HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Pastor Gregory Jackson came to Mount Olive Baptist Church in Hackensack in 1984 “scared to death” about leading a new congregation.
Now, 32 years later, Jackson has carved out as a niche for the church as a place that marries faith and community service. Mount Olive is a spiritual leader in the Hackensack community.
“Our mission is to provide a holistic ministry, one related to having a personal relationship with God,’’ Pastor Jackson said. “There’s also a social agenda that administers to the needs of people. We provide people help with housing, electricity, food, education, whatever their daily needs are. We try to be a safety net to the best of our ability, and whatever resources we have, we share with our community.”
Mount Olive was founded in 1889, and its first services were held at Old Irving Hall at the corner of Main and Mercer streets. Rev. J.J. Porter served as the church’s first pastor. The church moved to the corner of James and First streets under the Rev. T.W.H. Gibson, who served as the church’s pastor from 1933-56. The church relocated under Rev. James Patrick Coleman, who served from 1962-82, to its current location at 260 Central Ave.
Jackson is the longest tenured pastor to serve Mount Olive, and he focused his early ministry on connecting with youth and senior citizens. Mount Olive still has vibrant youth ministry and outreach programs.
“I’ve always felt it is easier to build a boy than it is to mend a man,’’ Pastor Jackson said. “I think it’s important to get involved the earliest we can. Even if they go away to college, hopefully we’ve planted a seed in developing a moral character within kids that they won’t so easily forget.”
Like most all other black churches, music is a key part of services at Mount Olive. “It’s part of our history and part of being an African-American church,’’ Pastor Jackson said. “It’s important to have great preaching, but music is critical in terms of a vibrant community.”
Jackson remembers early in his tenure the church choir had about 75 members. As church membership has decreased -- a nationwide trend -- the choir has also shrunk in size. “We celebrated choir anniversaries and the church would be packed,’’ Pastor Jackson said. “We still get good crowds, but it’s not nearly as packed.”
Pastor Jackson’s work is rooted in improving conditions in Hackensack and around the world. Under his tenure, the church built the Logan Family Life Center, a non-profit facility where emergency assistance, social service, educational programs and recreational activities are provided to enhance the quality of life of individuals and families. The Family Life Center was dedicated in 2007.
Globally, Jackson has traveled and preached in China, India, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Cuba and other nations. When Hurricane Katrina slammed Louisiana in 2005, Mount Olive was among the first churches in the area to offer support to the battered region.
“I’ve always thought it was essential to have the marriage of faith and practice,’’ Pastor Jackson said. “To have faith without being able to practice is not fulfilling to God.”
Jackson, a native of South Carolina, served on the Bergen County Council of Churches for 20 years and was its first African-American President. He served as President of the Hackensack Board of Education and as a member of the Hackensack Housing Authority. He founded the Interfaith Brotherhood and Sisterhood breakfast in Bergen County, a group that brings together people from more than 10 faith communities.
More than three decades after coming to Mount Olive, Pastor Jackson remains a steadfast leader of the church and the community.
“We still believe we’re in the right place,’’ Pastor Jackson said. “We’re delighted to be a community church in the heart of Bergen County. Are we the same church we were 10 years ago? No. But we’re OK, we have a vibrant ministry that provides the word and the opportunity to invest in our community and our people. We’re trying to make a difference. That’s who I am, and that’s what I believe.”
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