Intimate, warm and welcoming describes the atmosphere at First Colored Wesley Methodist Church — a church with a long history in the city. After a six-year search for a new pastor, First Colored Wesley recently celebrated the installation of the Rev. Ralinda Golback. The congregation was cheerful and uplifted as Golback shared her excitement over her new role at the morning service preceding the installation.
First Colored Wesley Methodist Church stands in a diverse South Philly neighborhood blocks from the Avenue of the Arts. The church’s history goes back to the origins of the Black church in Philadelphia, beginning on June 16, 1820, when a group of members from Bethel Church organized a new congregation. They held services in various locations in Old City and utilizing a carpenter shop on a lot on the north side of Lombard Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. The church’s first pastor was the Rev. Joshua Blue and the congregation transformed the shop into a house of worship.
After establishing an affiliation with a newly formed Zion organization in New York, First Colored Wesley held the second Annual Conference for the new denomination on May 16, 1822. The congregation was incorporated as the First Colored Wesley Methodist Church on May 31, 1826.
In 1885, the church was under the new leadership of the Rev. J.P. Thompson and relocated to the southwest corner of 15th and Lombard streets. Unfortunately, part of the church was destroyed by a fire, forcing the congregation to worship at the Horticultural Hall on Broad Street. The congregation did not allow the fire to diminish their spirits.
Through decades of perseverance, a fire, leadership and building changes, First Colored Wesley bought its current location at 17th and Fitzwater streets on Nov. 21, 1943. The Rev. John H. Larkins became the pastor in 1945 and served until 1971. Its rich and extensive history has instilled a sense of pride in the congregation that is still present today.
First Colored Wesley began the search for a pastor in 2006. Who better than Golback, a member of the church for 29 years?
Golback became a member in 1983 and served as church clerk for 23 years. She explained she had received her “calling” years before, but it wasn’t until 2006 that she decided to stop denying it and “relinquished,” as she describes it.
“This is my home church, I just love it and love each and every member here,” Golback said. “God has just blessed me to be able to be elected to this position — I’m awestruck.”
First Colored Wesley may be small in size, but is grand in enthusiasm, engagement and smiling faces. Their warm approach keeps members dedicated to its mission.
Michele Neal, South Philadelphia resident, a musician, has played the piano and the organ at First Colored Wesley for more than 10 years. Neal got involved with the music ministry at First Colored Wesley when a friend recommended she play at the church.
“Their musician left, so I came and started to minister to them in song, and they liked the way I played and told me to come and play for three choirs — the gospel chorus the youth department and the fifth Sunday choir,” she said. “They are beautiful warm-hearted people.”
Neal feels the spirit in the church is very uplifting and one of the main goals of First Colored Wesley is to uplift everyone who comes. She was excited for the installation of Golback and feels it is a “joyous” celebration.
The service preceding the installation was celebratory as the congregation cheerfully welcomed Golback’s new position. She addressed her soon-to-be congregation and relayed, “I can only praise God for what he’s done in my life.”
As part of their unique and intimate practice, the congregation members joined in a circle at the pulpit within the service, held hands and bowed their heads as their pastor-elect led them in a prayer.
The Rev. Arthur P. Wells delivered the sermon of the day, welcoming Golback’s installation. He discussed utilizing the resources God has given. Referencing a Michael Jackson hit, “Man in the Mirror,” Wells explained that everyone at some point needs to look within and “get done whatever we need in God’s house — there is a treasure that God laid out for us, but you first have to locate it.” He said it has always been in God’s plan for Golback to assume this position.
“God knew Rev. Ralinda would be ready to lead this congregation,” he said.
“I wanted to prepare the congregation for a new pastor — looking toward the future, we thank God for 192 years of the past,” Wells said. “We have to look at ourselves and examine ourselves on whether we are ready to work for another 192 years — that’s our plan so we will be able to support her in her endeavors”
First Colored Wesley consistently works to do outreach in the community and to encourage and increase membership. The congregation embraces their location and the changes in their surroundings, by opening their door to their diverse neighbors.
“I look forward to building up the membership and continuing to build up spiritually. I want to reach out to some who have lapsed in their attendance, we want to reach back to them for them to come back and support us and be apart of us,” Golback said. “There’s also a new field that’s here — there’s a new spirit, I want to watch that spirit.”
She believes it is important to reach out to young people, since she believes youths are often disillusioned by what they hear in the media. She’s hoping as a congregation they can instill change, make a difference in their community and inspire others to encourage a difference in the world.
The congregation at First Colored Wesley Methodist Church embraces the past, but looks forward to a new and ever-changing future.