In 1860, three years before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a group consisting of at least 6 free Blacks came together in Elizabeth, NJ to establish Mt. Teman African Methodist Episcopal Church. The six founders included five men and one woman. The five men were Francis Cisco, Henry Jackson, George Sims, Fletcher Williams, and Henry Wood; and Sarah Cook Jackson was the only woman. On November 10, 1884, two of these founders, Fletcher Williams and Henry Wood would sign the church’s certificate of incorporation. And Rev. A.C. Crippen became Mt. Teman’s first pastor.
The church was originally located on Washington Avenue, where St. Mary’s of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church currently stands. Mt. Teman has had three other worship sites. After worshipping on Washington Avenue, the church held services in a public hall on Elizabeth Avenue before the church purchased a church building located at 16-18 Union Street. This edifice would be its permanent home until Easter Sunday 1967. On that historic Sunday, the church opened its doors at its current location, 160 Madison Avenue.
During its first seventy years of existence, the church endured many struggles. However, in 1937 with the appointment of Rev. S.B. Nelson, many improvements took place. The church was completely remodeled. The building was elevated and widened, the sanctuary redecorated, new stained glass windows installed, and the exterior was brick-faced. Rev. Nelson was a visionary and the property where the current church sits was also purchased. Most importantly, under the leadership of Rev. Nelson, the membership increased significantly and Mt. Teman established itself as leading house of worship in Elizabeth.
As an established institution that was expanding its reach, Mt. Teman was poised for greater growth. However, as a result of Rev. Nelson’s sudden death in 1946, Mt. Teman found itself pondering its next steps. However, with the appointment of Rev. George A. Mitchell, the church retained its momentum, as Rev. Mitchell adopted the slogan, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and executed a strategy that completed the work started by Rev. Nelson. Under Rev. Mitchell’s leadership, the downstairs auditorium was completed, which resulted in the fulfillment of Rev. Nelson’s vision to transform a space dug in 1910 by members in their spare time, into a fully functioning space for a growing congregation. The church also purchased a Hammond organ during Rev. Mitchell’s pastorate to complement its burgeoning music ministry.
In 1953, Rev. Walter Wayman Clark succeeded Rev. Mitchell. Rev. Clark looked at the increasing membership, which doubled under Rev. Mitchell, and recognized the congregation had outgrown its current space. This recognition coupled with Rev. Clark’s vision for a larger and more modern facility led Rev. Clark to establish a Building Fund and develop plans for a new church and modern facilities to serve the congregation and community. In pursuit of ensuring the “vision became a reality,” the church located and acquired property on Madison Avenue, the site of the current church.
In 1965, Rev. Lasalle Marshall Watts was appointed pastor of Mt. Teman, and he immediately began pursuit of achieving the vision of a new and “greater” Mt. Teman. With his charismatic leadership and the extraordinary fundraising skills of the women of the church, the money needed to begin construction of the new church was in the bank by May 1966. Construction began in early September 1966 and on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967, Rev. Watts and Bishop John D. Bright, the Presiding Prelate of the First Episcopal District, led a procession from the old Mt. Teman to the new Mt. Teman. The following year, 1968, Mt. Teman hosted its first New Jersey Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1972, Rev. Millard D. Birt was appointed as pastor of Mt. Teman. And upon his appointment, he established the following primary goals: establish Mt. Teman as one of the leading AME churches in New Jersey and liquidation of the church’s mortgage. And as a result of the church enthusiastically committing to the accomplishment of the aforementioned goals, Mt. Teman distinguished itself as a leading church. This led to Mt. Teman being selected the host of the New Jersey Annual Conference in 1974 and 1981.
Building on the church’s success and the efficient fundraising efforts of the congregation, the church’s mortgage was liquidated in April 1980 and a Mortgage Burning Service was held on May 24, 1980. With the debt of the mortgage removed, the church then purchased a beautiful new parsonage in the Westminster section of Elizabeth.
Over the succeeding years and under the pastorates of Reverends Winton Hill and Donald Luster, the church expanded its service to the community via the establishment of a Soup Kitchen, Emergency Food Pantry, Clothing Ministry and other outreach ministries.
In 1995, the late Rev. Jesse J. Jackson assumed leadership of Mt. Teman and his work led to the liquidation of the parsonage’s mortgage. When this mortgage was burned in 1998, Mt. Teman was debt free.
In April 2001, Rev. Dr. Larry E. Dixon was appointed to lead Mt. Teman. Under Rev. Dixon’s leadership and during his pastorate, his vision for Mt. Teman to climb to new heights by deepening its spiritual relationship with God and by expanding its commitment to serving the whole person became a reality. This was achieved by ministering to the whole person and continuing the outreach ministries of his predecessors, as well as adding new initiatives and ministries, including an annual community tent service, financial literacy and HIV/AIDS programs, and voting rights seminars. Equally important, with an eye toward the future, Rev. Dixon established the Mt. Teman Endowment Fund.
Following Rev. Dixon’s appointment as the presiding elder of the Atlantic City District of the New Jersey Annual Conference, Rev. Carlton Gibson was appointed pastor of Mt. Teman in 2013. And during his two years as pastor, he established initiatives to position the church for further growth and service to the community. A community that recognizes Mt. Teman as being “the church of the community or the people’s church.”
Operating in the tradition of the Black church being the leading institution in the Black community, Mt. Teman has always distinguished itself as an institution where religious, social and political activities existed side by side. During the 1960s, Mt. Teman played a pivotal role in Elizabeth’s Civil Rights campaigns, especially as a meeting center for most of the community’s meetings. In 1978, the church played a major role in the election of Elizabeth’s first Black councilman, Gil Chapman. Seven years later in 1985, members of Mt. Teman called members from Elizabeth’s other Black churches together and formed the Martin Luther King, Jr., Commemorative Committee of Elizabeth. The following year, January 20, 1986, Mt. Teman hosted Elizabeth’s Inaugural Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration. Today, Mt. Teman continues to be the committee’s home.
In addition to the aforementioned, the Elizabeth contingent to the historic 1995 Million Man March was organized at Mt. Teman. Mt. Teman has also served as the meeting place for the Urban League of Union County Guild. And on June 16, 2010, Mt. Teman hosted the 2010 Elizabeth Juneteenth Celebration.
For 155 years, God has blessed Mt. Teman African Methodist Episcopal Church and the church has stood at the very center of life in Elizabeth’s African American community. And our current pastor, Rev. George E. Britt and the people of Mt. Teman look forward to the continuation of this remarkable and spirit led journey.