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People of virtually all religious denominations — Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Jews and others — trace their origins to the early days of Cape May County. That strong moral fiber has passed from generation to generation throughout Cape May County. Today all religious denominations are well represented, and a spirit of ecumenicalism adds to the quality of life.

Whether it’s a small chapel used for services during the summer or the magnificent Catholic church that anchors the Washington Street Mall in Cape May, congregations gather in their churches and synagogues to worship, help others and strengthen their faith. Churches have also established several schools supported by their congregations, and others generously share their parish halls with a variety of community programs that serve youngsters, teenagers and senior citizens.

The county’s history and its religious identity were forged centuries ago when several denominations and clergy played a pivotal role in establishing communities based on their beliefs.

In 1879, three Methodist clergymen established a Christian seashore resort on Peck’s Beach, the island that later would become Ocean City. About the same time, several Presbyterians were organizing another religious-based community called Sea Grove, now Cape May Point, at the southern most tip of the county. Both of these settlements incorporated the tenets of their religion into the everyday lives of the people who eventually populated these towns.

Many of the county’s earliest settlers worshipped at the Cold Spring Presbyterian Church, fondly called Old Brick, established in the early 1700s. According to church records, four presidents have attended services at the church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, as are many of the county’s historic churches. The Friends meeting house on Route 9, still in use, is even older, dating from about 1702.

Inland, the Baron de Hirsch Foundation helped European Jews leaving their homelands build a new life in America with parcels of land where they could farm, raise a family and worship in peace and without fear of pogroms. By 1896, the immigrants had built a synagogue that was used for nearly a century. Today, the Brotherhood Synagogue is the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine that helps document and preserve the rich history of more than 600 Jewish immigrant families from Eastern Europe who settled in Woodbine in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There is also an active synagogue, Beth Judah Temple, in Wildwood.

In Ocean City, the Tabernacle, the first permanent structure on the island to be used as a place of worship, continues to hold services throughout the summer as it has for well over a hundred years, with world-renowned speakers and clergy and a building that seats about 1400 people, in comfort and style the founders of this town never could have envisioned.

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