Calvary Baptist Church continues to grow

Evangelist Gillian Gittens dances and worships as the church welcomes the women who just returned from a women’s retreat at Willow Valley in Lancaster.--Shira Yudkoff/Tribune Photographer

In 1906, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt became the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  In that same year, Calvary Baptist Church was organized, and the Rev. George Lee Robinson was called to be its first Pastor. He served until his death in 1918. 

Fast forward to 2012, Calvary is experiencing dynamic growth and is making great impact in the West Philadelphia community under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Garth Gabriel Gittens, Senior Pastor.

Calvary has a socially conscious congregation. The church subscribes to a code of beliefs and ethics that underscores its stellar commitment to serving the community

  • We believe every Christian is under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ relevant in his own life and in human society.
  • To provide for the orphaned, the aged, the helpless, and the sick.
  • To seek to bring industry, government and society as a whole under sway of the principles of righteousness, truth and brotherly love.
  • To promote these ends, Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

Zavia Forney has been a member of Calvary for at least 2 ½ years, she serves as a deaconess and she is currently a minister-in-training.  Remarking about Rev. Gittens, she said, “Pastor Gittens is a man of God, he is a truthful man - he’s a person touching the lives of people.”

She also serves on the Strategic Planning Committee, primarily responsible for the oversight of church growth.

Her husband, Andre Forney, Sr., is also a minister-in-training.  He was attracted to Calvary because of the informative, practical and charismatic preaching and teaching of Rev. Gittens.

“Pastor Gittens preaches the unadulterated Gospel,” he said. “and the atmosphere here with the people, they are loving and they make no apologies for their worship of the Lord.”

A. Forney admits that his greatest spiritual transformation has occurred through his grow with the Men’s Fellowship ministry,

“It’s an opportunity for Christian men to come together to address issues in Christian men’s lives, and how to address those issues through the Word of God,” he said. “ The Bible says iron sharpens iron, and (the Real Men’s ministry) is an opportunity for men to grow and to take our rightful place in the Kingdom, to affect God’s people.”

Calvary has at least 19 official ministries designed to serve its members and the community at large. Among them are:  Children’s Church, Women’s Fellowship, Agape, Youth ministry, Seniors ministry, and the Deacons ministry. 

Emmett Russum, chairman of the deacons, has been a member for 19 years.

“I’ve been serving as deacon for nine years.”  Russum said his greatest challenge leading the deacons has been, “being able to pass on information that the church (leaders) and the pastor have given me and the deacons, so that we can go out and serve our congregation.”  Calvary has a swelling congregation, its membership is so robust, the church had to move to three services just to accommodate the weekly throng of members and visiting worshippers.

Russum recalls when the resignation of a previous pastor that left a void for five years, but once Rev. Gittens came on board, the church has expanded its ministries, became more focused on serving community, and became more strategic in business and ministry planning.

There’s a vibrancy that runs common among Calvary church leaders and one of its most vibrant leaders is the Rev. Thomas Glover.  Glover is an eight year member of Calvary, during his tenure, his ministry affiliations have included deacons, culinary, and now pastor of operations.  He said his biggest challenge as pastor of operations is, “managing people, and getting everything to gel.  To make sure things run well, not just on Sunday, but throughout the week, in everything that we do.” 

As Pastor of Operations, Glover has been working in this capacity, full time, during the last three years.  Prior to becoming a full-time servant-leader at Calvary, Glover was a chef, professionally trained at The Restaurant School in West Philadelphia.

“I enjoy cooking – but God called me to other things, to tend to the flock, to help pastor,” he said. “Because a man with that kind of vision, need people to hold his hands up, to help to do what needs to be done.”

Glover’s said it’s a challenge eeping pace with Rev. Gittens’ high energy, vision and service to the community at large, which includes a motor coach business, an emerging water ice venture to hire local residents, an emerging day care, a summer camp, “And Agape, which feeds over a thousand people a year,” he said. “We have a music school, we’re trying to do plays, theatre – our pastor is a visionary.  As he continues to put out the vision, it’s our job to run with the vision to make it happen.” 

In addition, Calvary has a relationship with Harcum College.

“Every Tuesday and Thursday night, people are coming here to get their college degree, our pastor is big on education,” Glover said.

In addition to all his responsibilities, Glover teaches a weekly Wednesday morning Bible Study and evening Youth Bible Study.

The senior members of Calvary are also vibrant and active in ministry outreach.  Mattie Hull, 70, shared this reflection about her membership: “I’ve been a member since (July) 1961 – and Christian unity, striving together (as a congregation) to continue to get closer to God and to meet the vision of the pastors,” has been Calvary’s most significant accomplishment. 

Her advice for the younger generation of leaders is to become good listeners, “and be careful who you pattern after, it’s all about God and not about any person.” she said.

 Gabriel Gittens, 18, is the son of Rev. Gittens and First Lady Gillian Gittens, and the sibling of older brother the Rev. Andre Gittens.  Gabe believes that peer pressure is one of the greatest challenges for youth and young adults today.

“There are a lot of people that do things that are not exactly Godly,” he said. “There’s a lot of drinking, there’s a lot of smoking, a lot of gang banging, a lot of stuff that people try to involve you in, but you just got to go your own path.” 

Gabe is college-bound this fall for Coastal Carolina University in South.

Tanisha Jones, 28, a member for four years, is very engaged in ministry at Calvary. She was drawn to the church by its praise and worship ministry.

,“I came in broken, the praise and worship team was ministering, and I actually joined the church the second time visiting.”  she said.

Jones is now very active with the praise and worship ministry and she’s an active teacher with the children’s ministry.  She said she would urge people to consider joining Calvary, “because it’s a place where you can grow – you can actually start new ministries, Pastor Gittens doesn’t mind if you have a vision, he is willing to work with you.”

“It’s been nine years and a few months,” said Rev. Gittens about his tenure at Calvary.  His proudest accomplishment is, “the motivation that comes with seeing people’s lives transformed, and that’s ongoing accomplishment.  We’ve seen families come back together, we’ve seen homes restored, people getting off of drugs – their situation’s changed, and now becoming employed, that kind of process gives me the best feeling of accomplishment.”

Rev. Gittens believes that pastors should have a very strong teaching ministry, “Preaching proclaims, teaching explains.  And that’s the big difference. Instructing people is a very different thing.  And the transformation of people’s lives comes through the instruction.  We believe that economics and education are the pillars of liberation.”

On the horizon, Calvary has a few major events planned, a dramatic play “Heaven or Hell” (three- night revival); the annual Carroll Park Picnic and an All Culture Day.  For more information, call the church at (215) 747-9979. 

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