Steeped in a rich history of ministry, Beulah Baptist Church celebrated its 107th anniversary Sunday, Nov. 11. The pews were filled with faithful members and residents of the community who joined them during their anniversary service.
In 1905 a small prayer band decided to form a church, which they named Calvary, in the Eastwick section of the city. The congregation eventually outgrew its building, and with a new home, Calvary became Beulah, which means “The land of peace”.
The church has longevity and many of its members have worshiped there for decades.
Donald Foxworth began attending Beulah with his mother and father in 1940 and remains a member of the church in which he has worshiped for 65 years. Both of his parents were active members.
“It was six of us in the family, five boys and one girl, and we all served at Beulah. In our younger days we had served on the young adult choir, and I was a member of the ensemble for over 30 years, and was a trustee,” he said.
It was the people who kept him returning to the church.
“The church was originated in the Eastwick and Elmwood section and later we moved to West Philadelphia at 50th and Spruce, but it’s a more family -oriented church,” said Foxworth.
From its early origins, the church has been family-friendly, and its members have developed a close family bond, which remains to this day. Foxworth has lived through four previous pastors and recalled the days when his father, Costello Foxworth, Sr., served as the first Scoutmaster for the Boy Scout troop hosted by the church at the time.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. We’ve got more young adults involved in the church, and the church has grown from where we came,” said Foxworth who said it was a privilege to have been a member of the church for so long.
Another longtime member of the church, Leota Watson Thompson, 88, joined at age 10 and has been a member ever since.
“A bunch of us little kids joined the church, and I’m 88 now,” she said.
“I have seen so many changes, and almost left my church, but I said, ‘No, I’m going to stay and see what the end brings’,” said Thompson, who recalled the leadership of a former pastor, the Rev. Timothy Ruffin, who instituted new rules and procedures for the church.
“He was good,” said Thompson with a laugh.
Ruffin instituted a new rule that required newcomers to attend a new members’ class and made other changes for congregants to adhere to.
“When he came to Beulah, he straightened it out,” said Thompson. “He had strict rules, and strict rules are good and they didn’t want to abide by them, and I said, ‘Uh, uh. I’m not leaving my church.”
Ruffin also could speak for hours at a time, said Thompson.
“My husband was outdone, he would say, ‘You mean Rev. Ruffin kept y’all at the church all that time?’ And I would say ‘Yes, and he was good!’,” said Thompson who said with a laugh that even Ruffin’s concluding remarks took two or three hours. It was Ruffin who expanded the church at 50th and Spruce streets. Adjacent property was purchased and an annex to the sanctuary created where the members now have services and which can accommodate the growing membership.
Pastor William Henley has served in that role since 1999. He said he was 35 when he first walked into the church.
“I came in right before my conversion. I heard some preaching, not knowing what was going on at that time and the Lord was working on me at the time,” he said. After visiting the church, he gave his life to Christ and has been a member since that time.
“I came to Beulah Baptist Church in 1979 under the late pastor, Rev. Timothy E. Ruffin. I grew up there, I served there, I became an associate pastor and was ordained there,” said Henley.
Henley looked back on the days when he first attended Beulah and said that he first went to the church along with some of his young friends. His sister also attended and was an active member of the choir.
“So when I joined, not too long after that, some members of my family began to join. My mother, three of my sisters, my aunt, a cousin, that’s how some of the family became members also,” said Henley.
“Besides the longevity, they kind of remain and bonded together as family,” he said when asked about the church’s longstanding members. “Even when they transported to this area, they remained a family unit which kind of stayed together, and that brought a kind of stabilization and a commitment to serving God.”
Asked what he thought was the highlight of his days as a member of Beulah, Henley recalled his trip to Nigeria as a missionary during which he took his wife and one of his sons. The second was the burning of the church’s mortgage.
“We had a drive and a push where we were able to burn the mortgage. When the church could come together and do something like that, it just shows the support there,” said Henley.
He described the church as a missionary-intensive one which has a desire to reach out to the community.
“That’s what we would like to be and see ourselves as,” he said. “We want to engage the community and show our compassion in practical ways, showing that it is a church about them and their families.”
The church, says Henley, would like to be a part of the community and to have the community become a part of it.
Asked why members of the community would want to visit Beulah, he said the church’s unashamed worship of God through his son Jesus Christ makes it the ideal place to attend.
“We do not try to get people to think that we are other than what we portray ourselves to be. We are not the best church around, but we seek to live the way the Bible says, and to also be open so that we are not an isolated institution in the community.”