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early churches of New Jersey
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Mt. Lebanon Methodist Episcopal church
Lebanon Township, Hunterdon County
founded 1844; built 1844; remodeled 1878
Lebanon Township Grange
Reverend Jacob Harden, minister of the Mt. Lebanon Methodist Episcopal
church was tried and executed for the poisoning of his wife (although
he preached in Hunterdon, he was a resident of Warren county, whose
denizens were regarded by Hunterdon folk as wild and too given to violence).
Hardens post-trial confession included several pages describing
his life as the minister for a remote rural church:
when I went there
the church had not been unlocked in nearly six months; there was but
one, or at most, two Trustees to hold and protect the church property;
there were but very few members, and those few were at variance with
each othertwo or three of them so much that they would not speak
or deal with each other. I was then but little more than nineteen years
of age, without comparatively speaking, any knowledge of the worldknew
but very little of human nature, with but little mental discipline,
and experimental knowledge of the duties and labors of the minister.
His tale adds a dimension one would not otherwise grasp from the passing
image of the shuttered church as you drive by. The account also included
a dozen letters he and his wife exchanged during their courtship; it
is a different mental world they inhabited and difficult for me to comprehend.
Their simple religiosity and naive directness echo the Civil War letters
from common soldiers that formed such a significant role in Ken Burns
Civil War program on public television.
Reverend Hardens Methodist church
was one of the many that did not survive as a congregation, though it
survived his disgrace and hanging. After sharing a minister with two
or three other local churches in Hunterdon and Warren, its membership
declined and the church was disbanded. The building now serves as the
local Grange, another organization in danger of extinction in New Jersey.