History of Varick Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
Hackensack, New Jersey
There were persons of the black community of Hackensack, who having no church of their own, attended other churches, a place of worship was secured on Main and Mercer Streets where the Hackensack Trust Company is now located. This was known as the A Hackensack Meeting House.
Later on there was organized the A Olive Branch Mission by the New York Mission Society, an agency of the New York Conference of the A. M. E. Zion Church. On January 5, 1864, the present Atlantic Street property was secured and deeded to the A Olive Branch Colored Mission Number Three of Hackensack. On this property was placed the first church building. This building had been moved wholly by human efforts from the corner of Clay Street and Railroad Avenue and had its entrance on Atlantic Street. It is reported that this building was at first one of the units of the Hackensack Public School System, then a lime shed and then a community social hall. Before its demolition in November 1964, the building was approximately 140 years old. The church was incorporated as a religious society on December 7, 1866. John Cisco, James Carol and Benjamin Lee were the Trustees. The name of the pastor during this time is unknown.
On October 10, 1869 the corporate name, A Olive Branch Colored Mission Number Three of Hackensack , was changed to the A Union American Church of Hackensack. The Reverend Jesse Porter was the pastor. The trustees were: Jesse Porter, James Carroll, Lewis Armstead, Jacob Saxin, Thomas A. Tiebout, Samuel B. Porter and Michael Cizer.
Records show that the growth of the church was slow at first. In 1874, when the New Jersey Conference was organized in Red Bank, New Jersey there was reported a membership of only twenty-three and a Sunday School enrollment of only thirty-five.
On September 27, 1883 the name was changed to the A First A. M. E. Zion Church of Hackensack. The Reverend T. Tilghman was pastor and the trustees were: John White, Samuel B. Porter, John Demarest, John T. Tilghman and Thomas H. Thompson.
The name of the church was changed to it’s current name A Varick Memorial A. M. E. Zion Church on April 18, 1917. The pastor was Rev. I. B. Turner and the Trustees were: John R. Dillard, John Isaacs, William Floyd, Richard Augustus, Thomas B. James, Jessie H. Porter, John L. Lorrick, Bruce Templeton and James J. Love. The cornerstone was laid in 1918.
By 1919, however, the congregation had outgrown the old parish. Under the leadership of Reverend J. D. Virgil the edifice was moved back on the lot and the present sanctuary was erected in its place at a cost of approximately $25,000.00. Various clubs such as: the Helping Hand and the Morningstar were organized for the purpose of raising money to defray the cost of the building. In addition the Sunday School enrollment had grown to approximately one hundred. Varick Memorial continued its sense of mission and in 1931 the Steward Board was established under Reverend J. M. Hoggard.
In 1944, under the dynamic leadership of Reverend C. M. Kirkpatrick, the total indebtedness of the present church sanctuary was eliminated and the 80th birthday of the church was celebrated. In 1947 two women were appointed to the Trustee Board. Mrs. Addie Turner who served for one year and Mrs. Mattie Bowman who served until her death in 1971. In addition to these accomplishments, Reverend C.M. Kirkpatrick and the growing congregation began to envision expanded facilities.
The Reverend George Lincoln Blackwell came to Varick Memorial in 1954. By 1960 Eighty-nine souls had been added to the church. The total membership by 1964, the 100th birthday of the church was 370. The Varick Memorial experience was immeasurably enriched through Confirmation classes for children over eleven years old. The expansion of the church program included the establishment of a Boy Scout Troop headed by Wayman Smith, Jr. and Nathan Briggs. Concern for the availability of resources within the Hackensack community was manifested by the church efforts to integrate the Y. M. C. A. and a more equitable distribution of Community Chest funds for the benefit of the black community.
With the expansion of programs additional space was needed and this culminated in the erection of the new Fellowship Hall and Educational Building which was dedicated on May 8, 1966.
In 1966 Reverend Blackwell was elected to the office of General Secretary of the Department of Christian Education of the A. M. E. Zion Church. Then Reverend Mack Brandon, Jr. came to Varick Memorial from the Fifth Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church in Troy, New York.
Under the dynamic leadership of Reverend Brandon, continued progress was made through the acquisition of additional property, and the extensive renovation of the sanctuary, conference room, and fellowship hall. A major portion of this work was done by the Varick Memorial Men’s Club. In the midst of this work, in March of 1974, the church was saddened by the passing of the Reverend Mack Brandon, Jr., whose work extended throughout the community in service to others – the helping hand to those who were in need.
June 16, 1974 marked the arrival of the Reverend James David Armstrong, Jr. our present pastor who came from Hopkins Chapel, A. M. E. Zion Church, Asheville, North Carolina. Rev. Armstrong set out to complete the renovation started by Rev. Mack Brandon, Jr. The first phase of the renovation was completed and dedicated on December 15, 1975. A bronze plague was placed in the sanctuary inscribed with the words IN MEMORIAM to Mack Brandon, Jr., former pastor Varick Memorial A. M. E. Zion Church, whose devoted service and untiring leadership culminated in the renovation of the sanctuary presented December 15, 1974 A In this place he loved to serve. Reverend Armstrong has sought to enhance the life and activity of church affaires through the establishment of new organizations such as: The Courtesy Committee, Pastor’s Aid, The Family Life Council, Membership Preparation Classes, Men’s Day, Women’s Day, The Mack Brandon, Jr., Memorial Scholarship Fund, Weekly Bible Classes, the re-establishment of the Boy Scout program and a continuation of further phases of the renovation program.
Rev. Armstrong has sought to broaden, expand, and intensify existing programs for the purpose of enriching the spiritual life within the Varick Memorial Church community. In addition , Varick Memorial always keep a watchful eye in order to discern those opportunities to present Christ to the Hackensack community in fulfillment of its mission. The securing of additional properties on the west side of the church in order to expand with the growing needs of the membership. I 1983 the formation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior Citizen Program and Outreach Program was borne out of an idea of the wife of the pastor, Mrs. Marion Morris Armstrong. The center is growing and filling the needs of the membership and families of the community.
The Reverend Andrew Mackey, Jr., 31rd pastor of the church has provided strong spiritual leadership to the church. This leadership is greatly evident in the vitality of the church, in the spirit filled services, the variety of church music, the youth programs and the community outreach programs. The membership of Varick Memorial shared another turn in its history as Mrs. Kathryn E. Workman, the first female was appointed Trustee Board Chairman by Rev. Andrew Mackey. Jr. The 125th anniversary was celebrated on Sunday, November 19, 1989. Because of its history and commitment to service, during the 125th Anniversary celebration Varick Memorial was placed in the Bergen County Historical Society. Varick Memorial A. M. E. Zion Church for the last 125 years A has provided many meaningful experiences for its members, a fellowship deeply imbued in reality with a strong emphasis on Christian Education. It has provided the place and climate for wholesome and purposeful communion among the people of God. It has inspired many citizens who have been in the forefront of our community life, the A. M. E. Zion Church and the nation. needless to say these persons were not only inspired, they also inspired us. This helped to make the Varick Memorial experience a real dynamic and stimulating experience. The church is proud of its 485 parishioners who come from Bergen, Essex, Middlesex and Passaic counties.
The Rev. John Wesley Smith, D. D. came to Varick Memorial A. M. E. Zion Church September 3, 1992. Bringing his first message to a waiting congregation on Sunday, September 6, 1992. Varick Memorial witnessed a new vision, and a growing inner strength under Rev. Smith’s leadership. Varick Memorial is experiencing new horizons in service and to God. In the spiritual life of the church eight members were re-instated and sixteen new members joined Varick Memorial Church. Air condition was installed in the fellowship hall and the church offices. New avenues are being explored to enhance the fellowship of Varick Memorial Church. In February, 1996 a very difficult winter and the years of wear and tear on the heating system caused the purchasing of a new unit to heat the entire edifice. The membership again put their efforts and resources together in making it possible to purchase a new heating system at a cost of $18,000.00. Within six weeks a new unit was purchased and installed. Again the church was saddened by the passing of its pastor Rev. John Wesley Smith, D.D. on Monday, November 24, 1997. Bishop Marshall H. Strickland served as interim pastor from November 30, 1997 through December 31, 1997.
The Rev. George W. Maize IV, was given the awesome task of pastoring a church known for its dedication and perseverance to the denomination as well as the community since its organization in 1864. In the history of Varick Memorial Church he is the youngest to pastor but, without reservation he accepted the appointment and came to administrate and shepherd the parishioners preaching his initial sermon on Sunday, January 4, 1998. The growth and new awakening has taken Varick Memorial to new heights and the membership has seen much growth in many areas including youth and young adult members renewing memberships and others joining. The formation of the Victory Mass Choir, initiating a A Live Recording on September 26 – 27, 1998, and weekly Bible Study. Revamping of the Sunday School and Christian Education Department. His first year as pastor saw 66 members become a part of the Varick Memorial family. The church office and pastor’s study saw a great face lift. A tower of strength and with much restructuring Varick Memorial has begun a NEW LIFE. On Easter Sunday Morning 1999 a young man name Alexander Colquhoun rode a pony through the sanctuary depicting Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on that glorious Easter Sunday. During the month of June 1999 the curtains on the stage in the fellowship hall was replaced at a cost of over $3,000.00. As another year unfold the Rev. George W. Maize IV formed Varick Memorial’s First musical band the A James Powell Musical Ensemble The church was reorganized on Tuesday June 22, 1999. The second time in the history of Varick Memorial church a female, Sister Carmen D. Brown was appointed as Trustee Board chairman. On Saturday July 24, 1999 Rev. George W. Maize IV, informed the congregation at the 10 AM worship service that he had accepted an appointment to the pulpit of First A. M. E. Zion Church, Los Angeles, Cal. Total of 92 members added to the roll during his pastorate. The interim pastor appointed to serve at this time is Rev. Lawton Nelson, Jr., Presiding Elder of the Camden District, New Jersey Annual Conference, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. He served from July 31, 1999 – August 29, 1999.
On September 4, 1999 Rev. Edward B. Saxon was appointed to Varick Memorial and preached his initial sermon on Sunday, September 5, 1999. Rev. Saxon along with his wife Sophia Saxon produced 2 plays that were written and director by Sophia. These plays were well received and brought audiences from all over. On June 19th, 2005, Rev. Saxon preached his final sermon at Varick Memorial and relocated to Georgia.
On June 26, 2005 the an interim pastor was appointed to serve at this time name of Rev. Louis M. Richardson, former Presiding Elder of the Jersey City District, New Jersey Annual Conference, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Rev. Richardson oversaw the restoration of the church properties and parsonage and on May 18, 2006 was appointed to the church for the 2007 – 2008 conference year. He served from June 26, 2005 – June 29, 2008.
Rev. Theodore Calhoun, Sr. accepted the call and was appointed the awesome task to take Varick Memorial to the next level in ministry. On July 6, 2008 Pastor Calhoun preached his initial sermon. During Rev. Calhoun’s tenure, the sanctuary and the exterior of the church and the house were given a facelift and the spirit of the church was raised to new heights. Rev. Calhoun preached his last sermon at Varick Memorial and baptized 8 children on January 15, 2012.
Rev. George W. Maize III as part of his official duties as Presiding Elder for the Jersey City District, Rev. Maize preached his first sermon on January 22, 2012, after being was assigned to Varick Memorial by Bishop Hunter Rev. Maize continued to bring the word and continued the work that Rev. Calhoun started. On May 20, 2012, during the 138th session of the New Jersey Annual Conference, Rev. Maize was appointed to Varick Memorial.
Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller, a dynamic preacher and leader, accepted the call to shepherd the Varick Memorial congregation on preach her first sermon on January 26, 2013. As a progressive leader her arrive brought new life to the congregation and introduced the church to its current faith based initiative. With the spirit running high and having faith the fellowship hall was remodeled and dedicated to the “Bishop Enoch B. Rochester Fellowship”, the mortgage for the parsonage was paid off and work has begun on renovating the old parsonage, all without having a fundraiser or asking for pledges. Varick Memorial continues to “Live By Faith by Seeking God first”.
The church pays everlasting tribute to the following clergyman who accepted the call to serve as spiritual leaders of this congregation: J. Porter. 1869-73; I. A. Wright, 1873-79; J.C. Dawsey. 1879-83; J.T. Tilghman, 1883-86; A.D. Coles, 1886-88; J. Butler, 1888-92; J. Saunders, 1892-94; J.C. Savage, 1894-95; J. C. Nichols, 1895-96; A.D. Cephas, 1896-97; S.O. Harper, 1897-1900; J.C. Corruthers, 1900-02; J.D. Mead, 1902-05; J.H. Batchler, 1905-08; A.R. Jackson, 1908-11; C.H. Brown, 1911-13; J.H. White, 1913-15; I.B. Walter, one month; I.B. Turner, 1915-18; J.D. Virgil, 1918-21; A.K. Wakefield, 1921-28; J.E. Ferris, 1928-31; J.M. Hoggard, 1931-34; S.H. Williams, 1934-37; C.M. Kirkpatrick, 1937-52; R.L. Drew, 1952-54; G.L. Blackwell, 1954-66; M. Brandon, Jr., 1966-74; J.D. Armstrong, 1974-85; A. Mackey, Jr., 1985-92; John W. Smith 1992-1997; Rev. George W. Maize IV, 1998 – 1999; Rev. Edward B. Saxon, 1999 – 2005; Rev. Louis M. Richardson 2005-2008; Rev. Theodore Calhoun, Sr. 2008-January 15,2012; Rev. Dr. George W. Maize III, interim pastor January 16, 2012- May 19, 2012; Rev. Dr. George W. Maize III, pastor May 20, 2012 – January 19,2013; Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller January 20, 2013 – Present