The First Baptist Church of Darby at 925 Summit Street in Darby, celebrated its 110th year during a celebratory service on Sunday. The church itself not only has deep roots in the community but so does many of its members, a significant number of whom have spent several decades there.
The Rev. Raymond Merriweather has been the pastor of First Baptist Church of Darby for 14 years and, as a retired school principal of the William Penn School District, he brings his teaching and organizing skills as an educator to the ministry.
“I was in this community as a principal, as an educator and now as pastor,” Merriweather said.
Merriweather didn’t come to First Baptist wet behind the ears. Prior to taking the assignment in Darby, he pastored 14 years at Canaan Baptist Church in Germantown.
“As I continue now in this fourteenth year of service as pastor, I draw strength from rewinding the experiences of the work in progress. In this community, lives are changing, people are trying to love one another a little more, unity is being shared and practiced but, most of all, we are grasping the vision of the forward move,” Merriweather said. “This is more like a family church and there are people who have been here for many years. There are a lot of families intertwined within this church as well.”
Not only are there quite a few members who share family ties at the church, but Merriweather says he himself discovered that he also had family members there.
“I didn’t know that until after I got here,” Merriweather said.
And the church is active, with a significant number of ministries designed to meet the needs of both members and the surrounding community.
“We have our evangelism ministry, a community outreach ministry, we have a phenomenal women’s ministry under my wife, Deborah. She’s been doing a great job and it has grown significantly. We have a couple’s ministry, a single’s ministry, a praise dance ministry….” And the list goes on.
The outreach ministry engages the surrounding community and just recently distributed 400 book bags to youth headed back to the classrooms. They also host outdoor activities for local residents to participate in the activities of the church as well as actively host programs, services and events throughout the year where they invite the outside community to join them.
There is also the Jesus Department Store:
“It’s called the Jesus Department Store where we have stuff all the way in the back, clothing, new and almost like new clothes, and everything else and people can come and get whatever they want without paying a dime,” Merriweather said.
“This is our 3rd year doing this
The pastor and his wife Deborah have known each other since the age of 5. They have been together for 46 years and married for 44 years.
“Actually, we have known each other since I was 5 [years-old] and she was 4 [years-old],” Merriweather said. “We both grew up in the Germantown and Mount Airy area.”
As first lady of First Baptist of Darby, Deborah Merriweather is very active.
“My number one responsibility is to love Jesus as much as I do and that’s where my direction comes from and then, as first lady here, I am here to be his prayer warrior and his support because he knows he’ll get an amen from my corner,” she said.
Deborah Merriweather said that it’s a misconception that women can’t get along, because at First Baptist, the participants of the women’s ministry which she heads, get along very well.
“The world thinks that women are always fussing and fighting, not so,” she said. “When you teach them how to love Jesus first and to love one another, they all get along and so we get together every month and its sweet.”
The women’s ministry isn’t exclusive, either.
“We leave the door open for anyone that wants to come and participate,” she said.
And if leading the women’s ministry wasn’t enough, Deborah Merriweather also has an additional responsibility of heading the church health ministry.
“I believe that our health, our physical health, is important in the church also,” she said.
A nurse of 43 years, Merriweather gathers the other nurses at the church once a month and together the ministry conducts health screenings, educational forums. They also read over and explain prescriptions of medicines church members might not understand.
“I’m always ready to read over medication they don’t understand because sometimes many of our doctors are moving so fast and some people are taking medications they shouldn’t be taking,” she said.
“I give them health lectures once a month, I give them notes and pass them out because I’m trying to keep them healthy physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.”
Linda Washington has been a member of First Baptist for 60 years and chaired the 110th anniversary committee which organized activities surrounding the anniversary.
Asked what kept her rooted and grounded at the church for said decades, Washington said it was “family love and the Lord didn’t move my footsteps.”
“It’s a family church, a church full of love. It’s a community church, an outreach church and it’s a great place to worship. I’m one who don’t believe in jumping from church to church because all churches have something going on and I wanted to make a difference here at First Baptist.”
For its anniversary service, First Baptist chose the Rev. Albert Morgan, pastor of Union Baptist Temple Church in Bridgeton, New Jersey to deliver the sermon.
“I feel so honored to be here,” said Morgan who titled his sermon: ‘I fell in love with another man’s wife and he made me his best man.”
“The wife was the church,” explained Morgan after his humor filled sermon.
“It’s been a strong church, it’s a loving church and each time I come here it’s been a friendly church which I’m sure is making an impact on this community,” he said.