The word “thankful” goes deeper than its name for Thankful Baptist Church, a church that appreciates its community and focuses on giving back. Founded in 1923, Thankful Baptist has proven that its members are dedicated to both its sanctuary and the community.
The Rev. Ivan B. Hewitt, the pastor at Thankful, has been serving the church for the past 25 years. With just four pastors preceding him in an almost 90-year history, Thankful prides itself on the longevity of both the leadership and the members.
“The fact that I’m the fifth pastor in 90 years is unique,” said Hewitt. “I am the second in longevity; Rev. Harrison J. Trap the pastor preceding me, was here for 38 years.”
Thankful Baptist Church, at 1608 W. Allegheny Ave., transmits enthusiasm both inside the sanctuary and out. In an effort to reach out and aid the community, the church owns various properties in the neighborhood and is looking to buy three more houses, Hewitt said.
“The intent is to own the whole block,” he said. “We are still trying. We are a mission church. We feel a sense of movement, but we are not moving as fast as we ought to be, we are not moving as far as we want to — but there is a sense of movement.”
In close proximity to the church is the Thankful Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that provides day care, after-school and parenting programs. As Hewitt explained, years ago the church lent use of a building to the organizers, with free use of utilities and electricity, before it returned to the neighborhood, bought a space and named it the Thankful Learning Center. The church maintains a good relationship with the center.
“Some of their workers are members of the church,” Hewitt said.
Emma L. Parish, 91, has been a member of Thankful for 65 years. Parish has experienced various changes within the church, but through many years still feels it holds the important values it has intended to.
“This church means so much to me — I’ll tell you, when I first came here from Georgia my husband and I both joined the church when it was on 21st Street,” Parish said. “I’ve seen them come and go, but everything is still all right. Ain’t nobody going to run me away now.”
The churchgoers at Thankful Baptist are engaged in its sermons and missions. On Sunday, July 15, Hewitt reached his church by preaching the message to always “have church in you.” He explained the importance of worship and allowing it to constantly be present.
“If nobody but me … I’m going to have church by myself, just me and the Lord,” he told the congregation.
This message surely transmits their devotion to the community. Every Wednesday, Thankful provides meals to people in the neighborhood. Additionally, the congregation hosts what they call “Community Day” when they give away clothing and food to those in the area.
“That’s not us being generous; we feel we owe it to the community,” Hewitt said. “We have a parking lot across the street, but the community can use it anytime. We feel that we are here because of the community — we try to make this a beacon in the area — they make us better.”
The church also donates electric fans to community members who need them. Should they also need assistance in paying their electric bills, Thankful offers assistance in paying those bills for a period of time.
“Our job is to bless those in the community and hopefully God will bless us,” Hewitt said.
Thankful Baptist has had a few prominent figures visit throughout the years, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Its widespread outreach also includes mission work in Cuba and Haiti, developed under the leadership of Hewitt’s predecessor, the Rev. Harrison J. Trap.
Thankful also has a social action approach, with a life membership to the NAACP and a commitment to support schools such as Delaware State, Temple University, Cheyney University and Virginia Union.
“We support schools where our members go to,” Hewitt said.
The Rev. Gerald Love is a long-time member of Thankful and the church has played an important role in his life.
“This church means everything to me. I was raised here in this church; I’ve been a part of this church since the ’60s,” he said. “I came to the church with my mother and I’ve attended Sunday school, Bible school, [and] camp, and I worked under Rev. Trap. He was a wonderful man. I traveled with him all over the United States. He did a lot of work in missions all over in Africa and the Caribbean. I’ve been a part of this church all my life, it’s just a joy. I love the fellowship, I love the people.”
The Rev. Barbara Day reflects on her 14-year journey at Thankful and feels ever more grateful for Hewitt, the church and the warm presence of its members. She previously belonged to another church until an incident occurred where she recalled knowing it was a good time for her to find a new church home.
“I am so grateful I belong to the Thankful Baptist Church. I’ve been here for 14 years, and this was the best decision I could make,” Day said. “I think Pastor Hewitt is the most humble person. All I need to do is see him … when I see him I get joy in my heart — I really do. He is so genuine.”
Throughout Thankful’s long history, the church has experienced various changes in its different communities. Hewitt reflected on a major increase in thievery in the late ’80s.
“Now it seems the closer you come to the church, the better the neighborhood is,” he said.
As a church that is focused on its community and social change, Thankful Baptist will continue to make its mark in the neighborhood.
“We are an oasis, and we open our doors to anyone.”