St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Germantown is the matriarch of Episcopal churches in Philadelphia. Celebrating its bicentennial in 2011, this congregation has a long list of ministry hallmarks and leaders to be proud of; foremost are its hospitable and familial members.
Named after Luke, the physician and apostle in the Bible, St. Luke’s was founded by Thomas Armat on June 28, 1811. Armat gathered 11 families in his Germantown home to start an Episcopal congregation, thus becoming the first Episcopal church in Germantown.
Pearl Anderson has been an active member of St. Luke’s for several decades, “I came from St. Barnabas,” Anderson said, referring to the historical merger of the church parishes. On March 11, 1968, church leaders from St. Barnabas and St. Luke’s voted unanimously to unite these two historic parishes. What kept Anderson engaged as a member after the merger? She replied, “Friendship, music, service, just the fellowship we have, it’s wonderful.” One of her favorite ministries is the seniors’ luncheon that’s held every third Thursday from April through November.
Frances P. Moss, 82, says it’s “The fellowship, the minister (the Rev. Canon H. Gregory Smith) and the message you get” at St. Luke’s that has kept her actively engaged for many years. She proudly stated that when she attends Sunday service, “I get my (spiritual) nourishment for the week. It’s a wonderful place to belong to. You feel that you belong here. I am very happy to be here — I would not think about going to another church!”
Several months into his role as assistant priest at St. Luke’s, Father David Morris serves the congregation with great joy and enthusiasm, and he’s most impressed with the compassion and social activism of the congregation. Commenting on his duties, Morris said, “I help with the liturgy, home visits, (and) pastoral visits.” Before landing at St. Luke’s, he worked at Covenant House, a social service agency that serves the homeless. He is leveraging his background in grant writing to help generate funds for St. Luke’s 501c3 nonprofit Urban Center, an umbrella organization for a number of different programs, including the food bank and children’s ministries.
Morris, a seminary graduate from New York, has local roots — he earned an economics degree from Temple University, and before becoming a priest in 1995, he was a currency trader for Mellon Bank. Morris is very proud of how the food bank serves the local community, and he was beaming when he spoke of the youth choir’s recent competition in Washington, D.C. for the hugely popular television show, “America’s Got Talent.” He concluded, “As I’m here longer, I look forward to supporting the new (church) programs that come out.”
Leola Patrick Wallace, a stately woman, admits that she is not a member, but she frequently visits St. Luke’s, where her two sisters, Ruth Shirley Willis and Audrey Johnson Thornton, are active members. What consistently draws her to visit St. Luke’s? “Father Greg (the Rev. H. Gregory Smith). I like the service, his closeness,” and the unity of the congregation. Wallace said she especially enjoys Father Greg’s Easter and Christmas services.
John G. Chilerey is St. Luke’s resident caretaker, and he is most impressed with the vital service that the church’s food bank provides to local residents, “Food donations from the church members keep the food bank open, or people donate with a check.” He said food is distributed every Friday, between 9 a.m. and noon, except on holidays that fall on a Friday.
An usher and longstanding member for years, Andrew Jones enjoys serving at St. Luke’s. Jones, 78, hails the congregation as one of its greatest attributes, “You can’t go to a church and find parishioners who are more pleasant and nice than these here.” He said St. Luke’s is a small church “where everybody helps one another,” and he particularly likes how it provides clothing and food to local residents in need. Jones fondly recalls the leadership of the Rev. Charles L. L. Poindexter, who led St. Luke’s from 1983 to 1994. Two years after Father Poindexter retired, the Rev. H. Gregory Smith was selected to be the parish’s next rector (senior pastor).
Next February, Smith, 58, will celebrate his 15th year leading the storied St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Reflecting on its grandest hallmarks, he recalls the bicentennial celebration, “We just completed a whole year of observations and celebrations, and we’ve done a great deal of research into the history of this place, which has been very eye-opening to me, it’s been very enlightening.” Quick facts:
· St. Luke’s is the first and oldest Episcopal church in Germantown.
· In 1904, St. Luke’s Church began to serve the African-American population in Germantown.
· St. Luke’s is the parent church to five Episcopal churches in Philadelphia.
· Family members of early Philadelphia high society leaders (Wanamaker and Wistar) are buried on the church grounds.
Originally from Chicago, Smith loves the rich history of Philadelphia and St. Luke’s. To be the pastor of a church with such deep historical roots, he said, is “very fulfilling.”
He says of the congregation, “Very loving and warm people … very educated.” Birthed out of his leadership, St. Luke’s boasts great ministries; notable ones include a robust youth recreational ministry, health-care ministry, global missions and a residency musical ministry program.
Smith likes the changing ethnic and age demographics of his congregation, and he credits this in part to the gentrification that’s occurring in the surrounding community. The amalgamation and influx of new people is a welcomed change, he said, “It’s working very well, and I find it rewarding working with these people.”
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
5421 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19144
Phone: (215) 844-8544
The Rev. H. Gregory Smith
7:30 a.m. – Low Mass with hymns and sermon
10 a.m. – Solemn Mass (with choir)
Mount Carmel Baptist is a unique church with a long history. Organized in 1882, Mount Carmel has been a positive and impactful presence in the West Philadelphia community for 119 years. Recently, the congregation celebrated the Rev. Dr. Albert F. Campbell’s 46th anniversary as senior pastor, a joyous milestone indeed.
“I’m very glad to be a part of this anniversary (celebration),” said Robert Taylor, a proud 30-plus-year member of Mount Carmel. Of Campbell, Taylor, a native Jamaican, shared this heartfelt sentiment, “A very good man, and I hope that (he) continues in God’s vision. … God bless you, God loves you, and so do I.”
Anthonia Benson, the wife of the Rev. Kyle Benson, associate minister at Mount Carmel, was elated about the celebration of Campbell. She fellowships at another church, but offered a very personal and warm kudos for him: “We just want to say, congratulations (to Pastor Campbell), it’s been a wonderful 46 years … we love (him) dearly. May God strengthen (him) and Mrs. Campbell and their entire family.” Campbell married the Bensons on Dec. 19, 2010, and their 2-year-old daughter Cassandra was blessed by him.
“Well, he has been the only pastor since I’ve been here. He’s my dad, he’s my big brother,” shared Robert L. Boston, 59, a member of Mount Carmel for 32 years. Boston operates a limo service, and as a gift to honor his pastor’s anniversary, Boston chauffeured the Rev. and Mrs. Campbell around for the day.
Campbell’s impact on Boston has been profound. He works on security at the church, he’s an usher and serves as a trustee, He said the pastor “knows that the Lord has called me to serve, and he allows me to serve in my space.” Boston was recently recognized as trustee emeritus, the youngest in Mount Carmel’s history. He has faithfully served as a trustee for 24 years. Boston relishes the fact that Mount Carmel is a very community-focused church, “We are a community-based church. We’re here for the community … we have … programs for the community.” Along with its strong community programs, Mount Carmel’s church mission is to “Teach, Preach, and Interpret the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“I’ve been a member of Mount Carmel for 65 years,” said Barbara Benson, a stately and genial woman, and the mother-in-law of Anthonia Benson She had very kind words to share about Campbell, “He is a very gracious man, I like how he relates to his parishioners … he is a man of God, and I have learned to love him so much in all these years.” She admires Campbell’s love for children, “He just loves young people, and his interaction with them is really beautiful to see.” Barbara Benson has a servant-leader’s heart, and has a history of serving in a variety of roles with the church; she’s been on the scholarship committee, she sings in the choir, she sometimes teaches Sunday school, “And whatever I’m called on to do, if the pastor asks me, I try to do it.”
Elizabeth Parker, a member since 1950, is the Sunday administrator for Mount Carmel. She offered the following comments about Campbell’s pastoral anniversary celebration: “It’s awesome. We are so blessed to have a pastor like Pastor Campbell … he’s an all-around (good) person.” Reflecting on Campbell’s greatest attributes, Parker, originally from North Carolina, said, “I think the great impact he’s made is his ability to communicate with all ages, from two-years-old, teenagers, seniors, he can relate to all of them.” She laughs when she quips, “I’ve come through all those stages with him.”
Jabrell Thomas, 21, a member for 19 years, said, “It’s good to see that Pastor Campbell being consistent, because so many other churches are going through pastor-to-pastor. It’s good that we can have one pastor to rely on, we can grow with him. He has a lot of personal relationships with his members … he definitely reaches out to people of all ages.” Jabrell’s ministry activism has included the youth basketball team, youth ministry, and the young people’s ushers. He is a senior at Lock Haven University.
“It is amazing to me, I had no idea that my tenure here would last this long,” said the Rev. Albert Franklin Campbell. An erudite and very eloquent man, Campbell, 79, possesses the friendly and endearing charisma of a favorite uncle, a jolly grandfather or loving father figure.
A native of Kansas, Campbell grew up in Colorado, where he met and married his wife Ruth. The Campbells will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on July 6.
Mount Carmel is Campbell’s second pastorate. “My first pastorate was of the Beulah Baptist Church in Central Harlem, on 130th Street between Lenox and Seventh avenues. He was pastor at Beulah for five and a half years before being called to Mount Carmel in 1966.
Reflecting on his 46-year tenure at Mount Carmel, Campbell remarked, “Well, I think I have set some standards of love for people, and genuine concern for people, and also a few standards in terms of academic achievement.” He is a strong advocate of pastors attending college and seminary, “(Seminary is) where they can get the training I feel, is needed, especially now, in this day and age.”
Commenting on the mix of youths and seniors within his congregation, Campbell said, “I have made it a point of trying to have an inter-generational ministry, and that requires me to relate to seniors as well as the youngsters, and I’ve consciously tried to do that. It seems to have worked for me.” Of mentoring other pastors, he said, “I have had the privilege of licensing and ordaining a number of preachers here at Mount Carmel, and I tell them the same thing … they cannot pastor people without loving people.”
“He’s a caring preacher … for a preacher to stay here this long really means a lot, he’s here for the people,” said Edward Robinson, an usher and member since 1989. Robinson considers Campbell a “preacher’s preacher” He admires how Campbell has mentored so many preachers during his 46-year tenure. Robinson’s mother was responsible for introducing him to the Mount Carmel. “I really love it here,” he concluded.
Bishop Keith Reed Sr., senior pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, was the guest preacher for Campbell’s pastoral anniversary service on May 27. After the sermon, Reed offered endearing and Biblical words of encouragement to Campbell, his friend and fellow clergyman, “To Pastor Campbell, I pray that God continues to bless you. Be encouraged, and don’t grow weary in well-doing, you know you’ll reap if you faint not.”
Grace Baptist Church of Germantown is an old-school congregation with a long history rooted in ministry, strong family values and the Word of God. Very recently, the congregation celebrated the 30th anniversary of their beloved senior pastor, the Rev. G. Daniel Jones. Jones has had an amazing journey shepherding Grace, a church in the heart of the community seeking ever to win the community’s heart.
The Grace congregation has a history of stability and longevity — it’s these unique attributes that have kept the church intact for over 100 years.
Lunita Williams, a member since 1984, revels in her fellowship at Grace Baptist Church, “I was a member here when I was a teenager, then I moved away to Detroit. When I returned, I came here … my mother, my stepfather, and sister were members,” said Williams, the church financial secretary. Reflecting on = Jones’ 30th anniversary, Williams admires Jones’ ability to recall the names of all the members: “He knows all of the members by name.”
Before his wife died, Kenneth Jackson was married for 64 years; he’s been a member of Grace for almost the same time, “I joined Grace soon after I got married.” Says Jackson, “I’m a senior usher and a trustee; also I help (maintain the church) air and heat (systems).” Jackson, too, admires Jones’ ability to recall each church member’s name. Jackson noted feeding the homeless and the church’s after-school program as two significant outreach endeavors to serve the community.
“I’ve been a member of Grace for 34 years,” said Sara Carter. The music ministries have made a huge impression on her life, “I was born and raised in (the music ministries), and now, I’m one of the choir directors of the young people’s choir; and I also (oversee) the praise and worship team, … I’m also music director for the Pennsylvania Baptist State Youth Ministry.”
Commenting on Jones’ 30th anniversary, Carter shared, “It’s just wonderful, I was 4 years old when Pastor Jones came to Grace; he’s just a wonderful mentor, a father figure, and just a great spiritual leader, and it’s been a pleasure being under his ministry all these years.” Carter loves Jones’ preaching style and how he weaves great stories into his sermons, “(The stories) are very personal and they’re funny, and he keeps the sermons light and upbeat, and it’s just wonderful to just sit under his teaching and preaching and it’s helped me grow in my spiritual walk.” Carter would recommend Grace to someone considering a church affiliation because it’s a loving church, and she admires the deep concern Jones has for his members.
Laqueta Lynn is the facility manager for the church saying, “I’ve been a member for 5 years.” She was attracted to the church because her mother was a longstanding member. Commenting about Jones’ tenure, “Pastor Jones is a wonderful person, he has always guided us in the right direction spiritually and in everyday life (issues), he’s just a good old Southern gentleman.”
“(Pastor Jones) has been an inspiration for me personally, helping me cope with the death of my parents, and he’s been an inspiration for me to walk (in faith) when my marriage broke up. He is a leader, he has expanded our church, most of all … he is a compassionate human being,” shared Karen Gardner.
“I’ve been a member since I was 11 years old; I’m 95 and a half (years old),” shared Salivia T. Sharp-Wilkens, the eldest living member of Grace. Reflecting on the history of senior pastors that have shepherd Grace, Sharp-Wilkens offered, “Each one was different. Each one was an admirable man. I think Grace has been so fortunate to have ministers who have ministered, who were respectful, who loved their wives — their eyes didn’t wander. They loved (the congregation of Grace Baptist Church), and they were leaders.” During her tenure as a member of Grace, one historical life moment she vividly recalls was the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, when thousands of Americans were killed or injured when the Japanese attacked the American naval base in Hawaii. This attack is frequently cited as a major tipping point in World War II.
Tyrone L. Beach Sr., 68, is the chairman of the deacons, and he joined the church the same year Jones came on board as the senior pastor. According to Beach, “One of the things that (Pastor Jones) really got me involved in was studying the Word and Bible study … I found that he was a visionary” in assessing the church and expanding its ministries. Beach cites the expansion of a leadership board that encompasses a full representation of the church’s leadership as one crucial accomplishment he credits to Jones. Tyrone and his wife Patricia have been married since 1957; they have two adult sons. His wife is the church organist and one of the chorus directors.
“Grace affords an option for people, and if you’re looking to establish relationships, it’s the place for you. (As the Pastor, I) pride myself in knowing every member personally, and no member is a number. Members are often encouraged to engage in some form of ministry that would interest them,” offered Jones. As the senior pastor, Jones is also proud that Grace is a very fiscally, chronologically, and organizationally stable church.
Jones is an old school preacher, his total years of pastoring comes to 47 years, he shepherd a church prior to arriving to Grace. In reflecting on his ministry success, Jones imparts some keys to his success to advise new pastors on how to lead their respective congregations, “First of all, get to know the congregation, establish trust and build relationships. Once (this) is done, then some creative changes can take place.” Jones cautions against new pastors leading with a “heavy handed” approach.
Jones is a pastor who is very engaged with his flock; he personally visits his sick members, and he personally visits those bereaving the loss of loved one. Other officers may make such visits, too, but Jones ensures that he is immersed in such evangelistic outreach.
Jones felt his calling in ministry came about in his early youth, being greatly influenced by his grandfather. Jones served in leadership and chaplaincy roles in high school and as an undergrad at Virginia Union University, a historically Black school. “I also became the president of the student body, during my tenure there, as a senior,” shared Jones. After graduating from Virgina Union with his degree in mathematics, “I acknowledged a continuing call to ministry and I enrolled in seminary (Andover Newton Theological School),” shared Jones. He eventually earned his Doctorate of Divinity degree from Howard University’s Divinity School.
Under Jones’ leadership, Grace is undergoing a multi-million dollar capital campaign to revitalize the Grace Christian Community Center. Jones has expanded the center’s evangelical outreach, “It’s our gift to the community,” said Jones. The Grace Christian Community Center provides a variety of children services, youth services, senior services, feeding programs, tutorial programs and counseling programs. The church is also actively involved in prison ministry, serving the homeless, and ministering to HIV patients.
Jones’ leadership roles are incredibly vast and diverse, an abridged listing includes: national president of the 6,100 member Ministers Council of the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.; founding president of two local Councils (American Baptist Churches of the South, and of Metropolitan Philadelphia); he served on the executive committee of the General Board-American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., serving as the board’s chaplain; vice president of Baptist Ministers and Pastors Conference of Philadelphia and Vicinity; for 20+ years he served as vice chairman of Philadelphia’s Baptist sponsored City-Wide Revival; executive board member of the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention; member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity; and he is a 33° Mason as well as grand chaplain of the Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania.
Jones speaks fondly of his wife Geraldine E. Jones, who is physically disabled and a recent retiree in middle management with Action Aids of Philadelphia. Mrs. Jones is a licensed clinical social worker; her ministry roles have included: Sunday school leader, Leadership Development of Christian Education, served on the hospitality committee and she’s the founder of the Women’s Christian Retreat. The Joneses are the parents of one son, Bryant D. Jones, a graduate of Morehouse College, and of Drexel University where he earned an M.B.A.
Founded in 1966, Christian Stronghold Baptist Church has blossomed into a major spiritual center for Christian education, Christian counseling, Christian evangelism, family solidarity and solid Biblical preaching. Its founder and senior pastor, the Rev. Willie Richardson, has been called one of America’s top ministry educators and Christian counselors. He is a preacher with incredible integrity, and he was recently celebrated nationally as a “living legend” by his clergy peers.
Tawanda Barnes, 46, and David E. Barnes have been married for 26 years. They have three daughters: Elyse, 25, Jennifer, 22, and Alivia, 10. Marriage is sacred to Tawanda Barnes because both she and her husband grew up without their fathers.
“My husband and I both come from broken homes; neither one of us was raised by two parents,” she said. “We didn’t have our fathers’ impact. And so, through Pastor Richardson, he’s shown my husband how to be a leader, a father, and how to be a man of God and how to bring that into the family.”
She loves Richardson’s ministry because of his emphasis on family values and marriage.
“Without Jesus, we can’t do anything,” she said. “In a marriage it takes three, the husband, the wife and the Holy Spirit. Dr. Richardson has shown us all things are possible with Christ. He has been married for 50 years!”
David E. Barnes, 49, has been a member at Stronghold for approximately 17 years. “I am the director of the New Members Ministry.”
Reflecting on how he has spiritually grown as a husband and ministry leader at Christian Stronghold, he said, “The things that I’ve learned at Christian Stronghold pertain to how to treat my wife, such as honoring her, providing for her, encouraging her — these are some of the things that I have learned. And she’s been taught what to expect from me.”
“I’ve been a member since 1986,” said Rita Scarborough. The youth coordinator for special events,” she handles all the organization and coordination of youth events for the church. Scarborough, 46, was introduced to Christian Stronghold when she was invited by a friend to attend a drama ministry performance.
Of her and her husband Alphonso’s experience at Christian Stronghold, she said, “It’s an awesome ministry … It’s transformed our thinking on the Word of God, on how to apply the Scriptures in our own lives, and how to affect other people, as far as evangelism — salvation is for everyone.”
The Scarboroughs are the proud parents of two young girls, and the entire family fellowships at Christian Stronghold. They enjoy sharing the Word of God to impact the lives of others. The couple spent nine years in Egypt serving as missionaries.
Annette Hampton, Richardson’s sister, has been a member of Christian Stronghold for 46 years. She is the executive director of the Alpha Community Development Corp. “It’s our community outreach arm to the community,” she said.
Growing up having Richardson for a brother, Hampton said, “was a wonderful thing, he’s a very tender-hearted person.”
According to Hampton, “The church has always had an open door policy to serve the community.” In her role, she has oversight of the following outreach services:
Christian Stronghold has a strong youth ministry and youths in the community receive the same services that youth members of the church receive.
“I’m the chairperson of the Deacons Ministry at Christian Stronghold,” said Craig Browne, a retired Philadelphia and New Jersey educator. Browne has been a member of Christian Stronghold since 1977, and he has served as chair of the deacons for 20 years. For him, “Bringing others to the knowledge of Christ” is one of the greatest impacts he feels the church has had on families and the community.
Christian Stronghold is renowned for its focus on families. “Seeing families grow … Our pastor is very big on spiritually impacting families; as we impact families, we impact blocks, from there, certain sections of the city,” said Browne.
The Cell Church at Christian Stronghold has had “tremendous impact, for not only our church, but outside,” he said.
Cell Church is a concept that breaks a large congregation into many small groups for fellowship, Bible lessons, etc. It’s a great way for an extra-large congregation to maintain personal close connection with its congregants.
Also, according to Browne, the church has a successful Town Watch group, and hosts frequent community meetings with city officials and legislators for area residents.
Pastor Richardson is an accomplished author. He’s abounding with wisdom and is quite a visionary. A conversation with him is rich with valuable information and wise counsel. He is a very faith-driven man. He has an incredible testimony about overcoming prostate cancer and offers very insightful medical options for men afflicted with the disease.
Chatting about his ministry’s success, Richardson always deflects credit to God. He has a passion for loving the people in his community.
“We go to people, rather than waiting for people to come to church,” he said. “We’ve always been active in the neighborhood and the community, in reaching out to bring opportunities to people to people that don’t even belong to our church.”
In 2010, Richardson received the “Living Legend Award” during the E.K. Bailey International Expository Preaching Conference, in Dallas, Texas, one of the most popular national conferences for Baptist preachers in the country.
He is not conventional in thought.
“We’ve always done things outside the box,” he said, “and we’re still doing things outside the box.”
He’s been invited to the White House by several presidents to take part in various initiatives and events.
“And now I’m encouraging young folks in our church … to do things that nobody else is doing. (Christian Stronghold) has become a pacesetter for other churches, locally, and nationally,” he said. “I always believe that the Bible has some kind of principle to teach on every kind of problem.”
The small town of Media, Delaware County, population of 5,000+, boasts a few unique features: 40 percent of its residents (25 and older) are college educated, it is home-base for an abundance of law firms, and over 67 percent of the population is religiously affiliated.
Christ Christian Community Church is a proud member of Media’s long history of churches; its congregation is celebrating 50 years of spiritual service in the community and a new senior pastor, the Rev. Stacy King-Chaney.
Don’t let King-Chaney’s small frame fool you, she is a firebrand preacher who loves Jesus and she is intensely passionate about empowering youth to be leaders in the church.
“I was licensed to preach in 1991, by Rev. Dr. Albert F. Campbell (senior pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, in Philadelphia).”
She grew up under Campbell’s mentorship, became a member of Mount Carmel at age 8, and she decided at age 16 that faith in Jesus would be her most important life decision; she was installed as the new senior pastor at Christ Christian Community Church in December 2010.
Some female pastors find it challenging serving in a traditionally male-dominated role. As an African American female, growing up in a racially charged community, King-Chaney has been tried and tested to handle life challenges.
She remarked about her childhood years, “Growing up in Aston, Pa., (my family and I) had some intense racial encounters, it wasn’t kind.”
She says her gender is not an issue in her ministry. In fact, King-Chaney holds to the wise counsel that her mentor, Campbell, gave her.
“The challenge (of gender) is only as great as you allow it to be,” she said. “I try not to get distracted, I don’t allow anyone to prevent me from (serving in) ministry.”
King-Chaney is the second pastor to shepherd Christ Christian Community Church, she succeeded the founder, Rev. R. Robert Barber, who died in January 2008. Barber served just shy of 50 years.
“My dad was the founder and senior pastor of the church for 49 years,” said Brenda Barber.
Brenda, 57, remains an active member and Trustee, and she is a staunch supporter of King-Chaney, Brenda offered this compliment, “(King-Chaney) is an amazing lady, she’s all about the community.”
Christ Christian Community Church is a small congregation that’s focused on God. King-Chaney’s focus on home missions and youth is evident. The youth lead in many aspect of the worship service: singing, praise dancing, prayer, reading scripture, ushering, etc.
King-Chaney has two other great supporters, her mother and father.
“If you’re looking for a spirit led church service, Christ Christian Community Church is a place to be,” remarked Allen King Sr., 78, about his daughter’s church. He holds dual membership and leadership roles at Mount Carmel Baptist Church and Christ Christian Community Church — he serves as a deacon at both congregations. He attends an early morning service at Mount Caramel and a later morning service at his daughter’s church to support her.
“Growing up, she was very much into the church. One day, I didn’t take her to church, and she cried and had a fit,” said Florastine Marie King, the proud mother.
King laughed as she recalled a time when her daughter approached her with some shocking news.
“At age 16, (my daughter) told me that the I wasn’t the most important person in her life anymore,” she said.
King thought that her daughter had gone crazy in love with some teen boy, “I was relieved when (my daughter) told me that Jesus was the number one love in her life.” King made a humorous comment that in the church, her daughter’s in charge, but outside the church, “She’s my daughter, and I’m the mother!”
King serves as a trustee at her daughter’s church, and is the proud grandmother of her daughter’s three girls: Mya, Jasmine and Imani.
“What I love most about my mom is that she loves working with youth,” shared Imani, 17, an 11th-grade honor student, attending Delaware County Christian School. Imani continued, “(Christ Christian Community Church) is a very welcoming place, and you feel very connected. At Christ Christian Community Church, you don’t have to worry about feeling judged.”
The casual dress code seems to impress Imani and her peers. After high school graduation, Imani aspires to attend Harvard University, Georgetown University or Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Cecelia “Cece” Thompson, 13, an 8th-grade honor student at Mastery Charter School, in Philadelphia, attends Christ Christian Community Church regularly.
According to Cece, “We (young leaders) are the main part of the church, we have an opportunity to lead.” Cece aspires to become a math teacher.
“We’re a small church, but we think big … I enjoy myself,” explained Lisa Wittington. She serves as youth director, Sunday school instructor and church secretary. Wittington is an accounting student at Widener University.
She is very excited about working with the youth. In 2012, the youth will spend time learning about Native Americans, and in 2013, the youth will participate in a missions trip to an Indian reservation in North Carolina to render ministry services to those less fortunate.
“Having my wife as a senior pastor? It’s different,” said Vaughn Kindle Chaney. “Being the ‘first gentleman’ doesn’t happen often. It’s challenging, it’s a new role, and it’s kind of cool.”
The St. Paul Chapel Baptist Church rang in the New Year with a festive celebration that set the tone to all the blessings that 2012 will bring for the congregation.
The Rev. Jermaine T. Heath Sr. has been the charismatic senior pastor of St. Paul for the past seven years and his enthusiasm for leading his church is still in full bloom. He brimmed with excitement over where God will lead the church in the coming months.
“Our theme for the year is basically great expectations, the journey begins,” he said. “We’re not only expecting something great from God but God is expecting great things from our lives. “
That declaration is also extended to their community as St. Paul is a church that ministers through the word, worship and the liberating and healing power of the gospel.
“We try to help the members understand that number one, the church is you. You are the individual. We are a group of people that make up St. Paul Baptist Church and not the building,” Heath said.
“So when people understand that, that the church is an organism, that it’s a live group of people that go out to spread the message of the gospel, it helps to change the mindset of the people not just looking at a building so much but understanding that’s who they are. We are the church.”
Heath cited his preaching style as a way that he has been able to convey that understanding.
“I believe in my preaching style that not only should your soul be stirred up but your mind should be transformed,” he said.
“I’m trying to educate and give people an understanding of why they should get excited abut what they hear, why they should be excited about Christ,” Heath added. “So, it is illustrative but very centered in the word.”
Others lauded his leadership.
“The sermons that he gives are sermons that speak on not only the word of God and how we should live but also he speaks and tries to reach the heart of people with the Bible and with the message of bringing it into reality.” said the Rev. John A. Crost Sr. “And also, standing on the word. So, others not only accept Christ but they become disciples.”
Crost is the associate pastor at St. Paul and Heath’s uncle. He marveled at his nephew’s growth as a pastor.
“He started it with me at the Church of Redeemer as a deacon and the Lord called him to the industry and he began to grow in the ministry as an associate minister,” he said. “I’ve seen him grow spiritually and biblically in the word. His messages are very uplifting and edifying.”
Crost invited the community to partake in the worship experience.
“The church is a church that welcomes people with open arms,” he said. “You will be enriched and the Bible will be made alive in your heart when you hear the sermons there.”
Estelle Smith, a deaconess, has been a member of St. Paul since 1981. She explained what kept her coming back year after year. She said it was a warm church and everyone knew the other.
“I live in Delaware now, but I come 45 minutes to church for the fact that the church itself meets all my needs, spiritually, socially,” she said. “We don’t have too many in my age group that are still around but I enjoy the youth and they enjoy me and I just like to be a part of stuff, the ongoing things that I take part of.”
Smith also had words of praise for Heath. She was incredibly touched when he visited her in the hospital following her heart attack.
“He’s young, but he also meets the needs of the youth as well as the elderly and I find him to be a dynamic speaker,” Smith said. “He can speak on many subjects and you won’t fall asleep. He’s a preacher that will not let you fall asleep. Some ministers are just there to speak to you.”
Heath said his personal growth has enabled him to gain the trust, admiration and confidence of his fellowship.
“During the seven years, we have gone through a transformation with our church,” he said. “The church, when I first got there, was a much older congregation with about maybe 25 people. Now, we are a well diverse group of people with young adults, children, youth and seniors and we approximately around 170 members. So, it’s been a great change at St. Paul.
“For me as a pastor, I have not only grown not only in the word but also just understanding people and reaching out to people and understanding people,” Heath said.
St. Paul Chapel Baptist Church
1217 S. 21st Street
Philadelphia, Pa. 19146
Service: 11 a.m.
Church: (215) 467-4158
Rev. Jermaine T. Heath Sr.
Grace Christian Fellowship began as a Bible study in the home of its founder, the Rev. Cean James and now the covenant is home to those who seek a relationship with Christ free of judgment. It also a place of worship that ministers holistically to the needs of its congregation and community.
“I have a real heart for urban ministry, especially in difficult places and so when we started the church, we honestly took a map of the city and were looking for a neighborhood where we thought we could have the most impact,” James said.
“What we wanted to do was find individuals and families especially and to hopefully use the gospel develop something that will be meaningful to their lives.”
James talked of the different ways GFC has been effective in helping to transform lives.
“One of our goals was to create an atmosphere in church where people could be open and honest of the challenges that they were facing,” James said.
“You just find in a lot of congregations that people will purposefully not share their challenges because of the way they would be treated if people knew of the stuff they were dealing with; but by creating a real open, loving atmosphere and building it on the concept of grace — that in Christ there is no condemnation — we’ve been able to develop a really, strong and positive recovery ministry.”
GCF held its first worship service on Sept. 4, 2005, at the Williams and Palmer Funeral Chapel. Six years later, the congregation has more than 400 members at its present location in South Philadelphia and has plans to start another location early next year.
James, who has been supported by his wife Kesha, spoke of the triumphs and tribulations of steering his evangelism based church.
“When we have needed things and resources are necessary, the Lord has provided. From that standpoint, it’s just been wonderful. We’ve been able to meet some wonderful people. The impact we’ve had has been incredible. We have run up against the challenges I think the challenges of the neglect of the city; the chickens of the city’s neglect coming home to roost and unfortunately for far too many of our people in the city of Philadelphia,” he said.
“They are extremely uneducated, their opportunities have been limited. Our children, especially our young men, are suffering from mass incarceration that has a lifelong impact and we’ve had to come up against those basic challenges but that’s exactly what we’re looking for and to find ways to use the gospel to help people overcome those challenges.”
The Rev. Houston Fisher is the assistant pastor of GCF was filled with pride over the church’s growth over the years. He stressed that despite the expanding denomination, GCF’s essence was not lost in the shuffle.
“We are there for one purpose and that purpose is to worship God,” Fisher said.
“So many churches have incorporated so many different auxiliaries that would take away from that worship that we’re supposed to be involved with and we have not done that and I just pray that we continue the way that we’re going and I hope that people will see that we are different.”
He encouraged others to join and take in the ambience for themselves.
“If you really want to be involved in a church and not a country club, then Grace would be a place to consider,” he said.
“We are here for no other reason than to praise God.”
Orson Brown, who is a deacon at the church, was one of the founding members. He was happy to have been there since the beginning.
“If you’re familiar with your Bible, I really felt like we were living out in our lives the books of acts of the apostle when the Christian church was just being formed.”
“I think if we’re honest, we’ve all had some bad church experiences but we don’t give up and some of the part of the mission that we help fulfill is to help get that mission out is evangelism and through family fellowship.”
Brown said that the inviting nature of GCF allowed the church to reach out.
“One of the things that we take pride in or at least I do and something that’s always been a part of our fellowship since we formed is we want you to feel loved when you come to Grace,” Brown said.
“We want you to come into the sanctuary and no matter what’s going on in your life, that first of all you’ll feel the presence of God.”
Sharon Stuckey has been a member for more than four years and shared what her time at GCF has meant to her.
“When you walk in, you don’t get a feeling of standoffishness,” Stuckey said.
“Grace really embodies the ‘come-as-you’ mentality.”
She credited James for fostering such a loving atmosphere.
“Number one, he is very compassionate. Number two, he reminds us that he is human and he has the same flaws as everyone else. He doesn’t make you feel like he’s looking down on you or talking down to you or being judgmental,” Stuckey said.
“One of the reasons why my husband and I love Grace so much, when you walk into Grace, you don’t feel like you’re walking into a corporation, number one. The pastor is very personable and hands on. He knows every single member of his congregation.”
In the last four years, we’ve seen history made on a seismic scale. In 2008, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. That same year, Calvary Christian Church, a pillar in the North Philadelphia community (16th St. and Fairmount Avenue) for decades, made a historic decision to move from its inner city roots to the less urban Great Northeast. Under the leadership of the Rev. Robert James Fontell Jr., Calvary is establishing a new legacy by making great impact in its new location, 6000 E. Roosevelt Blvd.
Calvary’s move had its challenges. Many long-term members did not make the exodus when the church moved, but what it lost in inner city members it gained in semi-suburban membership.
Calvary is a Christ-centered, family-focused ministry that is committed to exalting Jesus Christ, evangelizing the unsaved, edifying the saved and empowering its members and their families. The congregation prides itself on making disciples, to make disciples.
“The year I was licensed was 2002 and ordination was 2008,” at Bible Way Baptist Church, said Fontell. The Rev. Dr. Damone B. Jones Sr. is the senior pastor of Bible Way.
Making the move to the Northeast was an endeavor that Fontell considers one of his great hallmarks leading the congregation. He recalls that the relocation was being pursued by Calvary’s leadership prior to his tenure.
“They had been trying to accomplish that for years, and so I was able to get it done, but with the Lord’s help, done my first year being there,” he said.
Some of the other hallmarks that Fontell is proud of are, “Numerous baptisms; in the four years, we’ve had well over 200 baptisms. We started our children’s church ministry, we see an average of 60 children in our Children’s Church, which is called Wee Worship; we do it every Sunday during our normal worship hours, 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m.”
Wee Worship has been in existence for two years. Every March, Fontell spends that entire month preaching on marital issues, in a series called Marriage Matters, “I’ve seen numerous marriages strengthened. Many couples have renewed their vows and strengthened their marriages.
“We do an evangelistic block party every year,” called Summer Fest said Fontell. Residents are treated to food, games and giveaways. Every week, the church gives away free Pepperidge Farm bread products to the community in the Daily Bread Ministry. And every year, the church partners with the Salvation Army and Red Cross to render various resources and services to children and families.
Outreach events like these have helped bolster membership numbers at the church. Calvary has nearly 200 members. The church building is a former synagogue that was renovated. It is a spacious building, with a huge banquet hall that’s available for public use. It has classrooms, a bookstore and ceiling-to-floor sanctuary windows that allow for abundant natural light during its worship services.
“I’ve been a member, two years now,” said the Rev. Keith A. Garland, Sr. Garland was licensed and ordained at the Nazarene Baptist Church of Nicetown in 1995. “The principal draw was the location and Pastor Robert Fontell and his love for God’s people and his desire to do community service.”
Garland said his “principal leadership role is “pastor of youth and family services, which involves organization of all marriage ministry and family counseling, in addition to youth services and activities. I also assist greatly with the pulpit ministry and pastoral support.”
Garland earned his undergraduate degree from Temple University, “I’ve had some law school and some seminary training, no completion of law school and seminary training, as of yet.” He said he attended Rutgers Law School and Palmer Theological Seminary at Eastern University.
“The principal goal for the youth right now is to just help them gain a greater personal relationship with Christ. We don’t just want to be a church that does activities, although we’re very much into that. We are doing a number of things, but we want greater individual spirituality for the children,” said Garland. He has organized cultural tours to New York and California and held other events to enrich and edify the youth, culturally and spiritually.
“I’ve been a member of Calvary for 67 years,” said Alex Duncan Jr. Duncan has been vice chair of the deacons for about 18 years. He is a big supporter of Fontell.
“Well, one of the things I enjoy most is his heart for serving the people in the community of Northeast Philadelphia.” said Duncan, adding that he shares with Fontell, “a heart for saving souls in that community, and to bring comfort to those who are ailing.”
Making the transition to the Northeast was a challenge for those who made the exodus.
“One of the biggest challenges that we overcame was the people involvement. We have more people involvement now, than we did when we were back at 16th Street. We were able to get a lot of new members. New members have caught on to the pastor’s vision and they’re starting to do ministry. The people are more hands-on now, then before,” said minister Shaque Livingston.
He added, “Before, it just looked like it was always the same people doing a lot in our church.” Now, more people are participating in ministry service, which is relieving the stress of a few members doing all the work.
For Ladrina Powell, being a member of Calvary has been a great experience, but her concern for other new members is ultimately for their salvation.
“I would make sure that they want to be saved and asked them about their goals and mission in life. I would convince them to come to Calvary because we are a Christ-centered-family-focused church,” she said. “After all, we believe in family, we believe in praise and worshiping God. And we have the best pastor in the United States.”
Last Sunday, little Kaela Pointer, a 5-month-old girl, was baptized and celebrated by her church family, Saint Cyprian Roman Catholic Church, the largest African-American Catholic parish in Philadelphia.
The Gospel of Matthew 28:19 documents the Great Commission given by Jesus Christ, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Saint Cyprian is a great example of a church that fully embraces teaching the Word of God, baptizing and making disciples, and taking the Gospel of Christ abroad; Saint Cyprian is probably one of the most culturally versed/well traveled congregations throughout the world, having visited Egypt, Jerusalem, Italy, Greece, Spain, China and so many other international locations.
Rev. Msgr. Federico A. Britto is the endearing and beloved founding pastor of Saint Cyprian. Eleven years ago, he arrived to lead the transition of consolidating two Philadelphia parishes: Transfiguration of Our Lord and Saint Carthage — today, known as the Saint Cyprian Roman Catholic Church, located on Cobbs Creek Parkway.
Britto has had several pastoral assignments during his 29 years as a priest, but Britto’s first pastoral assignment was shepherding the parish of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish, in Philadelphia.
Commenting on the consolidation of the two churches, Britto shared that, “The people, at the time, came together and decided that a new vision was needed for this area, as far as their parishes were concerned.”
Saint Cyprian boasts a long list of ministries and organizations for members of the congregation to serve, including: Hospitality Committee, Helping Hands for the Hungry, Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver, Marriage Preparation, Share the Faith (Door to Door Ministry), Men of Saint Cyprian and F.R.O.G.S. (Fully Relying On God). “If someone is looking for (a ministry to serve in), they can find it here,” said Britto.
Britto is a well-educated man, but is not lofty, he’s quite humble and extremely approachable. Britto earned his B.A. in Philosophy, an M.A. in Theology, and an M.S. in Strategic Leadership, from Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, in Wynnewood, Pa. and he serves on the Boards of Neumann University, Mercy Catholic Medical Center and St. Ignatius Nursing Home.
“He has such a great sense of humor, (he’s) so friendly and he treats everybody the same,” said Carolyn Rice, 61, a member for eleven years, commenting about Britto and his personality. Rice is an entrenched member because the Saint Cyprian congregation is so “loving” and is very “family oriented.”
For John Odom, a member of 10 years, it’s real simple, he’s an entrenched member because, “I like how (members) come together to help others in need.” Odom, 61, serves as a driver, Pastoral Council member and in other ministry capacities.
James Spruill Jr., 45, has been a member of St. Carthage and Saint Cyprian for a combined 40 years.
What Sprull likes best is, “Saint Cyprian is a close knit community; we are all united in commonality of our faith.” A devoted husband to his wife, Kimberly, and a father of two young children, Spruill loves Saint Cyprian because of its family atmosphere.
“We know each other’s family, (and) we support and help each other,” he said.
Spruill serves on the finance committee, parish council and Men of Saint Cyprian ministries.
Every Sunday, Kia Gray, 36, and her family trek all the way from Collegeville, Pa., to fellowship and worship at Saint Cyprian.
“(We are) the largest Black Catholic congregation in Philadelphia and Monsignor Britto is very good for our church … he is constantly trying to work with our youth and seniors,” said Gray, who is the leader of the Young Adult ministry and she’s also a Lector at Saint Cyprian.
Gray is the mother of two girls, Kaela (the infant who was baptized on Sept. 25), and Kai, 14; her husband is Jerome Pointer. As the leader of the Young Adult Ministry, Kia involves the young adults in conducting community service initiatives and she exposes the young adults to guest speakers.
Geraldine “Geri” Fuller, 78, has been of member of Saint Carthage and Saint Cyprian for a combined 50 years.
“I am what is called a cradle Catholic,” she explained. “I was taught by Holy Family nuns,” during her childhood years in New Orleans, La.
Fuller is in charge of organizing the international trips that Saint Cyprian schedules for its congregation and the general public. Her ministry activism includes Legion of Mary, president of Women of Saint Cyprian and Extraordinary Ministry for Mercy Hospital.
Jean Smith, 72, a member for 10 years, made this comment about Britto, “He’s a very caring person, he has the best interest of people in mind.”
Smith enjoys helping organize the international trips that Saint Cyprian takes, the Gospel choir, the Women of Saint Cyprian and food pantry ministries.
Saint Cyprian is, “a very warm and welcoming church and we have a lot of activities (and ministries for people to participate in),” she said.
Smith is equally enthralled about her pastor, saying, “He’s very good with youth and seniors. I hope he never has to leave.”
Saint Cyprian Roman Catholic Church
525 S. Cobbs Creek Parkway
Philadelphia, Pa. 19143
Telephone: (215) 747-3250
Sunday Worship Services: 8 a.m. & 11 a.m.
Priest: Rev. Msgr. Federico A. Britto
The word “thankful” goes deeper than its name for Thankful Baptist Church, a church that appreciates its community and focuses on giving back. Founded in 1923, Thankful Baptist has proven that its members are dedicated to both its sanctuary and the community.
The Rev. Ivan B. Hewitt, the pastor at Thankful, has been serving the church for the past 25 years. With just four pastors preceding him in an almost 90-year history, Thankful prides itself on the longevity of both the leadership and the members.
“The fact that I’m the fifth pastor in 90 years is unique,” said Hewitt. “I am the second in longevity; Rev. Harrison J. Trap the pastor preceding me, was here for 38 years.”
Thankful Baptist Church, at 1608 W. Allegheny Ave., transmits enthusiasm both inside the sanctuary and out. In an effort to reach out and aid the community, the church owns various properties in the neighborhood and is looking to buy three more houses, Hewitt said.
“The intent is to own the whole block,” he said. “We are still trying. We are a mission church. We feel a sense of movement, but we are not moving as fast as we ought to be, we are not moving as far as we want to — but there is a sense of movement.”
In close proximity to the church is the Thankful Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that provides day care, after-school and parenting programs. As Hewitt explained, years ago the church lent use of a building to the organizers, with free use of utilities and electricity, before it returned to the neighborhood, bought a space and named it the Thankful Learning Center. The church maintains a good relationship with the center.
“Some of their workers are members of the church,” Hewitt said.
Emma L. Parish, 91, has been a member of Thankful for 65 years. Parish has experienced various changes within the church, but through many years still feels it holds the important values it has intended to.
“This church means so much to me — I’ll tell you, when I first came here from Georgia my husband and I both joined the church when it was on 21st Street,” Parish said. “I’ve seen them come and go, but everything is still all right. Ain’t nobody going to run me away now.”
The churchgoers at Thankful Baptist are engaged in its sermons and missions. On Sunday, July 15, Hewitt reached his church by preaching the message to always “have church in you.” He explained the importance of worship and allowing it to constantly be present.
“If nobody but me … I’m going to have church by myself, just me and the Lord,” he told the congregation.
This message surely transmits their devotion to the community. Every Wednesday, Thankful provides meals to people in the neighborhood. Additionally, the congregation hosts what they call “Community Day” when they give away clothing and food to those in the area.
“That’s not us being generous; we feel we owe it to the community,” Hewitt said. “We have a parking lot across the street, but the community can use it anytime. We feel that we are here because of the community — we try to make this a beacon in the area — they make us better.”
The church also donates electric fans to community members who need them. Should they also need assistance in paying their electric bills, Thankful offers assistance in paying those bills for a period of time.
“Our job is to bless those in the community and hopefully God will bless us,” Hewitt said.
Thankful Baptist has had a few prominent figures visit throughout the years, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Its widespread outreach also includes mission work in Cuba and Haiti, developed under the leadership of Hewitt’s predecessor, the Rev. Harrison J. Trap.
Thankful also has a social action approach, with a life membership to the NAACP and a commitment to support schools such as Delaware State, Temple University, Cheyney University and Virginia Union.
“We support schools where our members go to,” Hewitt said.
The Rev. Gerald Love is a long-time member of Thankful and the church has played an important role in his life.
“This church means everything to me. I was raised here in this church; I’ve been a part of this church since the ’60s,” he said. “I came to the church with my mother and I’ve attended Sunday school, Bible school, [and] camp, and I worked under Rev. Trap. He was a wonderful man. I traveled with him all over the United States. He did a lot of work in missions all over in Africa and the Caribbean. I’ve been a part of this church all my life, it’s just a joy. I love the fellowship, I love the people.”
The Rev. Barbara Day reflects on her 14-year journey at Thankful and feels ever more grateful for Hewitt, the church and the warm presence of its members. She previously belonged to another church until an incident occurred where she recalled knowing it was a good time for her to find a new church home.
“I am so grateful I belong to the Thankful Baptist Church. I’ve been here for 14 years, and this was the best decision I could make,” Day said. “I think Pastor Hewitt is the most humble person. All I need to do is see him … when I see him I get joy in my heart — I really do. He is so genuine.”
Throughout Thankful’s long history, the church has experienced various changes in its different communities. Hewitt reflected on a major increase in thievery in the late ’80s.
“Now it seems the closer you come to the church, the better the neighborhood is,” he said.
As a church that is focused on its community and social change, Thankful Baptist will continue to make its mark in the neighborhood.
“We are an oasis, and we open our doors to anyone.”