Whitney Houston's Childhood Pastor: 'Our Hearts Are Broken'

02/13/2012 at 08:30 AM EST

Whitney Houston Dies; Singer Memorialized at New Hope Baptist Church Service
Whitney Houston
Lester Cohen/WireImage
At the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., where Whitney Houston wowed parishioners with her voice as a young girl, Pastor Joe A. Carter remembered the superstar in his Sunday sermon.

"Our hearts are broken," Carter told the crowd. "How saddened we are at the death of one of the greatest voices of the modern age."

"I'll never forget her right here standing at the New Hope Church, hearing her sing, 'He Would Not Come Down,' " recalled Carter, "hearing her sing the praises of Jesus Christ."

Churchgoers crowded the wooden pews of the house of worship to pay their respects to Houston, who died Saturday at 48.





"She was just out of this world," said parishioner Mary Williams, who had heard Houston sing as a young girl. "She was younger than everyone. Her mother would put her in the choir with the adults singing and she could beat the grownups."

Said Williams: "She was just that good. It was like she was wise beyond her years."

Carter asked parishioners to pray for Whitney's mom, Cissy Houston, who's still a devoted member of the church.

"We're praying for Bobbi Kristina, her brothers and family but our hearts are focused on Dr. Emily Cissy Houston," said Carter. "She needs a miracle. She needs God to step in and give her strength."

At a later service, held at 10:45 a.m., Rev. Jesse Jackson sat on the pulpit alongside Carter throughout the sermon.

He later addressed the crowd, saying, "Whitney's soul does not come from a studio in Hollywood, it comes from right here. This is where she learned to try her notes. She didn't have an organ, a piano at her house, but she had it all here."

During the later service, a parishioner read a thank-you note from Whitney's relatives for everyone's "continued prayers and cards."

• Reporting by JANINE RAYFORD and KEVIN O'DONNELL

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