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About

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, the precursor and Mother Church of Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church of Jersey City, New Jersey, was founded in the year 1850 in Bergen Township, New Jersey (consolidated into Jersey City in 1870), by the Reverend Stephen Barrell, a Local Deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  It was the first African Methodist Episcopal Church founded in Hudson County. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In June of 1851, land was deeded for the sum of $1.00 to the trustees of Bethel A.M.E. Church by Henry M. Traphagen, a member of a prominent “Old Dutch” family of Jersey City.  The land was deeded for the purpose of building a church and  school for the people and children of color of Bergen Township

 

Construction of that church began in the year 1852 on Mill Rock Road at the bottom of Academy Street. This location was ideal because of its close proximity to a settlement of former enslaved people of color who lived along Mill Rock Road between Academy and Montgomery Streets.Constrction was made possible due to the financial assistance from the members of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church and Saint Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church, both located in Jersey City, as well as other prominent white citizens of Bergen Township and Jersey City.

 

The Reverend Charles Burch, an early pioneer of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, served as the first appointed pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church from 1851 to 1853.  Instrumental in the establishment of A.M.E. societies throughout New Jersey and other areas, he was reported to have blasted rocks with his hands in addition to having painted the interior of the church by himself.

 

The Dedicatory Service for the newly constructed church took place on Sunday, April 24, 1853.

The sermons during the day were delivered by two prominent white clergy, the Reverend A.W. McClure, pastor of the First Dutch Reformed Church of Bergen Township and the Reverend J. B. Wakeley, pastor of the Forsyth Street Methodist Episcopal Church of New York City.

 

Bethel A.M.E. Church, also referred to as the “African Church,” the “African Methodist Episcopal Church of Bergen Township,” and “Bethel of Bergen,” served as a beacon for the black community.  It served as a center for cultural, civic and social events.  For educational purposes, the basement of the church was utilized as a school.  In the year 1870, the passage of new laws made provisions for a free public education for all residents of Jersey City.  As a result, Bethel’s school was renamed “Colored School Number 2” and the Monmouth Street African Methodist Episcopal Zion (A.M.E.Z.) Church School was renamed “Colored School Number 1.”  Both schools were among the first for people of  color in Hudson County.  Both churches shared a special bond and like Bethel, the Monmouth Street A.M.E.Z. Church (present day Metropolitan A.M.E.Z. Church), was the first religious society for the people of color in its respective town.  It was founded in Jersey City, New Jersey in the year 1846. 

 

 The congregations frequently worshipped together and during the summer months shared the same camp grounds for outdoor revival services.  Some of the  services were held at Vreeland’s Woods, Harrison Grove and near  Curries’ Woods, all located in Greenville Township.  Later in the 1870’s, the congregations including, Salem Baptist Church held joint Sunday School barbeque outings in Glendale Park (present day Lincoln Park).

 

The members of Bethel worshipped on Mill Rock Road for approximately twenty years and by the year 1873, had moved up Bergen Hill to Sackett Street.  During this period, this area was known as “Jersey City Heights.”  Bethel during this time was also referred to as the “Sackett Street Church” and “Bethel on the Heights.”  The Reverend Lewis S. Lewis, a pioneer of  the African Methodist Episcopal Church was Bethel’s pastor at this time.  During the years 1873 to 1906, the church was located at nine different locations “On the Heights,” and was under the leadership of  twenty-two different pastors.

 

Through faith, hard work and by the Grace of God, the members of Bethel A.M.E. Church under the leadership of their pastor, the Reverend Isaac Horsey, were able to purchase a place of worship of their own.  On May 10, 1906, the members purchased from the Seventh Day Adventist Church the property located at 25-27 Oak Street in Jersey City.  The Dedicatory Service was held on Sunday, July 15, 1906.  The Right Reverend Levi J. Coppin, the 30th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Presiding Prelate of the First Episcopal District and the Right Reverend Alexander Walters of Jersey City, New Jersey, the 24th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church officiated. 

 

 In addition to a place of worship, the church served as a center for civic, educational, fraternal and political events.  Membership drives for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.)  and voter registration drives were commonplace at Bethel.  Nationally prominent people such as James Weldon Johnson and Mary White Ovington  of the N.A.A.C.P., were keynote speakers at the church.  Joseph Douglass, a well known and accomplished violinist, performed  at the church.  He was the grandson of the “Great Orator,”  and abolitionist Frederick Baily Douglass.  Block parties and street fairs were held on Oak Street to raise capital in order to satisfy the outstanding debt of the church.

 

In the year 1914, the Reverend Abraham Lincoln Murray was appointed pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church.  An articulate and gifted preacher, Pastor Murray was popular and civic minded.  Under his leadership the membership increased and the church ministries flourished.  In the year 

1916, a division in the church occurred between Pastor Murray and the trustees regarding the finances and operations of the church.  Bethel was incorporated in the year 1905 as a

“corporation for pecuniary profit.”  In this structure, the ultimate control and ownership of the church property resided with the trustees of the corporation.  Pastor Murray attempted to reincorporate the church as a “Religious Society” under the control of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  In this structure, Pastor Murray would have had control and ownership of the property would have belonged to the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  While this case was being tried in the courtroom, Pastor Murray and his supporters worshipped at each others’ residences.  In late 1916, the court sided with the corporate trustees of Bethel.  Pastor Murray was reassigned to a church in Mississippi in late November of  1916.

 

Unfortunately after  the departure of the Reverend Murray, faithful Bethel member and prominent Jersey City dentist, Dr. William H. Beck, D.D.S., left Bethel and co-founded Thirkield Methodist Episcopal Mission in the year 1917 (present day Clair Memorial United Methodist Church).  He served faithfully as the Superintendant of  the Sunday School of Bethel A.M.E. Church for many years. While at Bethel, he implemented training for the Sunday School teachers and a grading system for the Sunday School children.

 

A terrible fire occurred at the church on Wednesday evening, June 1, 1921.  By the time the fire was extinguished, only the outside walls and beams of the edifice were left standing.  By the Grace of God, it was unoccupied and no one was injured.  The Reverend Daniel J. Brown, was the pastor at this time.  Having to find a place to worship while money was being raised to rebuild the church, the members worshipped at Arcanum Hall located at Clinton and Jackson Avenues.  This served as the church home of Bethel until October 16, 1924, when the congregation, still under the pastorate of the Reverend Daniel J. Brown, returned to worship at the partially rebuilt building on Oak Street.  The lower level of the church was used for worship.

 

In April of 1930, the Reverend Samuel T. Boyd was appointed as pastor of Bethel.  Practically  from the outset, his leadership was met with opposition from some of the trustees and members of the church.  The major cause of conflict was over an attempt by Pastor Boyd to reincorporate the church as a “Religious Society,”  resulting in a division in the church.   This was unsuccessfully attempted by former pastor the Reverend Murray in the year 1916. 

 

While Pastor Boyd and the opposition went back and forth to court to settle this matter, he and his supporters worshipped at each others’ residences during the years 1931 and 1932.

This group of members of Bethel A.M.E. Church had a dream of starting another church that would meet their spiritual and social needs.  With this dream in mind, they began to formulate plans for making “this dream” a reality.  They contributed generously of their time, energy, and finances, and did whatever they could do to get others interested, motivated, and involved.

 

Finally after losing a nearly three year court battle that consumed much time and energy, Pastor Boyd announced at a meeting held on Monday evening October 3, 1932, the organization of a new church named Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Later in the month he 

announced that the remaining former members of Bethel A.M.E. Church of Jersey City, would be reorganized as Calvary Methodist Church (present day Calvary Christian Methodist Episcopal 

Church).  Since late 1932, the last church home of Bethel (Oak Street) has been the church home of our Sister Church, Calvary Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. 

 

Although the announcement of the formation of Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church took place in early October of 1932 and was incorporated on October 14, 1932, its founding date is celebrated as October 14, 1931.

  

The newly organized church did not have a meeting place of its own, but through the generosity of ministers and other civic-minded individuals, places of worship were secured and many times their religious services were held in the Community Church basement at 179 Woodward Street.

 

The founders of Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church, under the direction and guidance of their pastor, the Reverend Boyd, were inspired to have a church building.  In the year 1933, the property located at 350-354 Forrest Street was purchased.  A small stable was located at the rear of the property.  With alterations and additions, this stable became the place of worship for Mount Pisgah and the house on the property was used as the parsonage.  The Reverend Boyd served as pastor from 1931 to 1935.

 

In the year 1935, the Reverend Harold A. Garcia succeeded the Reverend Boyd as pastor of Mount Pisgah.  During the Reverend Garcia’s tenure, the mortgage was burned and the idea of the building program was initiated.  The Reverend Garcia served as pastor from 1935 to 1944.

 

In May of 1944, the Reverend Morris M. Ward was appointed pastor of Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church.  Under his administration the property at 357 Forrest Street was purchased.

 

In September of 1945, the Reverend Ira Stanley Jacobs followed the Reverend Ward as pastor and for approximately three years, plans were made and worked out in every detail for the time when the building of a new church would begin.  The building program began in the year 1947, when the Ruth Missionary Society of Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church transferred to the trustees, the property at 357 Forrest Street.  In the year 1948, the parsonage was relocated on this property and remodeled.

 

On June 5, 1949, the ground was broken for the new church.  On June 25, 1950, the Right Reverend Decatur Ward Nichols, the 59th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Presiding Prelate of the First Episcopal District, laid the cornerstone.  The year 1950 was also celebrated as the 80th Anniversary of the church’s founding.  Actually, it was the Centennial of the church.  The Mother Church, Bethel A.M.E. of Bergen Township, was founded in the year 1850 and not 1870 as thought by the church elders during this time.  What was significant was that the elders of Mount Pisgah rightfully recognized the founding date of Bethel as the starting point of the history of the church.  

 

Although the church was not completed in the year 1952, they were able to entertain the New Jersey Annual Conference.  Some unplanned debts were incurred in order that the church might be completed by the 1954 Annual Conference.  These new debts, along with previous obligations, increased the financial responsibility of the congregation beyond what had originally been planned.

 

The Reverend Morris M. Ward was reassigned to Mount Pisgah on May 2, 1954.  Between May, 1954 and April, 1956, the church was involved in court litigation.

 

The Reverend Jesse Jerome Jackson, Sr., succeeded the Reverend Ward in April of 1956.  He immediately began gathering all available information as to the financial status of the church.  He proceeded to initiate and execute plans to avoid embarrassment to the church and the First Episcopal District.  By August of 1956, plans had been put into operation and sufficient funds were raised to settle the litigation out of court.  Following this achievement, the large stained-glass window in the front of the church was installed.  

 

The destiny of the church continued to unfold under the leadership of the Reverend Jackson, who stood as a silent reminder of what was yet to come.  The church and the new pews were dedicated on November 23, 1958, by the Right Reverend George W. Baber, the 63rd Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Presiding Prelate of the First Episcopal District.

 

In April of 1969, the Reverend Lawrence S. Odom, Sr., succeeded the Reverend Jackson.  Under his leadership a minibus was purchased, and the church was completely air-conditioned.   After the Reverend Odom’s trip to the Holy Land, the Presiding Elder of the New Brunswick District, the Reverend John Wesley Johnson, dedicated the Bethlehem Memorial Chapel on Sunday, April 9, 1972.

 

The Reverend Albert D. Tyson, Jr., succeeded the Reverend Odom in May of 1972 and the growth of Mount Pisgah continued under his leadership.  Many improvements were made to the church during his pastorate; the kitchen and the Nurse’s room were completely remodeled, new lighting, ceilings, mirrors, and other fixtures were installed.  A parking lot was also acquired.

 

A fire destroyed the parsonage in April of 1979 and a new 17-room parsonage, located on Broadman Parkway, was purchased that same year.

 

In the year 1978, Reverend Tyson had a vision of starting a school in Jersey City and in September of 1978, the Mount Pisgah School and Day Nursery became a reality, with its beginnings in the basement of the church.  In the year 1979, a building to house the school was purchased at 577 Bergen Avenue, in Jersey City. The Right Reverend Richard A. Hildebrand, the 88th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Presiding Prelate of the First Episcopal District, dedicated the building and the school on Saturday, December 8, 1979.

 

Mount Pisgah’s growth continued under the leadership of the Reverend William M. Campbell, who served from 1983 until 1991.  His ministerial leadership in the church, school, and community affairs was a part of his daily commitments.  He was a part of the music department and handled each one of his assignments excellently.  After his illness in late 1990 and until his demise, we were served by the Presiding Elder Charles Martin and Dr. John W.P. Collier, Jr. 

 

The Reverend Clarence B. Crawford was appointed to Mount Pisgah in March of 1991 and served as pastor for ten years until he was elevated to the position of Presiding Elder of the Camden-Trenton District of the New Jersey Annual Conference.  A gifted preacher and teacher, during the Reverend Crawford’s tenure the roof of the church building was replaced and the “A Capella” choir was formed.

 

The Reverend Reginald McRae was assigned to Mount Pisgah in April of 2001. Under his leadership: grant funds were received to expand the Ruth Missionary Society’s community food bank; the Daughters of the King’s leadership development ministry for women ages 21-45 was formed; the children’s segment during worship service and monthly Children’s Church was started; and other youth and adult ministries continue to flourish. 

 

In addition, the parking lot was surfaced, two new vans were purchased, the entire fellowship hall renovated - including the ladies’ and men’s bathroom, the parsonage was completely refurbished, and the church’s entrance steps were re-built.  A new sound system was also installed.  In September of 2011, the new Building Fund Committee was established. 

 

On Thursday, March 27, 2014, a meeting was held at Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church consisting of the Right Reverend Gregory G.M. Ingram, the 118th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Presiding Prelate of the First Episcopal District, the Reverend Howard L. Grant, the Presiding Elder of the Newark District, the Reverend Kenneth L. Saunders, New Jersey Conference Treasurer, the Reverend Julian Cooper, Local Elder and Supply Pastor of Saint John A.M.E. Church and the members of Saint John African Methodist Episcopal  Church which was founded in the year 1921, as a mission church.

 

Due to the condition of their building and the exorbitant cost to repair it along with other factors, it was decided that St. John’s should close.  A vote was taken and it was unanimously agreed upon by the members of the church that the closing of Saint John A.M.E. Church and the merger with Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church of Jersey City, New Jersey was the best alternative.  This recommendation was approved by the New Jersey Board of Trustees at the 142nd Annual Session of the New Jersey Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in April of 2014. 

On Sunday morning, June 29, 2014, the Mount Pisgah family welcomed the members of St. John’s as new members with Christian Love.  After the morning worship service, a luncheon was held for us in the dining area.  A great fellowship was had by all.  

 

On June 18, 2017 Bishop Gregory Ingram assigned the Reverend Dr. Stanley Hearst II to Mount Pisgah.  During Reverend Hearst’s tenure the Pastor’s office and business office were renovated, as well as the installation of the handicapped bathroom on the first floor. In his first two years as pastor, over 100 people joined the church.  He led with distinction during the COVID-1-9 pandemic, and the church partnered with the City’s Health Department to offer Covid 19 test sites and Mental Health Seminars and trainings.  The Church also began an Online Ministry to keep the services available during the Covid shutdown.

 

Under Rev. Hearst’s guidance and tutelage, six members were licensed to preach by the AME Church.

 

In November 2021, Bishop Julius McAllister appointed the Reverend Ritney A. Castine as the pastor of Mt. Pisgah. He immediately began the process of reopening the church after the COVID-19 pandemic and undertook a massive renovation and restoration project. Within the first year of his tenure, he led the church into a renovation of the church and fellowship hall, with the project’s costs in excess of $215,000. The improvements included an updated Fellowship Hall, a new roof, and much-needed repairs to the sanctuary. During his second year, the parking lots were resurfaced and  a multimedia center was installed in the church to better manage our church audio visual and livestream needs. 

 

Pastor Castine is building a great fellowship within the congregation by leading trips to worship in Washington DC and New Orleans LA, his home state. These trips, combined with a strong emphasis on community service, outreach, and evangelism has brought forth a fresh wind.  During his administration, the Ruth Missionary Society’s monthly Food Pantry continues to thrive, and a Bi-weekly Community meal, serving approximately 200 meals bi-weekly has been added to address the area’s pressing food insecurity crises.

With an emphasis on community engagement, Pastor Castine has elevated Mt. Pisgah's standing as a leader within the Jersey City Community.  Under his leadership, the church has facilitated convenings with elected officials and community leaders.  Additionally, he has been a key organizer in leading the community response to unjustified police shootings within Jersey City.  Pastor Castine has regularly contributed to the press regarding clean drinking water in schools, livable wages, affordable housing, and other issues that plague Jersey City.  

 

Now in our 173rd year of existence (92 years as Mount Pisgah), we find the church in a time of growth, yet filled with thanksgiving for the leadership over the years and a hope for continued strength and effective fellowship as we engage in the various ministries in God’s name.

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