors, being dead, yet speaketh.

Pastor Jabez C. Goble (1823-1826)

Pastor Jabez C. Goble was the third pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1823. He left the pastorate in 1826.

Pastor Thomas Winter (1818-1823)

Pastor Thomas Winter was the second pastor of the First Baptist Church and began his pastorate in 1818. He left the pastorate in 1823.

Pastor Drake Wilson (1817-1818)

Pastor Drake Wilson was the founding and first pastor of the First Baptist Church of Perth Amboy. Griffiths (1904) reports that a revival came to Perth Amboy in 1817 when “Numerous converts having only the New Testament, read it and became Baptists” (p. 376).

"In Divine Providence, Rev. Drake Wilson of Connecticut visited the town and these disciples were baptized, confessing the great facts of his redemption, his death and resurrection, only less than his incarnation. Mr. Wilson baptized ten of these disciples. The next July two others were baptized. These, with three resident Baptists, fifteen in all, constituted themselves a Baptist church on August 25th, 1818" (Griffiths, 1904, p. 376).

"The first pastor was Rev. Drake Wilson of Connecticut, who in coming to Perth Amboy, baptized the converts of 1817. He is supposed to have settled when the church was organized and to have remained three years" (Griffiths, 1904, p. 376). Historical documents within the past 70 years report that Pastor Drake Wilson resigned his position to the next Pastor, Thomas Winters, in 1818; however, some documents show that Pastor Winters took over the pastorate in 1819. Regardless, Pastor Wilson's evangelistic zeal to follow the Great Commission is at the forefront of First Baptist Church's current passion and zeal. It is noted that Pastor Wilson started First Baptist Church as "an original society, not the offshoot of any other group or church. All the constituent members were new converts to the faith through the preaching of Drake Wilson."

 

References:

Griffiths, T. S. (1904). A History of Baptists in New Jersey. Hightstown, NJ: Barr Press Publishing Company.

Perth Amboy Evening News. (1904, July). A Short Sketch of Churches of All Denominations. Perth Amboy Evening News, XXV(281), 4-5.

Perth Amboy Evening News. (1924, June). Will Dedicate Baptist Church. Perth Amboy Evening News, XLIV(181), 1,4.