Its services reach beyond its walls

Metropolitan Baptist Church pastor, Elder Gregory Johnson Sr., right, with first lady Bettie Blake Johnson, center, and their son, Zachary. The Johnsons also have a daughter, Alexandria 14. — TRIBUNE PHOTO/ROBERT MENDELSOHN

Nestled in the heart of Powelton Village in West Philadelphia, Metropolitan Baptist Church is located in one of the city’s busiest college community sections. The church is surrounded by a great mix of college students and staff from Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, and long-term West Philly residents. The Rev. Gregory Johnson Sr. is the senior pastor.

Johnson is approaching his ninth year as senior pastor at Metropolitan. Reflecting on some of its hallmark accomplishments, he said, “I have to obviously reference the leadership of this church, because in the years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen the leadership continue to grow and become true leaders and followers of Christ. I’ve seen the Word take effect in the lives of God’s people, where people are truly doing what they can do to move closer to where God wants them to be.”

Johnson is an avid reader; he has a library of books he has read over the years. “I have a book, by R.T. Kendall that is called ‘Total Forgiveness’ and what R.T. Kendall tells us is that forgiveness in mandatory. I keep that book close by because it reminds me that, no matter what happens, who does what to whom, God is looking for our forgiveness (of others). Why? Because that’s exactly what God did for us.” Johnson considers unforgiveness a spiritual growth stunter. “It is a weight you don’t have to carry,” he said.

Bettie Blake Johnson, his wife, admires her husband’s ability to teach the Word of God, saying, “he has organized the Christian Institute; he teaches Sunday school classes on topics he has chosen for [an] eight-week session.” She explained that Christian Institute classes are separate from the traditional Sunday school classes. Regarding the Christian Institute, she said, “it does not take the place of our regular Sunday morning Sunday school classes, but it’s for those individuals that may not be going to any other Sunday school classes. It is another opportunity that people can get an extra class that [Pastor Johnson]teaches himself. I think he’s an awesome teacher and I love him!”

Johnson is an avid teacher of the Word of God; he believes in equipping God’s people with a strong Biblical foundation. “As pastors, we can talk about many different accomplishments, but really and truly, at the end of the day, if one of our goals is not to help God’s people grow, then we’re missing the point,” he said.

The Johnsons have two children.

Since the early 1960s, Myrtle Braxton has served as a very active member at Metropolitan. She currently serves as an officer of the church, “Well, this is my first year as vice chairman of the board of trustees; for five years I was chairman,” she said.

Commenting about the impact Metropolitan is having on the surrounding community, Braxton said, “we have a very good feeding program that we do every Friday for members of the outside community. And we also have a partnership with McMichael School. We also have a partnership with the Powell School. We have a computer lab that was recently instituted in our church that people from the community can come in and use; that was great for us.”

Braxton loves Johnson’s teaching style.

“I definitely love his teaching. I sit in every class that he has,” she said.

Braxton specifically refers to his popular Christian Institute class.

“It’s open to the public, and we do have some outsiders that come to the class,” she said.

“I joined in 1975; my capacity is chairman of the deacons ministry,” said Bobby Jackson. He has served as chairman for about 14 years. One of the most significant life experiences Jackson has had as a member was becoming chairman of the trustees, “and working my way up to chairman of the deacons ministry.”

Reflecting on what he admires most about Johnson, Jackson said, “His preaching and teaching stands out above everything else, because he is so compassionate and humble, that he does not glorify himself, he glorifies God.”

Jackson is a strong supporter of the church’s adoption of the McMichael School. “I see so many kids dropping out of school, (so) we’re trying to influence the parents, as well as the kids, that they need to get their education.”

Larry Harris, 60, is a lifelong member of Metropolitan, and a PK (“Preacher’s Kid”). At one time, his father, the Rev. Lonnie Harris, served as the interim pastor at Metropolitan.

“I came up under Pastor M.I. Gaton; then it was my father, who was interim pastor,” he said.

Harris said his father and the late Rev. Gaton placed heavy emphasis on growing the following ministries of Metropolitan: “Bible study, missionary and evangelism.” Harris admits he’s a stickler for solid teaching of God’s Word.

“Pastor Gaton was [the] one strong in world missions, and my father was really strong in Bible study,” he said.

Since being a member of Metropolitan, “The love of people … the love of God, the relationship I have with the Lord, (and) serving humanity,” are the spiritual growth areas where Harris said he has grown the most.

Dr. Elizabeth Prior, 78, a retired pastor and senior member, was baptized at Metropolitan as a very young child. Prior serves the seniors at Metropolitan.

“The way the church has moved to take advantage of the technology that’s available today,” she said. “Now we can push a button and get anything you want.”

Metropolitan will be hosting a spiritual renewal revival on Sept. 28 and a Friends and Family celebration in October.

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