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Stone Hill Church of Princeton

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Stone Hill Church of Princeton

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
Location Princeton, New Jersey
Country United States
Denomination Nondenominational
Churchmanship Evangelical
Weekly attendance 600
Website .orgstonehillprinceton
Former name(s) Westerly Road Church
Founder(s) Helen, Dorothy, and W. Butler Harris
Dedicated November 25, 1956 (Westerly), March 9, 2014 (Stone Hill)
Associated people Elmer William Engstrom, John Frame, Donald B. Fullerton
Senior pastor(s) Matthew P. Ristuccia

Stone Hill Church of Princeton is an evangelical, 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.



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 [9]

The Morgan and Bawden Pastorates

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

The Rev. Morgan was educated at 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 [16] The church's early commitment to children and youth continues today through a large children's ministry under the leadership of Mary McCormack, a sizable youth ministry through youth pastor Bobby Tunstall, and by supporting Young Life Princeton.

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 Evangelical Fellowship.[19] This connection to PEF 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 PEF'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 PEF has lasted its entire existence and the current senior pastor, Matt Ristuccia, served for seven years with the PEF 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

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, led for many years by Karen Ristuccia, 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 Evangelical Fellowship, Princeton Faith and Action, and Manna Christian Fellowship.


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



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External links

  • Stone Hill Church of Princeton
  • Stone Hill Learning Center
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