James Allen

James S. Allen

The Rev. James S. Allen, who was a longtime pastor at Vine Memorial Baptist Church in West Philadelphia, died on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. Allen was 84.

Allen was the pastor at Vine Memorial Baptist Church from 1978-2016. During his 37 years as the church pastor, he had a big impact on the ministry serving the members and community for decades.

“The first way in which I think of Pastor James S. Allen is always as father,” said Kenneth Allen, his son. “As much a public figure as he has been over the years, the four children saw him first and foremost as Daddy. He was great father. He loved us. He loved our family. He was a great family man. He never neglected family for the sake of his other responsibilities.

“He was a great community leader and activist. He believed in being involved in the community. His work began within the four walls of the church and extended beyond the four walls. In every community where he served, he made a difference.”

Allen was born in Mount Holly, Arkansas, and was a graduate of Arkansas Baptist College. In 1956, he served in the United States Air Force during the time of the Korean Conflict. After receiving his honorable discharge in 1957, he started his career as a minister in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Omaha, Nebraska, prior to coming to Philadelphia.

Allen served with distinction as pastor of three congregations at First Baptist Church-Highland Park in Little Rock, Ark (1959-71); Zion Baptist Church in Omaha, NE (1971-78) and Vine Memorial Baptist Church in Philadelphia (1978-2015). Allen always considered himself blessed to have followed outstanding preachers in each of the churches where he served. 

Allen assisted Rev. Leon H. Sullivan in establishing the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) in Little Rock and in rebuilding the OIC in Omaha. He was a seminary student at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, and present at the Installation Service Dr. Ralph Abernathy as pastor of West Hunter Street Baptist Church, in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the installation sermon. Rev. Leon H. Sullivan personally invited him to serve on the steering committee that planned the first and second African/African American Summits. He attended both.

Allen has also held several leadership positions in the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., serving as an instructor, division leader, lecturer and vice president of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. held in Philadelphia, in 2002. He chaired the host committee again in 2007. he served as director of the convention's Ministers Division and chairman of the groundbreaking 1992 and 1997 Convention Election Commissions where voting machines were used for the first time in the convention's history.

In 1978, Allen responded to God's call to leave Zion and become the second pastor in the 46-year history of Vine Memorial Baptist Church in Philadelphia. He pastored Vine Memorial Baptist Church with distinction. 

During his 42 years in Philadelphia, he served in city government as special assistant to Mayor W. Wilson Goode, chairman of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations in three different mayoral administrations, and a member of the Philadelphia Housing Commission. Allen served as moderator of the Pennsylvania Eastern Keystone Baptist Association, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Philadelphia and Vicinity, and vice president of the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention. 

After leading the African American preachers of Philadelphia in a protest to end the 1981 teachers strike that backed up traffic on Broad and Vine Streets for miles, Allen became the founding president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.

Throughout his 64 years of ministry, Allen believed that God calls his disciples to positions of service and then moves them on to the next task. Therefore, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much."

On December, 31, 2015, Allen preached his final sermon as the shepherd of Vine Memorial Baptist Church. In recognition of his 37 1/2 years of distinguished service, in its 2015 annual meeting. Vince Memorial bestowed on him the title "Pastor Emeritus." In October 2016, Vince Memorial celebrated the 80th birthday and official retirement.

He received a number of honors throughout his career. In 1980, he was presented with a Distinguished Service Award from the late U.S. Rep. William H. Gray III. He was also given the Outstanding Citizen’s Award.

Allen was preceded in death by his parents, one sister, two brothers, wife Dorothy J. Allen, and twin son, Clifton Allen. He leaves to mourn his life and celebrate his legacy, his beloved wife, Henrietta "Penny" Allen; one sister, Ezell Lavan, of Texarkana, AR; one brother, Walter U. Allen, Jr., of Atlanta, GA; four children, Patricia Allen (Zachary) Harmon, of Mansfield, TX, Rev. Kenneth (Sandra) Allen, James (Rev. Wanda) Allen, Jr., of Broomall, PA; and Calvin (Melanie) Allen, Kenneth Allen, II, Joshua Allen, Noelle Allen, Kayla Cohen; three brothers-in-law, Arthur Lemmon, Julius Hunter, Milton Hunter; one sister-in-law, Doris Hunter Taylor; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and godchildren.

There will be a public viewing held on Sunday, Dec. 6, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Vine Memorial Baptist Church. A live stream service will take place on Monday, Dec. 7, at 11 a.m. at www.cwoodfh.com.

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