Members of the Marine Corps were honored during a ceremony held at Shiloh Baptist Church at 2040 Christian St. on Sunday during the church’s 170th anniversary.
The celebration also marked the 15th anniversary of senior pastor the Rev. Edward Sparkman, who was honored for his ministerial work. Gov. Tom Corbett and Mayor Michael Nutter both sent citations congratulating the pastor and the congregation on their service in the community.
“This is a blessing because, when you think of 170 years, it makes you realize that your past helps bring you to the future; we don’t want to forget but we want to move forward,” said Sparkman.
When asked what impact he felt the church had on the surrounding community, he replied, “I think outreach and letting people know that the church is not just open on Sunday and we’re reaching out to let everyone know that we’re here to tell God about the goodness of his blessing and to tell everyone regardless of race, creed, or color.”
The event was described as one “celebrating the sacred marriage between pastor and people” and it is this interdependence which Sparkman stated as some of the changes he witnessed during his 15 years as pastor. This, according to Sparkman, was evidenced by more closeness between its members and the community and the close way in which they walk together.
Julius Richardson, a trustee at the church, praised Sparkman as a man of great leadership who extended the services of the church to the community.
“He took us a mighty long way since he has been here,” said Richardson. “We have many outreach programs that connect with the community as well as other religious institutions and organizations.”
Richardson calls the pastor, “The right man for the right season.”
Sparkman said he couldn’t have done it alone.
“I like to call it the ‘we syndrome, ’let’s all put it together. Let’s not put it all on the pastor, let’s do it together,” he said.
The church was filled with well-wishers, members of the congregation and residents who joined in the celebration of the church’s anniversary as well as to witness the honors bestowed upon the remaining members of the Montford Point Marines, the all-Black unit founded in 1942 and the country’s first Black marine unit.
The Montford Point Marines has played a significant role in the church’s legacy, according to Sparkman. Lt. Col. Willie was joined by fellow Montford Point Marine members Joseph H. Geeter III, a former president of the Montford Marine Association, Lucius Snowpen and Phillip Herout.
“One of our former member’s husband was a member of the Montford Point Marines and the president awarded them the Congressional Medal of Honor in June,” said Sparkman. “In helping her prepare for this date, I did some research and found out also that my father was a Montford Point Marine.”
The pastor, whose father received a gold medal posthumously, said that most of his family was there to witness the award dedication.
It was Lt. Col. Clarence Willie who contacted the members of the Montford Point Marine Association to request their participation at the dedication ceremony. One of the recipients was his uncle, Charles Hines, of Philadelphia.
“I really wanted to see his widow get his just due, I also discovered that uncle Charles attended this church and that Rev. Sparkman’s father was also a Montford Point Marine and so I’m here present the Congressional Gold Medal to these two gentleman,” said Willie.
The Montford Point was formed in 1942 to 1949. They were named after the camp in Montford, New River, N.C. Despite racial discrimination, the Montford Point Marines went on to distinguish themselves in service. They were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on June 27.