“Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you've got to start young.”
Great words from Theodore Roosevelt, and an apropos statement that describes the successful longevity and rich legacy of Wesley AME Zion Church, located at 1500 Lombard St. in Center City. Wesley, founded in 1820, is a certified historical landmark and one of the oldest churches in the United States. The Rev. Michael King is the senior pastor, a young man of God beloved by his congregation.
According to its church history, in 1820, thirty members of Mother Bethel Church in Philadelphia broke away and started their own church assembly called Wesley. Wesley was instrumental in the genesis, growth and formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination, which today has more than one million members worldwide, four colleges and universities, and two seminaries. Wesley is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Pennsylvania State Historic Resource Survey and the city of Philadelphia’s Register of Historic Places.
“I’ve been the pastor of Wesley for the past three and a half years now,” said King. Prior to Wesley, King was the pastor of Alleyne Memorial AME Zion Church in West Philly for three years.
King is married to Ravelle King. He said he was “Licensed and ordained in the AME Zion church at the annual conference for the Philadelphia and Baltimore Annual Conference, which occurred in Maryland, in 2000.”
Reflecting on his hallmarks as a pastor, King said, “The fondest memories I have are when I can see the message that I’m teaching and preaching is changing a life. Whether it be one individual or a family, when I see fruit in people’s lives, or when someone comes back to me and says ‘Pastor that message (or that lesson) changed my life’ — you can see the fruit of that, that’s the most rewarding aspect of ministry for me.”
“I just like to hope that in every sermon that I preach, God is glorified, and the message of salvation is clearly shared, and that somebody receives the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And if I do that in every sermon, I think I’ve done my job.”
King is a socially conscious pastor, “Given the economic climate that we’re in, I think a lot of social service issues are prevalent. Just families not having enough of the things that they need, or going through financial challenges, and I think we ought to, as a church, be able to deal with both the spiritual and physical needs of people.” King cautions that pastors shouldn’t just focus on preaching to people, but they should endeavor to minister to the holistic needs of individuals.
Christine Nottingham is the director of Christian education, commenting about her ministry’s role, “We direct the Sunday school.” She works with a range of youth age groups, “primary, juniors, and we have classes for adults and teens.”
“I enjoy teaching the children because they are so excited and their minds are open, and they enjoy it. And they want to be there.”
Nottingham has been a member of Wesley since her teenage years, “about 40–50 years.” Nottingham favors her students’ mastery of mobile technology and social media. She revealed that her teen students have a habit of texting info about their Sunday school lessons to their Christian and non-Christian friends, as a modern form of evangelism, “so that they can be a light to their peers.”
“I enjoy being at Wesley. Wesley is a family church made up of a lot of families, I’ve seen families come and go, and I’ve seen the children grow from teens, to now adults. It’s a great place to worship.”
Pastor King is making strong impact in the lives of the young and the old at Wesley, “I like (pastor King’s preaching style) because he just brings everything out so clearly,” said Shirley Anderson, senior saint and long-term member of Wesley.
Zahir Graham is a teen choir member of Wesley and he urges other teens to consider joining Wesley because, “You’ll enjoy yourself. (Pastor King’s sermons) speak to you like he’s talking just to you.”
Zahir’s mother, Carla Graham, is an usher. Carla has equal admiration for her church and pastor, “Everybody makes you feel welcome, they pray for you a lot, too. (Pastor King) is straight to the point.”
Samuel and Valerie Irons are a happily married couple who relish in their membership with Wesley. “I enjoy the ministry, I enjoy the Word because pastor (King) does it like no other. He’s a man of God. He studies the Word, he lives the Word, he loves the Lord and he teaches (the Word) and you can understand it, and it actually changes you,” said Valerie.
Valerie is a choir member and she will soon become a team leader. Team leaders are responsible for an assigned group of church members to render ministry services to, it fosters closer camaraderie among members and helps build greater congregational retention. “I make calls to check on some seniors, the sick and shut-in,” Valerie said she does whatever she can to serve and support the ministry.
Commenting about his admiration for Rev. King, Samuel said, “I have never met a man of God that preaches so hard and so sincere. He can make a 3-year-old understand (the Word). He’s not just a pastor or preacher, he’s a teacher. His words are so powerful, (his sermons) enhances you — your mind, body and spirit. It’s just magnificent!”
Sunday worship is 10:45 a.m.; Wednesday Outreach Bible Study is at 7 p.m. held at Liberty Court Genesis Eldercare nursing home. For more information about Wesley AME Zion Church, call the church office: (215) 735-8961.