HISTORY OF SAINTS MEMORIAL BAPTIST CHURCH
The Early Years (1903 – 1926)
A new Baptist church was established in Bryn Mawr. The First Baptist Church of Bryn Mawr was a white church, but their minister took part in the “setting apart” of which a predominantly African American was formed. The first seven years were devoted to building up the fledgling congregation from being a mission and preaching station into a congregation. This was no easy task so over these years there was a succession of pastors. One of these ministers was Joseph Green. It is uncertain when he assumed the pastorate, but it was during his ministry that the Second Baptist Church of Bryn Mawr applied for its charter. On May 4 1910, members applied to the Assembly of the Commonwealth to be registered as a Baptist Church. The charter was granted on June 10 and 35 believers became the charter members of the Second Baptist Church of Bryn Mawr. The next sixteen years saw steady growth under the ministries of the Reverends. Frank Mitchell, E. B. Harris and John Ruffin. However, it was a young Virginian, J. Arthur Younger who was called to the pulpit in 1926 and remained for fifty years who was to leave the most lasting impression on the congregation.
The Younger Years (1926 – 1976)
The Rev J Arthur Younger, responded to the Call from the Second Baptist Church in Bryn Mawr who was still meeting in the blacksmith’s shop on Warner Avenue. With the Rev. Arthur Younger at the helm there was a new passion, which resulted in an increased membership. The congregation was now ninety-six and eager. He began his ministry on the third Sunday of June 1926 and chose as the theme of his sermon, “Let us arise and build.” It was to be a mantra for the congregation for years to come. He chose for himself an even more demanding motto, “A true Gospel and A Pure Life.” The Younger years were marked by a deep devotional life as well as a vigorous outreach to the community. There was a constant emphasis on personal and congregational worship. He produced for general use in church a liturgy for Sunday worship. This was printed and placed in the pews for use every Sunday. It included prayers with appropriate verbal or silent responses or read in unison. There were selected readings from Holy Scripture and of course a sermon. The Order for the Communion Service was also printed and included the Covenant, which was said first before the Words of Institution, which were said in unison and ended with the Offering for the Poor. Rev. Younger also wrote a pamphlet for the congregation and the wider Baptist community called, The Outlook on Worship. On October 7 1928, just two years after his arrival a solemn Ground-breaking Service took place on a plot of land across the road from the blacksmith’s shop. The congregation had long outgrown its present location and the shop had become more of a community meeting place than a place of worship. The corner stone for the new sanctuary was laid on November 18th that same year and building began. The edifice was completed in a year thanks to a loan from the American Baptist Home Mission Society. The new church building was dedicated on Sunday, May 19, 1929 with much rejoicing and the ceremonies lasted through June 9th, 1929. Although there was some discussion about an organ in 1928, it was not until the new church was built across the street from the blacksmith’s shop that a new Moller pipe organ was purchased for $71,000 and installed. Further additions to the new building soon became necessary as the congregation increased and other activities were added to the church’s program. On September 16,1938 an annex to the existing building was dedicated, and this was opened debt free, while the existing mortgage on the church was cleared and the mortgage papers burned on November 26, 1944. Six years later on October 25, 1950 ground was broken for an auditorium to house the weekly activities of the ladies and to provide additional room for the Sunday School, which had grown tremendously. The Saints Memorial Baptist Church, by which name the second Baptist Church of Bryn Mawr was now known, was an integral part of the Bryn Mawr community. Not only did it provide a space for the recreational activities of its own members, but it also served the wider community with a newspaper called” The Booster” which examined and critiqued the issues of the day from a Christian perspective. It also provided valuable information on how to get help through the auxiliaries of the church and the agencies of government. Despite its local outreach the church recognized its national and international obligations as part of the body of Christ. Not only was Rev. Younger her pastor, a member of several committees and boards of the Philadelphia Baptist Association and American Baptist Churches, but he also worked closely with the Baptist Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention, involving the membership as well. After a ministry of fifty years the Rev. Arthur Younger handed in his resignation due to failing health. He did so in a letter on Friday October 1, 1976. In it he wrote that he would like, ” to leave behind a legacy of devotion and dedication to the Lord’s humanity …. a legacy that compels each generation to thirst for knowledge and understanding so that each generation may ensure a place in God’s sun and our nation’s life for generations unborn. ” The letter was read at a church Meeting the following Sunday October 3 1976 and accepted with regret. He had come to a congregation of 96 in a blacksmith shop and he was leaving a new church building, which he had twice to expand because of an increase in membership and activities.
The Hopkin Years (1978 – 1991)
The Rev. Dr. Barry Hopkins of Stamford, Connecticut was called to the pastorate on July 6, 1978 and was installed in an impressive service in July of the following year The Rev. Barry Hopkins was a graduate of Virginia Union University and Seminary. He had served as Youth Minister in Springfield Baptist Church in Glen Allen, Virginia After seminary he was called to the celebrated Sixth Mt. Zion Church in Richmond Virginia as assistant to the minister and subsequently became the Senior Minister. Rev.Hopkins brought to the Bryn Mawr congregation an impressive array of credentials. He had earned a doctor’s degree from the Lancaster Theological Seminary in 1970 and through his studies had honed his counseling skills and was a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counseling. Hopkins with his international church contacts developed programs to help the congregation to see itself against the backdrop of the world church. He arranged a series of mission trips, which had as their goal mission education and personal development. In July 1984 he arranged a Tour to Africa in collaboration with the All African Conference of Churches. Rev. Hopkins arranged training and developed small business incubators and ventures himself encouraging others in Black Entrepreneurship. Housing especially for the elderly was also a serious problem. The church decided to set aside the old parsonage at 46, Warner Avenue which had been vacant for some time for what it called the “Share-a-Home project.” It consisted of inviting needy members in the evening of their lives to live together in “shared” accommodation and shared amenities in this home which would be near to the church and so find solace, companionship and comfort for their [mal days. The old personage was turned over to an incorporated body of the City of Philadelphia, the Resources for Human Development responsible for persons who are mentally challenged.
The Russell Years (1997 – 2010)
Dr. Horace O. Russell is a Jamaican who following theological training at the Calabar Theological College in Jamaica and Ox- ford University, England, was involved in ecumenical and theological work with students in the Caribbean before becoming the President of the United Theological College of the West Indies an ecumenical training institution of ten denominations situated in Kingston, Jamaica and affiliated to the University of the West Indies. After four years as president be was called the pastorate and served for thirteen years the historic East Queen Street Baptist Church, which owes its origins to the preaching of George Liele. On his move to Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. and Mrs. Russell became members of the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia. During this period of being interim pastor Dr. Russell limited himself to a teaching and preaching ministry designed to build up the spiritual side and unity of the congregation; which had been severely tested. At the same time he tried to unearth new leadership for the continued ministry of the church. In this regard he encouraged Michael Stitt, who had been on the ministerial staff for some time as a youth leader to seek further theological training at the Eastern Baptist Seminary in preparation for a fuller ministry. He also began to take under his tutelage Wayman Walker giving him reading course on Baptist History and Polity and Pastoral counseling which led to his sub- sequent ordination. Dr. Russell also began a reorganization of the Joint Board to help them see their duties from a wider biblical, church and community perspective by arranging retreats and conferences both on and off site. To facilitate the church’s preparation a monthly Prayer Diary and Minister’s Letter were published to keep the needs of the whole church before the total membership in prayer. At the same time, they were useful in involving the interest and skills of younger members and so created a pool of leadership in the congregation. This led among other things to the election and consecration of some younger members to the Trustees and Deacons Boards. After much discussion and prayer with the church leadership, the Philadelphia Baptist Association and Eastern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Horace O. Russell was invited to be the Pastor of Saints Memorial Church on Sunday, Nov. 17, 1996 and was installed in a memorable service on Sunday, February 9, 1997. The focus of Dr. Russell’s leadership has been the Healing Ministry. Under the leadership of the late Mrs. Juanita Ramsay and Mrs. Vernice Lee, an emphasis was placed on the holistic perspective of health with special recognition of the needs of an aging African American congregation. Since then several persons have been added to the ministerial staff including the late Rev. Wayman Walker” Rev. Dr. Virginia Sargent and Rev. Mary Braxton all of whom were active in the church when Dr. Russell took over. In addition the church has invited other new members who are ordained clergy and who are willing to accept opportunities for ministry in the church to also become Associate pastors and these include Rev. Dr. Eric Holmstrom, a trained Baptist Hospital chaplain as well as a chaplain to the armed forces and former pastor of the Lower Merion Baptist Church, and the Rev. Dr. Lee Peace, who retired after many years of outstanding ministry in the city. In a different category was Marcella Teasley who joined the church after being placed here by the Eastern Seminary for Field Education. On graduation she was ordained to the Christian ministry after which she trained as a military chaplain and now serves outside the Commonwealth.
The Stitt Years (2012 – Present)
On Sunday, October 28, 2012 Saints Memorial Baptist Church installed our fourth pastor, Rev. Michael A. Stitt, a son of Saints who has returned home. Michael Stitt started in the youth ministry at Saints Memorial about 30 years ago, encouraging the young to trust in God’s word. He walked the streets of Bryn Mawr, inviting the youth to Saturday Bible school. Rev Stitt was a mentor, teacher and minister to many Main Line youth. After seminary, Rev. Stitt became interim pastor at New Hope Baptist Church, Paoli Baptist Church, Triumph Baptist Church and Macedonia Baptist Church. He diligently worked to lead souls to Christ by hosting community and social gatherings. But, he emphatically teaches the word of God in his ministry. We eagerly work with Pastor Stitt in fulfilling our mission which is to present Jesus Christ through Christian Education, Missions and community Outreach. Saints Memorial has a rich history and a legacy of pastors who believed in the word of God and were good and faithful disciples. Our roots have based in faith, hope, and love. Our future, a place where people can learn and grow through the Word of God and discipleship.