Transfiguration Baptist Church is a church that prides itself on its connections throughout the community.
Located at 3732 Fairmount Ave., Transfiguration is committed to its Mantua neighbors and the Philadelphia community as a whole. With a new pastor of just two years, Transfiguration Baptist has already seen positive outcomes since its new leadership.
The Rev. Dr. Charles L. McNeil, Sr., took the position to serve as the fourth pastor of the church on Nov. 14, 2010. Rev. McNeil, a South Philly native, attended Palmer Theological Seminary where he obtained a few degrees and now currently runs a doctoral program. Additionally, he runs church partnerships with Palmer and has done work with Eastern University for more than 20 years.
“My passion is that I am really into urban ministry—coming from the neighborhoods, coming from South Philly, urban ministry is what I do,” he said. “I think there is a reason for that, mainly because you have to have a heart for people in the urban communities.”
Rev. McNeil focuses his messages on social justices and bringing the community together.
“The slogan I go by is Psalm 133:1, which is how good and pleasant it is when brothers come together in unity,” he said. “That’s my life verse, it’s on everything that I do.”
Transfiguration Baptist Church has been apart of Carla Claud’s life since she can remember. She was baptized at the church at the age of eight and has been a member of the church for many years. She is proud of its history and happy to see where it’s going.
“This is not just a family church it is an extended family to me—it means a lot,” Claud said. “We have three generations of family members here and Rev. Smith the founder, actually baptized me here. The changes have been fabulous and since Rev. McNeil has been here there’s been a lot of changes in the past year—our pastor is awesome, God is good.”
On May 28, 1959, nine people joined in the living room of the Rev. Prentice H. Smith at 425 N. Budd St. It was an important day as it was the day Transfiguration Baptist was organized. The founding members — Mrs. Holland, Deacon Spencer, Mrs. Spencer Davis, Renee Davis, Mrs. Louise Harrison, Mr. Willie, Mrs. Lula McGhee, the Rev. Prentice Smith and Mrs. Malinda Smith — gathered as Holland made the motion to name the church “Transfiguration Baptist.”
The church’s first service was held June 7, 1950 at 1:30 p.m. at the Jehovah Jireh Baptist Church, located at 48th St. and Haverford Ave. Later, Transfiguration Baptist held its first morning service on June 21, 1959 at the A.V. Barkley Memorial Chapel.
A few years later, the church found its current location on January 22, 1964 and the work on the building was completed two years after. Rev. Smith served as pastor for more than 40 years until he passed in April of 2000.
Gino Ayers, brother of Rev. McNeil’s preceding pastor , the Rev. Antonio Ayers who passed in 2008, has been a member of the church for approximately five years. He feels that joining this church has been a “blessing.”
“Joining was a blessing, I usually would come and go but never was a member until he [Rev. Antonio Ayers] became the pastor so me and my family joined, God has been a blessing to us,” Ayers said.
Ayers believes Rev. McNeil has made a good transition into leadership.
“We have a good shepard, he’s a good pastor,” he said.
In their efforts to work towards social justices, Transfiguration Baptist hosts a slew of activities, events and community outreach. With past community-based events including “MLK Volunteer Day,” “Heritage Day,” Black male workshops, Vacation Bible School and others, Transfiguration Baptist keeps a busy schedule serving the community.
The church hosts clothing drives frequently and recently held their annual neighborhood block party reaching out to their neighbors for fellowship and uplift.
In the past, Rev. McNeil organized and gathered six churches to come together for “Holy Week Services.”
“That was a wonderful time, the fellowship with the churches, because for me I think we are all doing the same work so we need to come together to do some work,” he said. “I’m actually planning a winter basketball league for those churches so we can have church leagues in this neighborhood.”
Angela McNeil, the First Lady, feels the members of Transfiguration Baptist are strongly committed.
“I think we have some very committed members here who work very hard and tirelessly and support the pastor’s vision,” she said. “My husband and I are co-laborers in the Lord, I understand he has a call—he was called and as his wife therefore I am called. I am called to support in the blessings God has given me. I try to do whatever it takes to support his vision—the vision God has given him.”
First Lady McNeil is a deaconess and is apart of the women’s ministry.
In addition to community work, beneath the sanctuary in the basement lives a community group titled, “Community Supportive Service and 12-step program.” The services orchestrated from the church building include; clothes drives and prayer services.
“I’m the care person and we started back in April in the community because there is a great demand with these kind of services,” she said.
Tammy Pullins, long-time church member, has seen a “new energy” since the arrival of Rev. McNeil.
“There’s a new energy in the congregation to go out in the community, that’s been the biggest change,” she said.
Pullins also believes the family aspect of the church has affected the congregation positively.
“Many of us are long-term members so we have our mothers here, our sisters and brothers here and you can probably pick anyone in that church and they are related to two or three other people in the church,” she said. “Us being a family church, it allowed us to be able to disagree with one another but still hang in there with one another and move forward.”
With the “family” emphasis in mind, Rev. McNeil also encouraged his church to contribute to funding college costs for a few of the younger members, last Sunday’s service.
With a focus on outreach to the youth, Rev. McNeil’s 14-year-old son Charles McNeil Jr., also benefits from the loving caring nature of the church his father leads.
“I like it here, it’s a fun church and I like all the people here,” Charles said. “My father is a great guy and I think he does a really great job being the pastor.”