A Brief History of the North Penn Baptist Church
Thanks be to God, which gives us the victory. – 1 Corinthians 15:57
Although organized by the First African Baptist Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania under the pastorate of Rev. Theodore Doughty Miller, D.D. (1864-1897) on December 12, 1895, the North Penn Baptist Church was conceived from a Sunday School and born in a prayer meeting in 1894. The Sunday School met in the home of Sarah Reynolds (now gone to her reward in 1927) at 2642 West York Street in the “North Penn Village.” It was in that home where they continued to pray, believing that God would give them the desire of their hearts. Under the leadership of its first superintendent, Rev. Wilkins E. Jones, the Sunday School consisted of eighteen devout Christians (eight men and ten women). The founding members were 1) Hezekiah Mitchell, 2) Napoleon Watford, 3) Henry Martin, 4) James Burge, 5) Nellie Mitchell, 6) Mollie Watford, 7) Addie Reynolds, 8) Martina Blake, 9) Matilda Mitchell, 10) Daniel Cooper, 11) Annie Burge, 12) Jennie Mitchell, 13) Sarah Reynolds, 14) Elena Bazemore, 15) Alfred Mitchell, 16) Matilda Martin, 17) George Reynolds and 18) Rev. Wilkins E. Jones.
These men and women, having formed a mission, sent communications to various Baptist Churches in the City of Philadelphia, and on December 12, 1895, a Council met on this present site (27th and Hagert Streets), then owned by a white congregation who willingly gave them the use of their building that God’s faithful followers might be organized into a regularly constituted Baptist Church. The members of the Council were as follows: Rev. Theodore D. Miller, Pastor of the First African Baptist Church; Rev. Armstead Cooper of North Carolina and two white pastors, one from 18th and Spring Garden Streets and the other from 20th and Spring Garden Streets. The Council opened the meeting with devotional exercises, after which minutes calling for a Council were read. It was moved and seconded that the minutes would be received and the aforesaid men and women would be recognized as a regular Baptist Church to be known as the “North Penn Baptist Church.”
The Deacons selected were Hezekiah Mitchell, Henry Martin and Daniel Cooper; Alfred Mitchell was added to the Deacon Board in 1896. The original members of the Board of Trustees were Napoleon Watford, George Reynolds and James Burge. Now fully organized and under the watchful care of the Mother Church, First African Baptist, the members rented a hall, commonly known as Collar Box Hall, on Arizona Street between 27th and 28th Streets. Rev. Robert Burke was called as the first pastor, and served for eleven months. After many challenges in locating a suitable place of worship, steps were taken through the kindness of a friend named Joseph Taylor, who resided at 1616 Oxford Street, to purchase our present site at 27th and Hagert Streets, on which a white Presbyterian congregation had used an old, dilapidated building. Trustee Napoleon Watford was selected to hold the property in trust for the North Penn Baptist Church pending the Church’s incorporation. The purchase price of the building was $4,500.00. All monies were paid to him and when the final payment was made, the property was deeded to North Penn Baptist.
The first Pastor called to serve the North Penn Baptist Church at 27th and Hagert Streets was Rev. John Scott of Boston, Massachusetts; the second Pastor, Rev. Brown of Georgia; the third Pastor, Rev. James Sumter of North Carolina; and the fourth Pastor, Rev. D.D. Gibson of Virginia. During the pastorate of Rev. Gibson, many souls accepted Christ, and in 1910 the original debt was paid off, the building was demolished and a basement of stone was erected, the first unit of a stone edifice. The cornerstone was laid on the First Sunday in June, 1911. The service for this milestone was preached by Rev. Dr. William Abraham Creditt, D.D., Pastor of the First African Baptist Church (1897-1915).
In November 1916, Rev. Dr. John H. Dwelle was installed as pastor. He was a young, active minister, full of energy and ambition, who with untiring zeal, labored for thirty five years. When Rev. Dwelle was called, the problems facing him were manifold. The challenges were an unfinished Church edifice, a congregation of less than ninety members, a debt of $3,800.00 owed for the building of the basement and a housing shortage in the North Penn Village for African Americans; consequently, there were no new members moving into the community. Despite the obstacles, in less than eighteen months, a beautiful church building was completed at a cost of $30,000.00 (the only church at the time in Philadelphia that was built with the hands of African
Americans), pews costing more than $40,000.00 and an organ costing $2,500.00 were installed, the debt of $3,800.00 for the basement was paid off, goodwill was restored, and hundreds of homes were bought in the North Penn Village for African Americans through the Dunbar Savings and Loan Association, organized by Rev. Dwelle and most of the directors and members of North Penn. As chair of the Executive Board of the Dunbar Savings and Loan Association, Rev. Dwelle saved thousands of dollars for weak and struggling churches, and supported African American businesses. In October 1922, Rev. Dwelle brought to North Penn Baptist Church for the first time the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention and the Mayor of Philadelphia, J. HamptonMoore, as well as encouraging a gifted Cornet Band (the North Penn Baptist Church Cornet Band) with instruments costing more than $1,000.00. His ministry was eminently successful, and a fountain of living water to hundreds of unsaved souls. Under his pastorate, North Penn was greatly enlarged in members, and strengthened in influence, as well as becoming a faithful friend and advocate of missions at home and abroad.
The Rev. Charles H. Churn served as pastor of North Penn Baptist Church from the First Sunday in November, 1945 until September 9, 1950. During his pastorate, the Church was renovated and chimes were added to the organ. Rev. Churn was a man of God who preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its fullness. His sermons were well prepared, and delivered with fervent zeal and spiritual power.
In May 1951, the Rev. Dr. Risden Pierre DeBerry was called to pastor the North Penn Baptist Church, where he rendered thirty-five years of faithful, dedicated and devoted service. Rev. DeBerry was a fine scholar, a man of logic and deep piety. He was also an aid to young men in the ministry, as well as continuing the legacy of North Penn’s commitment to missions at home and abroad under the auspices of the National Baptist Convention, Foreign Mission Board and the Progressive National Convention, Baptist Global Mission Bureau. Through his guidance, missionary work in Africa and Haiti was established and continues to advance faithfully. Under the leadership of Rev. DeBerry, North Penn made wonderful advancements. The Parish House at 2416 North 27th Street was purchased to accommodate the growing Sunday School, and to serve as an additional meeting space for the Baptist Training Union. In 1965, the Bailey Building at 2419 North 27th Street was acquired, and preparation was made for establishing a recreation and education building. In 1967, the Broudy Building at 2405-07 North 27th Street was purchased, along with the property at 2649-51 West York Street to further enhance our facilities for the building of the North Penn Church Center. Dedicated in 1971, the Church Center was built for the purpose of serving the community, as well as the North Penn Baptist Church family. It was not erected as an entity apart from the Church but as an extension of its activities and influence. The classrooms and spacious gymnasium provide additional space for the Sunday School, meetings, banquets, the Police Athletic League, a Child Day Care Center, Vacation Bible School and many other church related activities. The North Penn Baptist Church Parking Lot was constructed directly across from the Church Center, and a garden was planted next to the Church Center to beautify the neighborhood at the corner of 27th and York Streets. In addition, the stained glass windows were covered with Plexiglas for preservation. Rev. DeBerry passed to Savior’s peace on September 26, 2011.
Articulating with excellence the Spirit of Truth with maturity in the Word of God, Rev. Warren H.Marshall, Jr., M.Div., succeeded Rev. DeBerry in April 1988, after serving under his spiritual guidance since 1981. To his credit, the picture of the white Jesus was removed and replaced with a
lighted wooden cross to remind us that Jesus is no longer on the cross but is alive so that we may have the gift of eternal life. Under the pastorate of Rev. Marshall, improvements continued to be made to the Church properties – the Mollen Building in the 2600 of West Hagert Street was purchased, the Church Parking Lot was paved, an air conditioning system was installed and two Church vans were acquired. The ministries established under Pastor Marshall’s leadership include The Youth Christian Fellowship, The Men’s Fellowship, the Transportation Ministry, the North Penn Day Care & After-School Program, North Penn Village Outreach, the Christ-like Steppers, In Touch Ministry, The Women’s Ministry, the First Lady’s Children’s Choir and the North Penn Knights Basketball, Football and Cheerleader Teams.
Pastor Marshall is a member of many church-related, civic and community organizations. He is also involved with the United States President’s Faith-Based Initiative Program, served as Vice Chair of the Finance Committee of the Progressive National Baptist Convention and is currently a
board member of its Missions Department. During his tenure at North Penn, Pastor Marshall has devotedly discharged the duties of a faithful and sympathetic Pastor, thus giving practical and tangible evidence of the spirit of benevolence and charity.
From our humble beginnings, under the divine leadership of pastor after pastor, we have come to our present state. We do not forget the men and women who have preserved and endowed us with their deep convictions, rich culture and heritage of fond memories. We are still moving forward and appreciate the pioneering spirits who have engendered it. It is because of their leadership that North Penn Baptist Church has enjoyed a full measure of growth in its One Hundred Sixteen years of service to our God and our community.
To God Be The Glory For The Great Things He Has Done!
Originally compiled by
Deacon Samuel P. Johnson, 1954
Revised by Leslie Willis Lowry, 2011
Deacon Samuel P. Johnson, 1954
Revised by Leslie Willis Lowry, 2011