New Jersey contains over 6,000 churches, 136 mosques, 132 synagogues, and many more temples. The Garden State’s early houses of worship tell us centuries’ worth of local history, being established and built by families who migrated from all over the world seeking freedom from religious persecution. These buildings help define our diverse cultural identity.South Jersey, my home region, is dotted by much of the state’s humblest religious architecture. From rural villages to seaside cities, churches with capacities of tens of worshippers line main roads, residential side streets and intersections where cultural communities originally settled and formed. I was raised Methodist and worshiped in some of Cape May County’s beautiful United Methodist Churches. Their kaleidoscopic stained glass, golden pipe organs, and haunting bell towers fascinated me from an early age. Years later I got a camera and developed a photography hobby. With this I captured and posted to Flickr local roadside scenes like rustic houses, vintage auto signs, and decaying marsh trees. But my favorite subject of all was the region’s churches I found everywhere from industrialized cities to unincorporated communities. While studying writing at Rowan University in 2017, an Instagram blog assignment presented an opportunity for me to research and write about the religious buildings I had been photographing. I realized the interactive, visual, multimodal nature of Instagram was the best medium for this topic. I created @TinyChurchesNJ, an Instagram account telling the story of religious architecture in New Jersey through captioned photos, hashtags, geotags, and occasionally audio (bells and music!), one post at a time. Five years later I’ve posted more than 160 houses of worship, most of which are in South Jersey. Thanks mainly to the participation of followers, the page has branched out to include North and Central Jersey as well. Although the page’s title says “churches”, synagogues and other temples have also been featured. Most of the featured buildings are still used for worship, but some have been adapted to new purposes like residences, restaurants, theaters, stores, and even a car rental. Adaptive reuse posts are my favorite, because there isn’t as much recorded evidence explaining the origins of these buildings or why they were converted, therefore they pose the biggest research challenges. While the page was dormant for a short time, posts are now consistent every week. In addition to history, the page covers news about preservation of religious architecture. It will continue until every one of the thousands of humble houses of worship in New Jersey has been covered. That will take a while! Join me as we learn about the state’s houses of worship by following instagram.com/tinychurchesnj. Don’t forget to message your photos of tiny houses of worship in New Jersey to be featured!
Taylor Henry is a lifelong resident of Wildwood, NJ, with a background in journalism. She earned an MA in Writing from Rowan University in 2021. Taylor is president of the Wildwood Historical Society, cofounder of Preserving the Wildwoods, and the author of the 2018 book Wildwoods Houses Through Time.