Beloved preaches, shares Christ’s love

The Rev. Clement M. Lupton, III, delivers the word. — TRIBUNE PHOTO BY RONALD GRAY

North Philadelphia’s Beloved St. John Evangelistic Church makes it a point to not just preach Christ but to share Christ, and in the process it’s healing people in limitless ways.

With a mix of teaching infused sermons, more than 30 ministries and a continued focus on building up the community, Beloved touches the multiple aspects of life. And it’s all because, they don’t want to miss anyone. Everyone, they believe, should be made whole.

“The essence of Beloved St. John is ministering the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a holistic approach to ministry, meeting the needs in people’s lives on many tiers — clothing those who are naked, feeding those who are hungry, a great emphasis on education and a great emphasis on community,” said the Rev. Clement M. Lupton, III, Beloved St. John pastor.

“We don’t suppose ourselves to be a community unto ourselves. We are a part of the community on the aggregate [and] generally uplifting the community with an emphasis on the … Lord Jesus Christ. We achieve that through preaching the gospel and then living the gospel in a tangible way that people can feel.”

Within the church, members have dozens of ministry options to choose from if they want to improve a certain part of their life.

In addition to the standard ministries, such as those for youth and seniors, there are ministries devoted to “marriage enrichment,” drug and alcohol addicts, divorce, single mothers, health and nutrition, evangelism, scholarships and intercessory prayer.

“This is a place where you can fit in,” said Sylvia Holmes, a Beloved member since 2006 and a deaconess since 2008. “[And] you can [address] whatever your needs are to help you grow and mature.”

Holmes noted that throughout her time at the church, she has noticed a change in herself.

“[Beloved] helped me overcome bitterness, not being bitter about my past,” she said. “It helped me to forgive.”

She said that this change, is due in large part, to what she has learned at Beloved for the past eight years.

“[I’ve] learned that I don’t have to be defeated … that I can overcome things through fellowship here and through the Word of God.”

During the 7:45 a.m. service on the second Sunday, at the time of the Tribune’s visit, Rev. Lupton stressed these themes of “overcoming,” hard times and self-improvement in his sermon.

Speaking from the New Testament, he preached, “Jesus is willing to come on your ship but you have to take him as he is. He is what he is. Some of us feel like having Jesus on board guarantees safety … But when you decide I’m going to the other side, you don’t get there without opposition … We have got to be in the storm to know he is the one who can bring us out.”

He then charged the congregation to decide that they are “not going to be [a] failure,” but they “are going to the other side.”

A Beloved elder, Randolph S. Hughes Jr. said such preaching is why he has been a member of the church for nine years, a feat he described as notable.

“I have pastors all in my family. This is the longest I have ever been a member of a church,” he said. “This church is different. You can feel it. It’s a Bible-teaching church.”

But, Beloved does not leave people to heal or overcome on their own, once the Sunday sermons have been completed.

Toward the end of service, Beloved offers an altar call prayer. At this time, the congregants can approach the altar and each one of them can get an intimate prayer with the pastor and the elders, while their foreheads are rubbed with oil.

“We have a commanding scripture that if there is any sick among you, let them call for the elders of the church [and] let them anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And [their] faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise them up and If they committed any sin they will be forgiven,” Lupton explained.

“There is no power in my hand, nothing mystical about it. People are lifting their faith to the Lord and they are asking the Lord to touch them. I’m simply agreeing … I’m saying, ‘Yes Lord, you told me to lay hands on them,’ … and then it’s the business of the believer and the Lord. He then ministers to them. The pastor is just a vessel.”

To connect with the people outside their walls, Beloved offers messages of redemption and hope.

Every Tuesday, the evangelism team travels to a different neighborhood to pray with and for people, deliver a sermon and offer the option of Salvation.

The prison ministry, on every fourth Tuesday, conducts a brief church service at the House of Corrections on State Rd. and gives out Bibles, if needed.

With the HIV/AIDS ministry, Beloved provides testing and counseling to members and non-members. They also work with the Calcutta House — a home to local AIDS patients — providing food and “ministry.”

Still, the work continues, as Beloved tries to back up their messages of hope and redemption by giving people an opportunity to change their lives, with concrete “goods and services.”

These tangibles are largely offered through The Beloved St. John Community Development Corporation (BSJCDC), which “focuses” on the zip codes of 19121, 19129, 19132, 19140 and 19141, all of which — except for 19129 — are among the city’s 15 poorest zip codes, as measured by the Pew Trusts’ 2013 “State of the City” report.

Some of the services offered by the BSJCDC include an annual Unity in the Community Event, Thanksgiving dinner at homeless shelters, Christmas food baskets to needy families, flu vaccines, tax preparation, employment workshops, first-time home workshops and several health workshops.

But, according to Rev. Lupton, this is just the beginning. He said the plan is to increase the church’s capacity to provide these and some additional services on a regular basis. They purchased a lot at 4600 and 4602 Old York Road, which is set to become the home of the Beloved House, a neighborhood community center.

“It’s coming soon!” exclaimed Lupton.

“We are going to feed the hungry — we want to do that on a daily basis. It’s built on the adage ‘Give me a fish I eat today, teach me to fish I eat forever.’ We not only want to feed people, but educate them on how they can get up on their feet and do for themselves. We will also have a recidivism program so that offenders that come out of the penal system can be given a hand up so they don’t end up back in the penal system. There is going to be a piece for our veterans that come back after serving our country. We are also going to educate our young people — strengthen what they are doing in school. We just want to provide a myriad of services to our well deserving but much needed community.”

Lupton said the Beloved House is planned to be completed within the next three years because they are still raising the funds, but that they “would love to have it sooner than later.”

He said the church is anticipating its opening, so they can get deeper in their work.

“We are really pushing this Beloved House because not only will it expand our footprint in the community, but it will give us an opportunity to show the community how Christ really does care,” said Lupton. “And he cares in a very tangible and practical way — through using individuals. I emphasize in this church that all of us are vessels of Agape which means simply whoever you are, wherever you are, you should be an instrument of God’s love. No matter where you are in the city, the commonwealth, in this country, in the world you ought to take the love of God with you. That is the message of Beloved St. John.”

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