In obedience to Matthew 28:19-20, Elder William Royster, his wife, and children, and several others left Trinity Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church in Newark, New Jersey, to spread the gospel in the central part of the state. They identified New Brunswick, New Jersey as the ideal spot to plant a church. This city had a sizeable African-American population but no black Seventh-day Adventist Church. Under the leadership of Elder Meade Van Putten, then President of the Allegheny East Conference, they secured a building on Cook Campus at Rutgers University to hold nightly evangelistic meetings. Several members, including Elder Harvey Drayton, Elder Beverley Brown and Sister Patricia Brown, Elder King, the Thorne family, the Drisdon family, Sister Dorham’s family and Sister Jacqueline Pierce’s family assisted in the distribution of flyers and in the invitation of people to the meetings. Pastor Clifton Davis (star of the television shows AMEN, That’s My Mama and many more) was brought onboard as the evangelist for the crusade. He was assisted by Pastor Errol Stoddard, now pastor of the Church of The Oranges, Collie Walker (musician), a Bible worker and several volunteers. Out of this endeavor, several souls were baptized and thus University Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church was officially formed in 1984. In addition to preaching the Seventh-day Adventist message in the New Brunswick area, the primary focus was to reach out to the Rutgers University student population. From its very beginning, University Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church had as its mission and goal the reaching of college students in the area.
The first church service after the crusade ended was held at 25 Division Street – not far from the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. Pastor Brian Carter was the first Pastor for this newly formed church and Elder William Royster was the First Elder. Few in number but vibrant in spirit, this group met every Sabbath to worship God. As more people joined the church, mostly through the transfer of membership and others as new converts, the church grew in strength. Pastor Hildebrand, pastor of the Mount Zion A.M.E Church, from whom we rented at 25 Division Street in New Brunswick, NJ, offered to sell the building to the Seventh-day Adventist community. However, based on our small numbers and limited financial resources, the church, at that time, decided not to pursue that offer. After frantically searching for a place to rent, the church secured a rental space at the YMCA on Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick. By this time, more and more Rutgers University students were coming to the church. Most of them were baptized members from their home states, cities and other countries. As the old adage says “young people attract other young people,” they came with their friends. Word quickly spread and other black Seventh-day Adventist students from Princeton University, joined as well. During the next phase of the church, Pastor Augustus O’Giste, who became the pastor at Metropolitan Seventh-day Adventist Church, also became the Pastor for University Heights S.D.A Church. His tenure was marked by additional souls being added to the church. The church’s structure and culture was beginning to take shape and though small, we were known for having the most vibrant Sabbath School lesson study in the area. This was attributed to the many young university students we had and the hot discussions that took place. The presence of so many university students compelled the church to provide fellowship meals every Sabbath.
With our sister church - Metropolitan S.D.A Church in Plainfield, NJ experiencing rapid growth and demanding more of Pastor O’Giste’s attention, we were served by two successive, interim pastors. They were Pastor Michael Blount (Elder Drayton’s son-in-law) and Pastor Braithwaite. This continued for a short time period until Pastor Frank Legette became our new pastor. His youth and vibrancy allowed us to attract more Rutgers University students and the young people attended many Youth Federation Events. Under his leadership, this new body of believers continued to grow as more members came in. Please note that small as the church was, we had an active pathfinders club and a great music group formed primarily by young people. Following pastor Legette’s departure, pastors Jolly, Lord and Phipps led the church and with the help of Pastor Cartwright (Conference Evangelist) additional souls were added to the church. It was during this time that the church members felt that it was time to purchase their own building and this happened under the leadership of Pastor Bruce Banner, who had now become our new pastor. An empty warehouse building on Ward Street in New Brunswick was bought to serve as our new place of worship. The area at Ward Street, although predominately African American at the time of purchase was fast becoming a Hispanic speaking area and with the challenge of culture and language, the church soon realized that it would be more effective in ministry in another area. Since the initial goal was to establish a church in New Brunswick, our efforts for a new building were strictly confined to the New Brunswick area. However, as the city developed and new businesses came into the area, the YMCA was bought out by a banking group which meant that we had to look for another place of worship. The bible verse that says “God will never leave you nor forsake you” became so true when beyond our wildest dream; God gave us the Ascension Evangelical Lutheran Church at 247 Somerset Street as our new home. This is the place where we spent the last 25 years of our journey. This new place would initially also allow us to have lunch in the basement – a benefit that served our congregation well. Pastor Banner also got the church involved in the conference-wide sporting activities including track and field, much to the delight of the young people in the church.
Thankful as we were for this new place, our members continued to cherish the dream of owning their own building and faithfully made the payments on the property at Ward Street while also paying rent at 247 Somerset Street. With the arrival of Pastor Robert Lively and the realization that our finances were being drained by the rent and property payments, a decision was made to look for potential buyers of the property and the desire of moving somewhere else intensified. It was because of this that a strategic decision was made to expand our search beyond New Brunswick and into Franklin Township. With the arrival of pastor William Linthicum, the search for a new building took on a greater sense of urgency. Every Sunday the church board members went out to look at available properties. Again, with the help and guidance of the Lord, Nastus Brothers Inc. Heating Services which was across our old property in New Brunswick offered to buy our building. This infusion of cash inspired everybody in the church to look for a new building and Pastor Linthicum made the searching for a building his personal burden and got us the building on 37 Matilda Avenue in Franklin Township, Somerset for consideration. What would follow was a long and protracted journey of converting a night club into a place of worship. The first challenge was to apply and gain a change of usage with the city of Franklin Township. Secondly, the search for bonded, insured and licensed African-American engineers and architects was no small feat to say the least. We had a limited budget and thus had to be a very careful on how much we were willing to spend up front on these needed services. I can recall countless meetings that were scheduled by the township board and that had to be attended and Pastor Linthicum made himself available for every meeting. In spite of all these challenges, God saw us through this difficult phase and the church of God prevailed. Therefore, now when we sing the song “We’ve Come This Far By Faith” it is with a special meaning, considering what we went through. As is always the case, Satan attacks us most directly when we are most determined to work for the Lord. Pastor Linthicum’s active service at our church was cut short due to ill-health which forced him to retire. One of the proudest moments of this church was when the whole church rallied for a memorable farewell function for Pastor Linthicum. Following his departure, we were blessed to have Dr. Ronald Hill as our new Pastor. His main contribution to the church was his emphasis on faithful stewardship. In the meantime all the necessary steps were being taken to obtain all the necessary approvals and permits to start renovations to the building. After a very short stint at University Heights, Pastor Hill was succeeded by Pastor Gregory Nelson. Young, energetic and a great preacher in the order of “John the Baptist” the church experienced a burst in membership growth. Facing a seemingly insurmountable burden of debt and financial challenges, the church took the unprecedented decision to sell the property. God, who knows the end from the beginning, however willed it otherwise and at the arrival of Pastor Carl Brewer, as our new pastor, there was an infusion of a new spirit of church ownership at University Heights Church. I remember Pastor Brewer’s promise that he can help us get $90,000 from the conference and the collective sigh of relief that came over the church board and the church at large later. With the fulfilment of this promise, the church caught a new vision and a new can-do attitude that owning our own church is possible. University Heights Church has always been characterized by genuine brotherly love, sincere prayer, simplicity, and a deep commitment to Christian values. Most people who decide to join our church don’t come because we have the greatest music, nor do they come because we have the greatest preachers. They come (they tell us ) because they feel welcomed and they enjoy the genuine Christian fellowship.
In conclusion, on this our 35th year of existence and for the last two years, we have been led by Dr. Orlando Moncrieffe. His great organizational skills and talents are just what is needed for this time. So therefore, as we look back and remember from where the Lord has brought us, as we remember all the pastors before pastor Moncrieffe, and the contributions that each one of them made to this church, we are quickly reminded that he, like all other pastors before him, are charged with the sacred responsibility of safeguarding this flock. On him is placed the solemn responsibility of marshalling the resources and capabilities of this church to spread the three angels’ messages to every man, woman, boy and girl living in this community. We as a church are forever greatful for every pastor’s contribution. We thank God that you accepted the call to come our way and we hope that you also benefited from coming to us. It is therefore with this confidence in God’s leading in our past that we as members of University Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church face the future. We know that the end is near and that the coming of our Lord is at hand. We stand here today unshaken, undaunted and unafraid of the future - knowing that the same God that led Moses, Joshua and the children of Israel, will lead us too until the end. We thank God for allowing us to witness this day and be part of this event and therefore with deeply humbled hearts we join in the singing of that inspiring song, “Lead On, O King Eternal.”