Stone Hill Church of Princeton

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Stone Hill Church
Stone Hill Church of Princeton
A picture of Stone Hill Church
A map of Mercer County, NJ
A map of Mercer County, NJ
Stone Hill Church
Stone Hill Church on a map of Mercer County, NJ
40°23′1.6″N 74°38′51.1″W / 40.383778°N 74.647528°W / 40.383778; -74.647528Coordinates: 40°23′1.6″N 74°38′51.1″W / 40.383778°N 74.647528°W / 40.383778; -74.647528
LocationPrinceton, New Jersey
CountryUnited States
DenominationNondenominational
ChurchmanshipEvangelical
Weekly attendance600
Websitestonehillprinceton.org
History
Former name(s)Westerly Road Church
Founder(s)Helen, Dorothy, and W. Butler Harris
DedicatedNovember 25, 1956 (Westerly), March 9, 2014 (Stone Hill)
Associated peopleElmer William Engstrom, John Frame, Donald B. Fullerton
Clergy
Senior pastor(s)Matthew P. Ristuccia
Stone Hill Church of Princeton Logo.png

Stone Hill Church of Princeton is a gospel-centered, nondenominational church[1] in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The church was founded in 1956 as Westerly Road Church at the intersection of Westerly and Wilson Roads. In 2013 it constructed a new facility and relocated to 1025 Bunn Drive and changed its name to Stone Hill Church of Princeton. The Rev. Dr. Matthew P. Ristuccia, a member of the Princeton University class of 1975, has served as senior pastor since 1985.

History[edit]

Founding[edit]

Westerly Road Church

Westerly Road Church was founded at the initiative of two sisters, Helen and Dorothy Harris, with the support of their brother W. Butler Harris, on land along Westerly Road which they donated to the church.[2] The Harris siblings were the children of noted Princeton Professor Walter Butler Harris,[3] and grandchildren of the Rev. William Harris, a treasurer of Princeton University.[4] The Harris siblings, along with many of the early members of Westerly Road, including Elmer Engstrom,[5] were previously communicants of First Presbyterian Church but were dissatisfied with its theological direction under the Rev. Dr. John R. Bodo.[6] Their intention was to have a church where Biblical teaching and missionary activity were emphasized. The original structure cost $30,000, raised by the 22 charter members,[7] and was bought pre-fabricated from U.S. Steel Homes Inc. The sanctuary arrived via train at the Princeton Junction Train Station and was trucked to the site at Westerly and Wilson Roads on the border of the former Princeton Borough and Princeton Township.[8] At the time of construction, the roads were not yet put through and there was no opposition to the church's request for a zoning variance to allow for a religious use in a residential zone. The Harris siblings arranged to call the Rev. Edward H. Morgan of Roanoke, VA, their cousin, as the first pastor, a position which he would hold until his retirement in 1980. The parsonage was built at 25 Westerly Road, which would later serve as the church offices until the relocation to 1025 Bunn Drive. The first services were held on November 25, 1956 with 100 in attendance at the morning service and 30 at the evening.[9]

The Morgan and Bawden Pastorates[edit]

The Rev. Ed Morgan, founding pastor of Westerly Road Church.

The Rev. Morgan was educated at Hotchkiss, a member of the Princeton University class of 1938, and a 1942 graduate of the Princeton Theological Seminary.[10] He was a member of one of Princeton's oldest families of ministers, including a great-uncle, William Henry Green, who spent fifty years as a professor of Princeton Seminary.[11] The Rev. Morgan had already been serving as the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Philadelphia when he experienced what he described as his true conversion to the Christian faith, a conversion which ultimately led to him accepting the call to be founding pastor of Westerly Road.[12]

The number of children in the congregation grew rapidly, with the Sunday school including 85 children within two years of the congregation's founding. This led to the addition of seven classrooms and an assembly hall in the spring of 1959,[13] and another ten room addition in time for the church's tenth anniversary in 1966.[14] The young congregation was one of the first in Princeton to offer Vacation Bible School with attendance nearing 100 children by the summer of 1962.[15] The church was also an early supporter of dedicated youth ministry, including supporting a Princeton chapter of Young Life when it faced opposition from other area clergy. In 1964, Ed Morgan said of Young Life that, "They reach a lot of teenagers who go to no church at all or who are indifferent church members. They present, in a rather unique way, what Christ can do for young people."[16] The church's early commitment to children and youth continues today.

During Ed Morgan's long tenure as pastor the theme verse for the congregation, affixed to the sign, was Colossians 1:18, "That in All Things Christ Might Have the Preeminence."(KJV) Pastor Morgan said of the church on his retirement that, "We believe in fundamentals, an adherence to what we believe the Word of God teaches about itself and the Lord."[17] At the founding of the church it was the intention of the Harris siblings that the congregation have a strong commitment to missions. By the time that the Rev. Morgan retired in 1980, the congregation was giving 50% of all general fund contributions to mission work, including providing partial support for 28 missionary families. Most of those families were made up of those who had grown up in the church or entered it as students at the university.[18]

Pastor Morgan helped to initiate and encourage the longstanding connection of the congregation to Princeton University by speaking on campus in conjunction with the Princeton Christian Fellowship.[19] This connection to PCF and the campus brought the future theologian John Frame into the congregation. He said of his time at Princeton as a member of the class of 1960 that, "Through [the PCF's] ministry (and that of Westerly Road Church) I grew spiritually as at no other time in my life."[20] The church's association with the PCF has lasted its entire existence and the current senior pastor, Matt Ristuccia, served for seven years with the PCF prior to accepting the call to serve at Westerly.

By the mid-70s the church had grown to 250 members and a plan was proposed to build a larger sanctuary. However, the Princeton Township Zoning Board denied the necessary variance for parking, leading the congregation to instead plant a daughter church, Windsor Chapel, in 1976 with Rev. Morgan's son called as pastor.[21]

The Rev. Morgan retired in 1980 and was succeeded by the Rev. Paul Bawden, who served in that position until 1985.[22]

The Ristuccia Pastorate[edit]

Matt Ristuccia.

In 1985 the Rev. Dr. Matthew P. Ristuccia was called as senior pastor, a position he still holds. Educated at Phillips Academy and Princeton, he received a degree in Master of Divinity from Grace Theological Seminary and his doctor of ministry from Dallas Theological Seminary. The Rev. Ristuccia first joined the church after experiencing an evangelical conversion during his time as an undergraduate at the nearby university. On his 25th anniversary as senior pastor he said of his initial introduction to the church that, “At Westerly Road Church, the people who were there wanted to be there. The sermon was really relevant and involved understanding the Bible as a text, much like English lit.”[23] Pastor Ristuccia also met his wife, Karen, during his time as an undergraduate, their romance as students providing fodder for a piece in a local newspaper in later years.[24] Karen now serves as the Academic Dean of the Wilberforce School, providing direction to its mission to provide a distinctly Christian education within a classical framework.

Under the Rev. Ristuccia's leadership, the church has experienced significant growth and started a number of new initiatives. In the 1980s the Learning Center was founded to supplement the education of homeschooled students with classes led by experienced teachers. The relationship with the university continued to flourish, marked by the presence of faculty members such as Dr. James Rankin of the German Department, who started his service as church pianist in the early 1990s. Dr. Rankin described the church to the campus newspaper as marked by prayer, study of scripture, and music, saying "A community of believers is something that I want to be a part of, just like in the New Testament."[25] Many students attend the church from the University, the Seminary, Westminster Choir College, and the College of New Jersey. The congregation partners with ministries including the Princeton Christian Fellowship, Princeton Faith and Action, and Manna Christian Fellowship.

Relocation[edit]

Congressman Rush Holt speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for Stone Hill Church of Princeton.
Letter from Congressman Rush Holt to Stone Hill Church of Princeton on the occasion of their dedication.

The congregation remained on Westerly Road for 57 years but by the mid 1990s the church was housing a congregation of 500 in a building designed for 125 and sought to add a two-story addition to the property on Westerly Road. Under the existing zoning, the proposed 23,000 square foot final structure was permitted. In response to the church's proposal the Princeton Township Committee passed a zoning amendment that would severely restrict the ability of the church to expand on its current property. The zoning change limited churches in residential zones in Princeton Township to a Floor area ratio (FAR) of 0.125 instead of the previous 0.20. This meant a requirement that the total square footage of the building equal no more than 12.5% of the lot, essentially preventing any addition to the existing structure. This zoning limitation was more restrictive than that applied to The Hun School, Princeton Day School, and Stuart Country Day School, as well as neighboring homes.[26] In 2004, the church attempted to relocate to a site on Princeton Pike in Lawrence Township but the requested zoning variance was denied.[27]

In 2010, a piece of property became available at 1025 Bunn Drive in the northeast section of Princeton, with zoning appropriate for a church. After a lengthy process of approvals, marked by some vocal opposition,[28] the congregation gained the requisite permissions to build and relocate. A new LEED certified facility of nearly 50,000 square feet was opened in December 2013. The church granted a permanent conservation easement over the wetlands on the southern third of the site, allowing for trail access to the Herrontown Woods Arboretum from Bunn Drive. With the departure from Westerly Road, a name change was deemed appropriate, and the church elders unanimously agreed upon Stone Hill Church of Princeton. The Stone Hill is a reference to the Rocky Hill Ridge on which the new building is located and the significant amount of stone that needed to be removed to allow for the foundation.[29] The original building was demolished to allow for subdivision into residential lots in accordance with the zoning. The new fellowship hall was named in honor of the Harris family, the three siblings who founded the church and donated the original land. The new prayer chapel was named in honor of Westerly and became home to the previous building's communion table and cross.

On the occasion of the dedication of Stone Hill Church Congressman Rush Holt wrote

I regret that I cannot join you in person for today's celebration, but I want to congratulate the leaders and congregants on this moments occasion in the history of Westerly Road - and now, Stone Hill - Church. In the book of Acts, Peter proclaims to the Gentiles how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power and how he went about doing good and healing the oppressed. For nearly six decades, this church and its works have been a model of this very text, heeding God's call here in the Princeton area and around the world. Now, with your beautiful new facility, I know these good works will only grow and strengthen. I have enjoyed my many visits over the years and look forward to joining you again soon.

Notable members[edit]

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "News of the Churches". The Town Topics. 26 February 1956.
  2. ^ "News of the Churches". The Town Topics. 26 February 1956.
  3. ^ "Memorials, class of 1917". Princeton Alumni Weekly. 24 September 1963.
  4. ^ Murray, James O. (1885). Rev. William Harris, entered into rest, March 23rd, 1885. S.I. : s.n.
  5. ^ "We Nominate". The Town Topics. October 5, 1947.
  6. ^ Savage, H.L. (27 February 1968). "Princeton's First Church" (Volume LXVIII, No. 19). Princeton Alumni Weekly.
  7. ^ Johnson, Barbara (1 October 1980). "Pastor Edward Morgan of Westerly Road Church Gives Last Sermon after 24 Years of Service". The Town Topics.
  8. ^ "News of the Churches". The Town Topics. 26 February 1956.
  9. ^ "News of the Churches". The Town Topics. 2 December 1956.
  10. ^ "News of the Churches". The Town Topics. 2 September 1956.
  11. ^ "Know Your Pastor". The Town Topics. 20 April 1958.
  12. ^ Dreisbach, Bruce (2002). The Jesus Plan: Breaking Through Barriers to Introduce the People You Know to the God You Love. WaterBrook Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-1578564354.
  13. ^ "News of the Churches". The Town Topics. 12 April 1959.
  14. ^ "To Observe 10th Year of Westerly Road Church". The Town Topics. 17 November 1966.
  15. ^ "Relaxed Religion in Vacation Bible Schools". The Town Topics. 24 June 1962.
  16. ^ "The Gang Shows Up For "Young Life."". The Town Topics. 14 May 1964.
  17. ^ Johnson, Barbara (1 October 1980). "Pastor Edward Morgan of Westerly Road Church Gives Last Sermon after 24 Years of Service". The Town Topics.
  18. ^ Johnson, Barbara (1 October 1980). "Pastor Edward Morgan of Westerly Road Church Gives Last Sermon after 24 Years of Service". The Town Topics.
  19. ^ "Religious Notices". The Daily Princetonian. 26 March 1959.
  20. ^ Hughes, John (2009). Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R. ISBN 9781596381643.
  21. ^ "News of the Churches". The Town Topics. 30 September 1976.
  22. ^ "To Install New Pastor". The Town Topics. 4 February 1981.
  23. ^ Worthen, Tory (9 April 2010). "Ristuccia '75 forges path to ministry". The Daily Princetonian.
  24. ^ Melvin, Becky (5 February 2003). "Expect the Unexpected When Meeting Mr. (Ms.) Right". The Town Topics.
  25. ^ Victor, Jason (26 November 1996). "Rankin shares love for German, devotes time to students, teaching". The Daily Princetonian.
  26. ^ Johnson, Barbara (22 March 1995). "Zoning Change Will Severely Limit Westerly Road Church Expansion". The Town Topics.
  27. ^ Alimi, Toni (27 May 2010). "Westerly Road Church Battles Environmental Hypocrisy". The Princeton Tory.
  28. ^ Knapp, Krystal (6 June 2010). "Church plan grounded in controversy - Debate rages over building proposal on environmentally sensitive tract". The Trenton Times.
  29. ^ Karas, David (4 December 2013). "Westerly Road Church prepares to move, become Stone Hill Church of Princeton". The Trenton Times.

External links[edit]