From its beginning in 1966 as a tiny storefront mission with a congregation of 16 Sunday school youths, Mount Airy Church of God in Christ has grown to become one of the most respected spiritual beacons in Philadelphia. Its congregation numbers in the thousands. Bishop Ernest C. Morris Sr., is the founder, jurisdictional prelate and God’s vessel responsible for building this well-regarded ministry.
“Bishop Morris and I met in the ’80s. He invited me to come preach at his Founder’s Day,” said the Rev. J. Louis Felton, senior pastor of Mount Airy COGIC, and close friend of Morris. From there, Felton was invited by Morris to preach during the Men’s Day celebration, and he obviously made an impression, “For over 30 years, I was the Men’s Day speaker, the fourth weekend in September.” Indeed, an indelible impression was made on Morris. God had revealed his successor.
To ensure the smooth succession of the ministry, in 2010 Morris made the bold move of appointing Felton to be senior pastor of the church, a move that has grown the ministry’s membership and deepened its discipleship of congregants. Felton is a brilliant preacher and Biblical scholar, a successor who is taking Mount Airy COGIC to the next level in the ministry stratosphere.
“We need to continue to do ministry in the way that the Lord Jesus viewed it,” said Felton. Not erroneously focusing on the expanse of physical church edifices and membership numbers, but, “Jesus built souls, built character, built relationships, and he did this without walls, buildings and budgets. Jesus did it with his relationship with people. In order for us to continue to impact people in that way, sometimes we’re going to have to get outside of the walls and actually engage the people.”
Evangelist Joyce Brooks, 55, is president of the church’s Fulfillment Ministry (singles), “I’ve been a part of this ministry for about five years,” but she’s been a member of the church for approximately 21 years. For Brooks, one of the biggest challenges facing singles is, “building their relationship up with the Lord.” Commenting on Felton’s ministry leadership, Brooks said, “He’s an excellent preacher-leader. He named servant leaders, to place the importance and significance on serving the needs of others. He has brought us on common ground … since he’s been here, he’s teaching us more on how to be servant leaders.” As a result, Brooks says, she has matured spiritually under Felton’s leadership.
“I came to Mount Airy from Georgia, where I’m originally from. I came from a church of 25 members, and coming to Mount Airy, a church with 5,000 members, was a different experience for me,” said William D. Hatcher. Hatcher, 34, a member since 2009, is the Youth Department servant leader, “As a youth leader for the Mount Airy Church of God in Christ, basically, it is our goal and our aspiration to inspire and encourage the young people … to keep their faith with God.” Accounting for the youth at the church and those in the community Hatcher serves, he estimates that approximately 1,500 are served via the Youth Department. “We offer several venues for them to express their talents and gifts.” These include choirs, sporting activities and teams, youth orchestra, webcasting, dance programs, mime programs, scholarships and other ministry endeavors.
Dorothy Lane, 71, is the church secretary and administrative assistant to Bishop Morris and Pastor Felton. She’s been affiliated with the ministry for six years. Lane believes that the church’s outreach to the nursing home community has been very impactful, and she explains, “Because the seniors need the company; the visitations help them. We serve most of the nursing homes in the Philadelphia area.” She estimates that the senior population of congregants at Mount Airy COGIC represents about a third of the entire church membership.
Seniors can enjoy a variety of ministry services. “We have our senior daily activities program on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They are provided hot meals during the winter; they are served a breakfast, lunch and snack.” The seniors go on trips to plays, bowling, shopping; they are kept very active.
Lane is personally connected with Morris, “The bishop (Morris) and I are double cousins. Our fathers were brothers, and our mothers were sisters.” Though they did not grow up together, Lane says their spiritual relationship has brought them and their relatives closer.
Bishop Ernest C. Morris Sr., is a jovial and very astute man. His words edify you, his laughter excites you, and his preaching and leadership transform you. Morris, 79, is a plucky preacher with a compassionate heart for serving people. For over three decades, he has pushed his ministry focus into the community, beyond the comfortable confines of the church walls.
“My ministry beginning involved going from door to door witnessing for Jesus, I was always into reaching people outside of the church,” and throughout his ministry career, Morris has maintained a strong and consistent commitment to community outreach and evangelism.
Mount Airy COGIC’s ministries and outreach programs include Fulfillment Ministry; Marriage Enrichment Ministry; New Directions (single parents); Foster Parents Ministry; Sports Department; Youth Hospitality Ministry; Young Men of Valor; Young Women of Excellence; College Ministry; King's Children; Mt. Airy Youth Ambassadors and Praise Dance Ministry.
“I don’t care how large the church becomes, I’ll still be involved with outreach ministry. I always wanted to have a ministry that was more than just worship within the sanctuary. I believe that much of our church gathering, is to worship, to be taught, to be energized to go out into the community, to serve the people.”
Naming a successor while he’s still vibrant and healthy was a risky move for Morris, but he revels in being a risk-taker. After all, he jumped out of airplanes as a paratrooper serving in the United States Army.
“I know with his kind of preaching, he could take this church to another level; he’s doing a fine job,” said Morris This bold appointment of Felton as his successor ensures that Mount Airy COGIC won’t fracture and divide when he’s no longer around. His legacy is sealed.
Morris says he is eager to devote greater attention now to shepherding the pastors of the 30 churches he oversees as bishop and jurisdictional prelate, while also spending more quality time with his wife, Winifred W. Morris.