GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Rev. Damien Lake, 43, the interim reverend for the Congregational Church of Glen Ridge, knows about transitions. In addition to having worked with a church undergoing profound change, he has restored vintage cars. But he also acknowledges having “lost the calling” for 10 years.
Born and raised in Michigan, Lake’s father was a church usher.
“I was always involved with the church,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “It was a Congregational Church, a beautiful church. I kind of watched my dad. I served as an acolyte carrying the flag; lighting candles.”
He felt the calling, struggled with it, and attended the Bangor Theological Center, in Maine.
“Helping people is why I went in,” he said. “Helping when loved ones die or when people find they have cancer. Those things called me to the ministry.”
After ordination, he again struggled and tried everything to avoid being a minister. Finding work in sales and marketing, he designed kitchens and bathrooms, and worked as a cabinet company representative. When the economy soured he found himself unemployed. That was when he and his wife, Susan, had a talk.
They were sitting on the couch. He told her he would find work. But she said what was happening to him was God calling out.
“After heartfelt conversations with my wife and parents, I decided to finish what I had started,” he said.
Returning to school, he received a Masters of Divinity at the Chicago Theological Seminary.
He found work with a church evaluating whether to live or die. After four years, its doors closed.
“We tried but it didn’t take,” he said. “I helped them get to the point of a final hospice.”
Lake said churches close nowadays for a number of reasons; in the ‘60s, he said, they were popping up.
“We’ve peaked and the market is saturated,” he said. “Also, sometimes churches of the same denomination are too close to each other.”
The decline, he said, has made surviving churches more relevant.
Lake said the Congregational Church of Glen Ridge is going through a period of mourning. This is because of the retirement of its former pastor, the Rev. David Stinson, who retired this summer after 25 years.
“I’ll be helping the people to let go,” Lake said. “I will work until the congregates are ready for a new pastor.”
Lake and his family, which includes children Gwenevere, Lorelei, Caleb and Arabella, will be living at 29 Appleton Road. But it should not be surprising to ever find him at the classic car shows held in Bloomfield every Wednesday evening during the summer.
Lake loves cars from the ‘50s and ‘60s, and muscle cars from the early ‘70s. He does not own any now but has restored and sold them.
He has had a ‘50 Ford, and Mustangs from 1966 and 1978.“I try not to take on too much,” he said. “I’m not a paint and body guy. Just minor repairs and interior work.”