Organized 80 years ago in 1932, Vine Memorial Baptist Church was organized by its first pastor the late Rev. Dr. Leonard George Carr, who served as a pastor for 45 years. With 80 years of history and tradition, the church has had only two pastors lead. Vine Memorial’s current pastor, the Rev. James S. Allen, has pastored for the past 35 years following Carr. Vine Memorial, located at 5600 West Girard Ave., has a church slogan, “Lifting as We Climb,” and the members aim to follow their slogan and maintain the Vine Memorial tradition throughout the years.
Vine Memorial’s founding pastor attended Philadelphia public schools and was president of both the student council and the “Community Club.” He completed his college and seminary work at Temple and Lincoln universities and graduated in June 1933. After several meetings, church location changes and name adjustments, on Feb. 3, 1935, the church “marched,” as they describe it, to their new and current church home.
Carr passed away in 1976 and two years later, Allen was called to lead Vine Memorial. Allen, an Arkansas native, did not see moving to Philadelphia and leading Vine Memorial in his future, until he revealed a certain dream he had that led him to believe it was his destiny.
“They extended a call to me and at that time I was pastoring in Omaha, Neb.,” he said. “How I got here was the secretary of the National Baptist Convention came to the church at Omaha. He asked me if the Lord ever thought I would be moved from there. I had a funny feeling, I had a dream about a church I never seen before — I described my church in my dream and he told me I described this church [Vine Memorial] to the ‘tee.’— he told them about me and here I am 35 years later.”
Deaconess Gloria Savage has been a member of Vine Memorial for 60 years and has been proud of the principles the church was founded on and happy to see how it has progressed and pleased to see where it is going. She believes Vine Memorial truly exemplifies what it means to be a “family church.”
“This church means everything to me, this is a church family and if you’re in trouble—they’re in trouble,” she said. “When my husband was very sick, my pastor is a real pastor. I called the church and within a few minutes he was at the hospital.”
Vine Memorial has a scholarship foundation for students going to college and current college students. A committee within the church reviews the student applications and award scholarships every year. There are also various forms of community outreach, committees and various ministries. Their ministries include; Christian education ministry, youth ministry, senior ministry, fine arts ministry, women and men’s ministry and many others. They also offer pre-marriage, marriage and youth counseling. Allen strongly believes that it’s important to take a “holistic” approach when reaching his church and surrounding community.
“We try to have a ministry that’s a holistic ministry and not only a spiritual ministry,” Allen said. “But to include the fiscal being, economic condition and other outreach. We take the position that Jesus was concerned about the whole person not just a part of the person.”
With that mindset, Allen has a few goals in mind for the future of his church. He would like to develop a sports program and an official tutoring program. He would like Vine Memorial to intensify their community outreach and he aims to create a “peace house.” Allen’s idea for a peace house would be to buy a large house and offer that home to a struggling married couple, where one of the two can have a place to reflect and seek guidance on how to resolve their conflict.
“Let’s say a married couple is having problems and fussing, they are just about to fight and they don’t have the money to go to a hotel to cool off and they don’t have family and friends to spend the night with,” he said. “We have this peace house where we will have a counselor there and the maximum they can stay at the house is three days — we just don’t have the money to do it.”
Valerie Grant became a member of this church in 1994 and feels Allen has been a meaningful leader, to say the least.
“Pastor Allen, is truly a rock — he is apart of the foundation of this building,” she said. “With him being part of the foundation and his ministry, it helps us as his sheep to follow that shepherd. He is an excellent minister of the word.”
In Vine Memorial’s service following the Nov. 6 election victory of President Barack Obama, church members bowed their heads and shared a prayer for the re-elected candidate. Allen believes it’s important for Vine Memorial to continue to be engaged.
“I think the church has to be engaged, I believe that voting is not only right it’s a responsibility,” he said. “Being politically informed is not only a right but a responsibility. Each generation ought to try to make it better for the generation coming behind them.”