The Rev. Clarence J. Washington is no cookie-cutter pastor. If one came to the Millennium Baptist Church in West Philadelphia on Sunday, May 5, his recently ordained wife would have been in the pulpit. In fact all of his four associate pastors are female, and half of them are single Christian women.
Washington, himself, brings to his calling to the ministry a Roman Catholic background and real world management expertise. He was originally baptized Catholic, the religion of his mother, and attended parochial schools in his hometown, Johnstown, Pennsylvania. While a student at Bishop McCort Catholic High School he attended Baptist churches for weddings, funerals and special occasions with his father’s family.
Though his formal education ended when he earned his Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Union’s Samuel D. Proctor School of Theology, his secular work is ongoing. This is because Washington works full time as a managing director for the FedEx Corporation and full time as Millennium’s senior pastor.
“I like to think that I am among the new wave of bi-vocational pastors,” Washington said. “I am director of operations for Federal Express which oversees three different states. I have 1,300 people and 160 management personnel. This helps me with the leadership and administration of the church. God has blessed me with a secular job that gives me a high level of training and expertise that I can bring back to the church.”
This has enabled the pastor to help his congregation and the surrounding community in tangible ways. There are times when he directs the unemployed or underemployed to a job opportunity either at his company or through his professional networks. He is also able to mentor and counsel, particularly young, African-American males, about what they need to acquire and retain employment.
Washington attributes the combination of the spiritual with the practical as one of the reasons that Millennium has seen an influx of membership among those between the ages of 25 and 40. Among these are college-educated professionals as well as those needing to acquire skills to make them more marketable in the work world.
“I believe that this is the generation that didn’t learn about responsibility and needs direction to become more responsible,” Washington said. “So, we show them here what Christ expects of them including their responsibility to themselves and their families. This is really a generational thing.
“This generation grew up with so many distractions with the shopping malls and technology — all things that could keep you away from serving God. Some already have their degrees, but others may be on public assistance and need to take the responsibility to maybe go to college or get the skills they need to help them advance,” he said.
So, Millennium has a Free Ministry Operation for Young Adults. This ministry allows those from late adolescence to early adulthood to fellowship on trip excursions and other outings as well as informal and formal discussion groups.
The church also holds missionary dinners where there is outreach by younger members to seniors who may live in convalescent institutions. “It’s all about not just coming to church to sit, but getting out of the church and taking up the responsibility to serve out of love,” Washington said.
Since being installed as Millennium’s pastor in 2002, Washington has preserved the church’s rich heritage while tearing down outmoded traditions. For instance, at one time when a single mother brought her child to be blessed it was not done in the pastor’s office. Now, the church makes it a joyous celebration as even children born out of wedlock are brought into the sanctuary to be publicly blessed before the congregation.
“We are very conscious of making the church available to the community,” Washington said. “We understand that a baby has not done anything wrong being born. There was a time when churches like this one would not allow non-members to have a wedding or funeral in the church. We do allow the community to use the church.
“Even the Parkside Association, when they were involved in the rebuilding of the shopping center across the street with the Shop-Rite and Lowe’s, we allowed the community to have their meetings here. I like to think we were part of that economic development process.”
The church also houses an expanding computer technology laboratory that both members and non-members have access to. Neighborhood children can be found in the center completing homework assignments or “just toying with it because they don’t have a computer at home,” according to the pastor.
There are always special activities going on at Millennium. On the heels of Mother’s Day they held their “Evening with Mothers” on Wednesday, May 15. The Deacon and Deaconess Annual Day will be held on Sunday, May 19.
This November the church will be celebrating its 66th anniversary with a revival. This will come months after the Back to School giveaway and computer lab tours on Aug. 17 at 11:30 a.m. and the Community Flea Market to be held on Sept. 21 at 10 a.m.
Before coming to Millennium Washington served at the nearby Bibleway Baptist Church located at 52nd and Media after joining Mt. Zion Baptist Church, also in West Philadelphia, during the 1980s. As a youngster he was an active Catholic who even served as an altar boy. Yet Washington was also influenced by his father who was reared Baptist and converted to Catholicism when he wanted to enter a courtship and marriage to his mother.
It was his third visit to a Baptist church that Washington said he received his initial calling to ministry. It was a small still voice that told him “this is where I belong,” he said. Yet he just filed the revelation into the back of his mind until another trek to a Baptist church many years later after earning his undergraduate degree from Lock Haven University. After that he heeded his calling by entering seminary.
Now his family is strongly anchored into the faith and life of Millennium. His wife, Donna Marie Washington, also earned her M.Div. degree from Virginia Union. The couple just celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary on Friday, May 10.
Their oldest daughter, Jasmine, is a graduate school student and University of Delaware alumnus. She works with the young adult ministries. Their younger daughter, Shana, is away at college. She is president of the student body at the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore. The family’s youngest member, Jeremy, is a freshman at the University of Delaware and sings with an a cappella groups.
“I like to say that there’s no one better to help new members love their church than my wife,” said Washington. “She now serves as spiritual advisor, head of the women’s ministry, and directs the new membership classes. She is the first person they see when they come into the church. So, when it comes to loving God and loving your pastor, there’s no one better to show them the way.”
Best-selling Christian author Patricia Haley has not only developed a following for the Mitchell family series, but she has her own story as the ultimate integrator.
As Haley was signing copies of her new book, “Betrayed,” her fifth novel focusing on a family’s lesson in forgiveness amidst crisis, she also shared bits of her own story as a full-time engineer while penning fiction, serving at the non-denominational World Overcomers Church outside Chicago, and being a dedicated wife and mother.
This she did Saturday at the CLC Bookstore in Cedarbrook Plaza, Cheltenham Avenue and Easton Road, in Wyncote. There, women who are fans of series and those who were shopping in the Cheltenham Township bookstore, lined up to get a copy of “Betrayed” or one of Haley’s other books.
“I remember when she was living around here, working for the electric company and starting to self publish,” said Michelle Mitchell Day, a member of Oxford Presbyterian Church in Mount Airy. “Now she has all these great books. So when I heard she’d be here I knew I had to come even though since I’ve gotten married I now live in New Jersey.”
Delores Carroll of Cheltenham has read all of Haley’s books. She said that she was awaiting the new book that is among the follow ups to the best selling “Chosen.” “I just could not wait to see what this family would get into next and the lessons that they would learn,” Carroll said.
“I just happened to walk in and see the author here,” admitted Constance Gregory, a writer from West Mount Airy and a member of St. Peter’s Church of God in West Philadelphia. “I happen to love theater, so I am impressed by anyone who is a great storyteller. I do read a lot of Christian books and I write things that are faith-based. So, I am looking forward to reading this work.”
Haley said that her Mitchell family series is a modern day interpretation of the biblical sagas surrounding King David and Solomon. Initially, she planned a trilogy, but soon realized readers wanted to learn more from the characters, how they overcame unfaithfulness and dealt with forgiveness, and to see how their lives evolved.
“There is a lot of wisdom in this faith-based drama series that started in 1998,” Haley said.
When Haley wrote her first book she was able to sell more than 20,000 copies through self publication. The Delta Sigma Theta soror subsequently attracted the attention of a major publishing house. So, what started out as a sideline is now part of her regular routine. But, Haley has not given up her “day job” nor does she plan to.
“This is my ministry,” Haley said. “I realize that I was called to be an encourager. Writing is how I bless people. It’s a gift that God called me to use. I have a degree in engineering and a MBA in finance, and I manage a group of actuarial analysts in North Africa, Asia and Europe — that’s the job I do.
“God blesses me with being able to take care of my family, being active with the Deltas and my church, spending time with my husband and daughter, taking vacations, and doing all that is important to me. When I have a writing deadline I’ll write every day for maybe five to eight weeks, but other than that I lead a full balanced life and am able to do all I want to do. It’s just one of the greatest joys to find your purpose and go about doing it.”
The 11th Annual St. Benedict’s Knights and Ladies Auxiliary of St. Peter Claver Communion Brunch took on a bitter-sweet tone on Saturday. On one hand, there was much celebration as the seven-member choir sang contemporary gospel tunes and the historic philanthropy group wore its traditional regalia. Conversely, members of the predominantly African American parish are holding their breath awaiting the fate of their parish which on the “hit list” for possible closure by the Philadelphia Archdiocese this spring.
So, the theme of the St. Benedict Council and Court 368 was “Be Grateful for the Impossible Dream.” This premise was evident in the sermon by the Rev. George Moore and the choir sang “The Man of La Mancha” theme song about dreaming the potentially unfeasible aspiration of keeping their parish community together. The event was held at the church located at 1900 Chelten Ave.
“This church is truly a family where there is Christian love,” said Vanessa Doughty, the Grandlady of the St. Benedict’s Ladies Auxiliary. She joined the church in 1986 after converting from being a long-time Baptist.
“As soon as I learned about the history of the Knights of St. Peter Claver dating back to 1909 I knew I wanted to join,” Doughty said. “I immediately wanted to be a part of history. At this church we have a shelter for women and children, there’s a PAL program based here, and the Johnson Day Care Center is the old parish school building. So, we are just a real community that we hope will continue to be here.”
Sharmaine Wilson, who attends St. Benedict with her husband and three children, said the church is a tight knit community.
“I just loved the program today and I always try to support all the St. Peter Claver and other functions we have here,” Wilson said.
The May 11 program included the performance of the St. Benedict Praise Dancers. The ensemble is organized by 18-year- old Courtney Wilson, a Little Flower High School senior who recently received a Keystone Honors Scholarship to attend Cheyney University this fall. The younger Wilson will major in chemistry and hopes to continue to choreograph for the ensemble she coordinated.
“I was here when the Knights and Ladies started this event in 2001,” said Colessie Mills during the program. She served as Grandlady of the Ladies Auxiliary from 2001 to 2007. She also paid tribute to the late Frances Mills who she said “took me under her wings.” Now, Mills said that she tries to the same for others.
“We are a giving church,” said Moore, who has been pastor of St. Benedicts for more than 20 years. “We are grateful especially to the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver for their work in our parish community, especially with the kids. This is truly their ministry and I hope you will keep being able to have these types of testimonies here. We strive to be a beacon of hope in this community.”
Brunch was provided by Lindinger’s Catering in North Wales. While St. Benedict’s anticipate they will learn the fate of their parish by the end of May, Doughty said she hoped that their chapter of the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver will remain intact.
The interfaith Elevate Our Nation is learning the importance of spirituality and silence. This was the case when two dozen members and persons of interest came together for their fifth “One Light” gathering with the theme “Refreshing the Mind, Body and Spirit.” The session was held at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, 100 N. Wynnewood Rd. in Wynnewood on May 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Speakers included the “One Light” founder Mary Wade, whose doctoral dissertation focused on conflict resolution and the writings of Howard Thurman. Wade is a member of Wayland Baptist Church in North Philadelphia. Member Karen Jackson facilitated the question and answer segment after the speakers.
Other speakers were family therapist and radio personality Dr. Lucille Ijoy, Philadelphia Archdiocese Office for Black Catholics Director William Bradley, conflict resolution specialist Millicent Carvalho-Grevious, and Tyrone Smith.
“We like to say that religion takes you to the door but it is stillness that allows you to hear God,” Wade said. “To really experience God we have to be silent. Sometimes we can take an intellectual way to God by reading what he says in the scriptures. The only [way to] feel God’s presence and to hear him is to be still and open up that inner sanctuary that is God.”
So, the session opened and closed with silence. After reading scriptures about silence, Wade invited all to “be still and know that I am God.” The meditative day concluded with an hour and 15 minutes of silence. Each participant was directed to walk to a space on the seminary grounds and spend that time alone with God. They then reconvened for the conclusion of the program.
Some were hesitant to spend this much time without talking, Wade said. Yet at the conclusion, members like Pam Tolbert, said that she really benefited from the spiritual retreat. Ijoy said that it was a very refreshing culmination to the spiritual day, according to Wade.
“I had to laugh when one woman told me that she was not into non-violence when I told her about being silent for more than an hour,” Wade said. “I had told them that I have spent days by myself. There was a time when I went out to eat and I had a sign around my neck so that others would know I was retreating to silence. They all learned the beauty and spirituality of silence.”
Among the frank conversations that the recent “One Light” session unfolded was the story of how faith helped one member deal with having multiple sclerosis from childhood. Another shared his story of growing up with homosexual feelings amid having 12 sisters. Still another spoke about opening up to the Holy Spirit on one’s spiritual journey.
Elevate Our Nation, which goes by the acronym EON, was the 2011 brainchild of Wade. They began holding monthly sessions late last year. Some of the recent themes have been forgiveness, respect, and compassion. When they met at the Tasker Street Baptist Church in South Philadelphia on April 6 the theme was elevating the family beyond violence and educational challenges.
“We welcome new members and those interested in spirituality to our meetings,” Wade said. “We understand that we are all made in the image of God and that we must move beyond what society, our parents, our teachers and others have told us about growing spiritually. We are all moving towards the light.”
Bibliophile and historian Charles Blockson proved that genealogy is part of one’s spiritual journey recently. This, he did at the MKA Institute, 5535 Germantown Ave. on May 3 for more than two hours. He took the standing room only crowd through how African American cemeteries, historic church records, and even historical markers can give clues to the past.
Though Blockson’s lecture was entitled, “Who are we? Genealogical Questions in the Black World,” it offered the audience much more. Through an interactive question and answer session, the 79-year-old Blockson was able to discuss insightful a iwalk through venues like the Eden Cemetery in Delaware County or Cedar Lebanon burial ground in West Philadelphia, can be.
“Sometimes you have to use these church and cemetery records to find your history,” Blockson told some after the lecture. “[Civil] records are available sometimes, but church records, the cemetery records and looking in those old family bibles can give you clues as to where to look for information.”
Another resource is the lecturer’s own assemblage of African American documents, books, and artifacts is the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection housed at Temple University. Another resource is his book, “Philadelphia’s Guide: African-American State Historical Markers.”
In it, one will find information on the city’s oldest Black churches like Mother Bethel AME and St. Peter Claver churches. Additionally, documents about the old African burial grounds and their records are among the items found in his collection. During the lecture, Blockson shared some of the historical figures like Marian Anderson or Absalom Jones can be found in local African American cemeteries and church records.
“This is wonderful,” said Benita Cummings of North Philadelphia. “I was expecting to learn more about searching for my family roots. What I really learned was that by going the cemeteries, and [studying] history you learn things about African people we don’t know. So, it’s ingenious to learn that genealogy is more than just your own family tree.”
For Brent Davis of Germantown, the lecture in his neighborhood was part of his spiritual catharsis. He said that he has been immersed in tracing his family’s religious roots and has been reading books about both African and African American spirituality. He was glad to get some new leads in how to secure this information.
“I think that learning more about history is part of everyone’s sacred journey,” Davis said. “When you go back it helps propel you forward across those bridges to the next level. Hearing about our ancestors and how I can learn more about them encourages me to continue that spiritual journey.”
The MKA Institute will continue to have other lectures in the coming week. Their next event will be “Homeschooling as a Viable and Growing Educational Option for Black People.” The event,sponsored by Afrocentricity International, will be moderated by Ama Mazama Peraa at the Germantown headquarters on May 11 at 6 p.m.