From its origin in 1826 until 1829 members held their services in various homes. In 1829, thirty or more families of “free persons of color” procured a site on Central Avenue and erected a building for public worship.
The Beginning – 1850
According to conference records, Ebenezer had its beginnings in Rahway in 1826, having been incorporated on December 25, 1826. The name of the church was African Methodist Episcopal Ebenezer Church of Rahway (although some have said it was once called “Bethel,”) and it was the first church organized by persons of color in the City of Rahway, NJ and the first AME Church in Union County, NJ. Having been established in 1826 (only 10 years after the AME Church was established), Ebenezer has the distinction of being among the first AME churches organized in the world.
From its origin in 1826 until 1829 members held their services in various homes. In 1829, thirty or more families of “free persons of color” procured a site on the banks of the Robinson Branch of the Rahway River, on Central Avenue, and erected a building for public worship. Signers of the deed were Samuel Edgar, Anthony Jamison and, Jacob Moore, who signed their names with an “X” on the signature lines because they were unable to print their names.
No record of pastoral appointments and records during the first 10 years can be found, but conference records indicate that Ebenezer was a part of the Trenton Circuit (Morristown, Rahway, Trenton, Pennington, Freehold, Manalapan and New Brunswick) for several years and supplied by circuit riders.
The New York Annual Conference minutes of June 15, 1839, reported trouble at Ebenezer, stating “There was some trouble at Rahway, N. J., factions having arisen, and the church there had been taken possession of by one body under the name and title of African Methodist Episcopal Church. This called forth a resolution “to assist our brethren at Rahway with all the means in our power to bring those intruders to justice.” On April 10, 1841, The New York Annual Conference minutes reveal that the trouble of 1839 had yet to go away, stating “It seems that the Rahway Church was still in pecuniary embarrassment, and in order that it might be extricated, a committee was appointed for the purpose, which was to act in conjunction with a Philadelphia committee.” In spite of having reported thirty scholars and six teachers in its one Sunday-school, and sixty members in its one temperance society when the New York Annual Conference reconvened in 1842, it was again recorded in the May 21, 1842 minutes that “The Rahway church appears again to have been in an embarrassed condition, and a collection was recommended to be taken up for its relief.”
In 1872, the AME Church saw rapid growth in the state of New Jersey and Ebenezer along with other New Jersey AME Church was annexed from the New York Annual Conference and put into the newly formed New Jersey Annual Conference.
By 1882, Ebenezer showed signs of progress and according to the 1882 Clyclopedia of African Methodism by Alexander W. Wayman, it was reported that “she [Ebenezer] has come along through deep waters. Several attempts were made to take her out of the connection. She was finally sold and another lot was bought, and a new church built, which is now doing well.
In 1887, Reverend Joseph W. Ross, began building a church. Soon after, Reverend Jordan C.H. Christmas, who served the congregation from 1896 – 1898, purchased the property at 251 Central Ave for use as a parsonage. The church building started under Rev. Ross, was finished under Rev. Henry Hammond Pinkney in 1889.
Under the leadership of Reverend Alexander W. Pierce (1903-1904), the mortgage on the church started under Rev. J. W. Ross was paid in full.
In 1913, under the pastorate of Reverend J. Francis Vanderhorst the mortgage on the parsonage was burned. When Rev. Vanderhorst returned to Ebenezer during his second pastoral appointment (1917-1920) a vestibule was added to the church building.
In 1921, Reverend John W .P. Collier, Sr., was appointed as Pastor and in 1922 Thomas King, Jerry Pitts, John Gibson, August Gibson, William Hammond, Samuel Edgar and Roy Osborne were made Trustees, while Christopher Aaron and James Parker were made honorary Trustees. Under Reverend Collier’s leadership an extension was added to the rear of the Church in 1923. Later that same year a Pipe Organ was installed which was dedicated on October 20, 1923. In 1944 renovations continued under Rev. Collier and sanctuary lights were donated by Mr. Clifford Moorhead.
In 1947, after 26 years of service and having lost his sight to glaucoma, Reverend Collier retired. Following the retirement of Rev. Collier, Reverend Henry A. Hildebrand was appointed in 1947. In March of 1948, soon after his appointment, Ebenezer was extensively damaged by fire. Members accepted the kind offer from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and worshipped in their parish hall until the church was ready for service again. The cornerstone for the rebuilt edifice was laid on the last Sunday in September of 1949.
In May of 1950 Rev. Hildebrand was moved and Reverend Wright and Reverend Frazier supplied the pulpit until Reverend Ruffin N. Noisette was appointed in September of 1950.
Revered Lonnie P Herring was appointed pastor in October, 1951 and served until 1956 when Reverend Adultus. E. Jordan was appointed. Reverend Jesse E Owens assumed the pastorate in 1958. Under his leadership stained glass windows were placed in the church. Rev. Owens served until December of 1970 when Reverend Charles E. Martin was transferred from the Bermuda Conference to Ebenezer. Realizing that the Central Avenue parsonage was no longer adequate, under Reverend Martin, the church purchased a home on Lawrence Street in Rahway to serve as the new parsonage and the old parsonage on Central Avenue was razed in March 1974.
Reverend Rudolph P Gibbs, Sr., was appointed pastor of Ebenezer on September 14, 1975. Under his leadership in March of 1976 a new ceiling was installed and new lights were placed in the sanctuary. Additionally, the mortgage on the parsonage was burned. At a Church Conference in August of 1988, it was recommended by the Official Board and voted upon by the congregation that a completely new church structure be built from the ground up on the present Central Ave site. Six years later (1994) the old Church was razed by the Peter Juzefyk Excavating Co.,Inc. In 1994, the members of Ebenezer worshiped at the Rahway Sr. Citizens Building on Esterbrook Avenue before moving their worship services to the J.F. K. Community Center on Hazelwood Avenue in 1995.
In July of 1995 a bid from Bjork Building, Ltd. was accepted by the Church Conference and construction on the new edifice begun. The congregation was blessed to be able to use the Community Center for the duration of the building process. On June 8, 1997, Ebenezer marched into its new (present) edifice.
In 2007 after 32 years of service, Rev. Gibbs retired from the pastorate and The Reverend Dr. Louis P. Attles was appointed Pastor. On June 17, 2011. Rev. Attles served the congregation until June of 2011 when The Right Reverend Richard Franklin Norris, appointed Reverend Dr. Erika D. Crawford, Pastor of Ebenezer. After 185 years of rich history, Rev. Crawford, became the first woman to serve in the Pastoral position at Ebenezer. Under Rev. Crawford’s leadership Ebenezer purchased 259 Central Ave for parking lot expansion, purchased 261 Central known as the former Rahway School for Colored Children, adopted and funded the building of Ebenezer AME Church in Lirangwe, Malawi, Africa (20th District) and prematurely liquidated the $1.3 million mortgage on the church. In February 2018, Bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram appointed our new Pastor, Rev. Marti Robinson, Esq., M.Div., to lead our historical church forward to higher heights and deeper depths in Kingdom Building in the city of Rahway and beyond.
Sons and Daughters of Ebenezer AME Church that went on to Pastor and serve in leadership positions in The African Methodist Episcopal Church include: Rev. Dr. John W.P. Collier, Jr., (former director of AME Missions), Rev. Dr. Calvin Sydnor (Editor of the Christian Recorder), Col. David Brown (U.S. Naval Chaplain) and Rev. Dr. Danielle L. Hunter, Pastor of Bethel AME Church, Asbury Park, NJ.