Pastoral, Entrepreneurial, Social, and Military Legacy
BY FERN GILLESPIE AND JEAN NASH WELLS
How does one describe John D. Givens, Sr.? A look at his resume outlines a full life, early years, education, military job title, etc.; but it doesn’t tell you who he is. I had the opportunity to talk with Givens, recently and have come to the conclusion that he is quite a guy, and deeply committed to service to God and his fellowman. Let me tell you.
Growing up on a farm in South Carolina, his family was active in the AME church. “My mother was a preacher,” he explained. He was a true believer and involved in the church with no idea of taking his religion further than that.
Today, Rev. John D. Givens, Sr. is pastor of Shiloh A.M.E. Zion Church in Englewood, New Jersey. His entry into the ministry came suddenly, but indisputably and when he announced to his mother that he had accepted
his calling, she simply replied, “What took you so long?”
Admittedly his path to pastor was circuitous, but steady. Givens joined the U.S. Army as a young man and proudly served for 27 years, reaching the rank of first sergeant, a position he held for over nine years with the
411th Chemical Company. His service as an instructor and manager took him from Europe to Japan and Korea. For his leadership of four companies on a special military operation in Korea called Team Spirit, 1st Sergeant John
D. Givens received the prestigious Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) for meritorious service. “I enjoyed the challenge to excel,” he said. “So I did.” Excelling seems to be a habit with John Givens, and challenges, as well.
Givens recounted how after having served 27 years in United States military serving his country, he went into a car dealership seeking a job as a salesman. He was rebuffed, the owner saying his customers wouldn’t buy
cars from him. What did John Givens do? He decided he would own a car dealership. Moving into the automotive industry, he excelled and transitioned from mechanic to technician to insurance adjuster to service writer to shop foreman to salesman to owner. Givens Chrysler-Plymouth opened in East Orange, NJ in 1990.
Acclaimed throughout New Jersey as one of state’s few black-owned car dealerships, and grossing over $12,800,000, Givens became known as a businessman who not only gave back to New Jersey’s black communities financially, but who also actively volunteered his time to help people in need from Paterson to Montclair to East Orange. Givens had made his dealership one of the most profitable for the Chrysler Corporation, but closed in 2000 when new corporate decisions and mergings changed
the business model.
He didn’t say it, but closing the dealership may have been his real blessing. Givens finally answered the voice of the Lord and “heeded His call to become a preacher,” he said, recalling his many encounters with the HolySpirit and his eventual submission.
He studied automotive at Denmark Tech in Denmark, SC holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Bloomfield College; and received a Master’s degree in Urban Ministry from the Alliance Theological Seminary at Nyack College. He is currently pursuing a doctorate at Alliance.
In 2002, he became pastor of New St. Mark A.M.E. Zion Church in Westwood. Reassigned to Shiloh A.M.E. Zion Church Englewood, Givens has led that congregation for over 10 years, since 2009.
Rev. Givens spoke about his work in the A.M.E. Church outside of the United States. In Guyana, South America where the denomination oversees 13
churches, Givens is presiding elder, supervising seven churches. In addition to their missionary work, important projects to support some of the very basic needs of the people have been undertaken. One of the projects is digging wells for cleanwater. So far one is completed and another is being dug.
Balancing church and community with many leadership roles in civic initiatives throughout New Jersey, Givens cites the development of the New Jersey National Black Parade Heritage Celebration in Paterson as one of his most important and rewarding community service projects. The three-day event actually featured a rodeo with real cowboys from Texas —real black cowboys, at that.
Following the election of Phil Murphy as governor of New Jersey, Rev. Givens was appointed to the Governor’s transition team. As chairman of the Paterson Municipal Democratic County Committee and through their efforts, voting in the city of Paterson increased 100 percent since the last election.
Rev. Givens is the Youth Service Administrator for the Passaic County Juvenile Administration Division, which administers programs for the Passaic County Family Court, Youth Detention, and Juvenile Detention Alternative Programs. “We provide 16 alternative programs for youth to prevent them from being incarcerated and reduce the recidivism,”
Givens explained. “I provide counseling for the youth and their parents on issues like drugs, sexual abuse, bullying, and the list goes on,” he continued. “My job at the county is a ministry to me. It gives me the opportunity to help parents and youth with their problems.” The program has had a major impact on the number of youth held at the detention center. Reports show improvements from 96 – 113 detainees per day down to 23 – 28 detainees per day.
He has been married to Freddie Mae McCoy-Givens for 47 years. They have five children and six grandchildren. In October 2018, his mother passed away at age 96. “Growing up on a farm, my family was always involved in the community. It was in my spirit to work in the community,” he said.
“I love helping people. It’s a gift from God.”
Finally, Rev. Givens, stated “The deterioration of the family structure is what is causing some of our problems with our juveniles. As a pastor, I strongly believe we must reconnect the church to the community to help rebuild the institution that was built by God—marriage and family. When the family structure is strong, the church is strong, the school is strong. The church must take the lead.”