ISKCON devotees in Central New Jersey are in the process of purchasing a beautiful Methodist Baptist Church and turning it into a Krishna temple.
The new 18,000 square foot property will help accommodate the growing ISKCON Central New Jersey (ICNJ) congregation.
New Jersey already had one ISKCON center prior to the inception of ICNJ: the Sri Sri Gaura Nitai Mandir in Towaco, which has been running since 1981.
But when many congregation members from the Central New Jersey area found it too far to commute to, ICNJ was established in 2004 under the guidance of Jayadvaita Swami and local GBC Romadapa Swami.
For many years, the more congregation-based community did not have a temple or center. It grew over the years from home study groups called “Bhakti-Vriksha”, of which there are now at least eight.
Sunday programs and festivals were held at a local Hindu community center. But as the congregation grew, this began to become less and less practical. Two or three initiated devotees expanded to around fifty. 150 to 200 people would attend a typical Sunday program, with up to 1,500 visiting for Gaura Purnima and Govardhana Puja festivals, and nearly 4,000 for Janmastami, Lord Krishna’s appearance day.
ICNJ devotees gather for a picnic
In 2006, to accommodate the growth, ICNJ purchased a six-acre plot in Oldbridge, New Jersey, with plans to construct a 38,000 square foot Indian-style temple. But with neighbors in the adjacent residential area objecting, permission was difficult to secure.
“So starting this year, we began looking for alternatives,” says temple president Madhupati Das.
In October 2013, he found one: an 18,000 square foot Baptist Methodist church in Plainfield, New Jersey which was, naturally, already approved as a place of worship.
Community members loved the place, and on Thursday November 21st a contract was signed.
Built in 1974, the church sits on a leafy two-acre lot. It consists of two buildings, divided by a pretty courtyard. There is a prayer hall, with seating space for 600 people, and a community hall with space for 400.
The complex also includes a reception area, kitchen, and fenced parking area with over ninety parking spots. For larger festivals, there is additional street parking.
The church community hall, which will be transformed into a temple room
ICNJ expects the purchase of the building, for $1.4 million, to be finalized by February 2014. Devotees will move in and celebrate the acquisition with a special Gaura Purnima festival in the new temple in March 2014. From then on, they’ll be able to hold programs in their own space, rather than in the Hindu community hall they previously utilized.
In the meantime, fundraising will continue: another $1 million is required for renovations to transform the church into a temple.
First of all, the stage in the prayer hall, which features a high vaulted ceiling, will be converted into a beautiful altar for Deities of Sri Sri Radha Krishna, Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra and Gaura Nitai. And a storage area and “pujari room” will be built behind it.
Stained glass windows running down the length of either side of the prayer hall, which currently depict the activities of Jesus Christ, will be replaced to depict the pastimes of Lord Krishna and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
A full commercial kitchen will be installed, as well as more adequate restrooms and a security system. There will also be a gift shop stocked with books, spiritual clothing and paraphernalia.
In the courtyard, a small greenhouse will be erected to house sacred Tulasi plants.
Meanwhile, the community hall will be partitioned to create separate classrooms for seminars and Bhakti Sastri classes.
The stained glass windows lining the church will be replaced to depict pastimes of Lord Krishna and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
“Finally, as this church does not have priest’s quarters, we will also buy or rent a house nearby, to convert into residential quarters for our devotees,” says Madhupati.
By September 26th, 2015 — the fiftieth anniversary of ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s arrival in the USA — renovations will be completed, the Deities installed, and ICNJ will have a full-fledged temple.
Madhupati says it will make life much easier for his congregation.
“Right now, we spend a lot of time setting up and taking down at the community hall,” he explains. “All of our cooking is done in a rented kitchen facility, and sometimes, when that is not available, we have to cook from home. Those things will all be eased once we have our own temple.”
With its larger capacity and new Deities, the temple is also likely to multiply ICNJ’s congregation three or four times.
“Deities are the center of everybody’s life,” Madhupati says. “So when they are installed, that will increase faith, and more communities will start coming.”
ICNJ devotees hold Rathayatra in Atlantic City
Outreach is also likely to increase, with devotees planning to connect with the sizeable Pan-Asian and African-American communities in the area. They will also add weekly Wednesday and Saturday programs and Bhakti Sastri study classes on top of their regular Sunday Feast.
Other already existing outreach efforts will continue of course, with the added benefit of a solid homebase. ICNJ’s sales of spiritual books during last December’s marathon were ISKCON’s second highest in the USA, and devotees hope to continue that trend this holiday season.
There are also regular college preaching programs at nearby Rutgers and Princeton, as well as the annual Sacred Sounds kirtan event at Rutgers with Gaura Vani, the Mayapuris and Radhanath Swami, which draws over 600 students.
In addition, ICNJ puts on three Rathayatra festivals annually — one on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, one as part of an Indian Independence Day Parade in Edison, New Jersey, and one at its own center on the same day as the original Jagannath Puri Rathayatra. These festivals are especially treasured by ICNJ’s Oriyan congregation members, as the Deities of Jagannath, Baladeva, and Subhadra worshipped at them were personally gifted by the king of Puri himself.
With all these lively projects, the future is bright for ISKCON Central New Jersey — provided, of course, that the most important element remains in place.
“We seek the blessings of all the Vaishnavas in our endeavors,” Madhupati says. “Because without the blessings of the Vaishnavas, we have no hope.”
For more information, please visit http://www.icnjnewtemple.com/
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