Few pastors in Philadelphia can lay claim to ministry service for 41 years shepherding a single congregation. The Rev. Robert J. Lovett, senior pastor of Wayland Temple Baptist Church, is one of those rare men in that elite class of clergymen.
October 2012 is a special month for Lovett because, “This is my 41st year.” His emphasis has been on youth and seniors; youth especially, as he looks toward the future to advance the ministry of Wayland Temple beyond his time there.
Youths hold a very dear place in the legacy of Lovett’s ministry service, “We have worked with many, many young people,” Lovett said. “Many of them have gone on to college and are gainfully employed in various areas; some in ministry, some in teaching, some in technical areas. It’s been quite an experience for me working with young people. Over my 41 years, it has probably been the most impactful thing under my ministry.”
Wayland has a strong outreach serving the youth in the community. One of its most successful ministries is its summer day camp, begun over 30 years ago. The camp serves children from ages 4 to 12 for eight weeks in the summer. It starts the week after public schools close for the summer. “It is the longest outreach ministry Wayland Temple has promoted,” said Lovett.
“I’ve been a part of Wayland for many years, I was baptized at Wayland when I was 15 years old,” said Mildred Potts. “Right now, I am the chairperson of the Trustee Board.”
Potts is a recent widow whose marriage lasted 38 years. Her faith has kept her strong. “My spiritual growth is basically my relationship with the Lord,” she said. “He’s the first in my life. We have to really work on knowing that God is first in our life.”
She added, “What I like most about Pastor Lovett is his humbleness. And he’s always willing to be there for whomever,” regardless of their status at the church or in the community.
Wayland has a membership of faithful congregants with remarkable longevity. Howard Dean is the chairman of the board of deacons, He has been a member at Wayland since 1949.
Remarking about the congregation’s faithful commitment to the church, Dean said, “Wherever you go, you’re Wayland Temple. The way we’ve been taught in Sunday school and Christian living, we sort of made this our example. We try to make this an example for everyone to follow."
He said Wayland’s outreach into the community has been successful, He cited the Board of Christian Education, the Amachi program that serves children of incarcerated parents, the youth rites of passage, and the summer day camp as some of the standout ministries, but added that all of Wayland’s ministries do a good job.
Dean, a retiree and Air Force veteran, speaks fondly about his shepherd. “Pastor Lovett is a compassionate individual. He’s a very patient individual. He can stand his ground, we respect him, and it’s his overall camaraderie with individuals,” he said, that endears him with the congregation.
“In his position, you get all sorts of personalities. He’s been able, for these last 41 years, to weather the storm. He continues to carry on preaching and teaching God’s Word”, said Dean. “He deals with each of us in his own individual way.”
“I’m the youth director, we travel a lot to (church) congresses, and we help our young people understand their role as Christian young people in the church, and we do a lot with their parents,” said Darla Beasley. “We have a rites of passage program. When young people turn 13, they go through a nine-month program, teaching them different steps as Christians, as to what young people are supposed to do.”
Beasley, 56, recently took a group of Wayland’s youths to the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry conference in West Virginia. She’s been the Youth Director for about 15 years.
Beasley admires Lovett’s support of the youth, “He is definitely for the young people. He definitely helps me with anything they’re engaged in. He’s willing to help them grow. He doesn’t mind allowing change coming into the church; whatever we think that’s going to help motivate their growth, Pastor Lovett has been and is supportive”.
Recalling her early years at Wayland, “I was a bad little girl,” Beasley said. She credits Lovett with investing in her spiritual and personal growth, “He helped me to become the person that I am today. God used me to use my life to change the life of others around.”
Bonnie S. Johnson, co-chair of Pastor Lovett’s anniversary committee, said, “We have a love for Pastor. Many, many years I’ve been here. I’ve been here since I was 10 years old, I guess for about 50 years. We love our pastor. He’s a God-fearing man, and he gives us the Word. Under his leadership, I have truly grown in the church.”
Wayland not only has members with longevity, but active members, like Wealthy Blakeney and Phyllis Taylor. Blakeney serves in many ministry capacities, “I’ve been a member since 1970. I am in charge of the Christian Education ministry, I am an usher, and I’m a member of the Women’s Fellowship.” Blakeney also teaches Sunday school and is treasurer of the Church School.”
Phyliss Taylor has been a member since 1962, “I was baptized by Rev. C. M. Smith,” she said. Lovett is the longest-serving pastor at Wayland, outpacing two predecessors who served 21 and 33 years. Taylor left the church when Smith died, but returned in 1986.
“I’m director of Christian Education, and for about 12 years, I was Sunday school superintendent. And prior to that, for about five years, I was chairperson for the Board of Christian Education,” said Taylor.
Though member for about 40 years, the Rev. Donnie Wiggs is one of the younger leaders at Wayland. He and his father are associate ministers there.
A large number of Wayland’s youths have moved on to college, leaving an older congregation the task of replenishing its youth population. Wiggs offered the following comment about the young and senior mix of congregants of Wayland, “You can’t do anything without the old, and you can’t do anything without the new, it varies. In this community, we’re up for the task.”