Nestled in Southwest Philadelphia, Grace Tabernacle Christian Church is a modest congregation that’s gearing up for one of its biggest celebrations in years, the church will celebrate its 51st anniversary, Aug. 12–19.
The late Rev. Benjamin Tolbert was the founding pastor of Grace. He hand-picked the Rev. Dr. W. Kenneth Thorpe to serve as the church’s current senior pastor.
Ordained in 1995 at Grace, the Rev. Samuel Bernard Harrison is the associate pastor and chairman of the church anniversary celebration. He said he’s been a member of Grace, “since August, 1973.”
“We are 51, rapidly moving into year 52. We [will be] celebrating eight days of activities, beginning on Sunday morning, August 12th,” said Harrison. He promised that the August 12th Sunday morning worship will set the tone as to the rest of the week’s anniversary events and fellowship celebrations. Weeknight preaching featuring former ministers/pastors of Grace (the Rev. Michael Burton, the Rev. Chris Bell, the Rev. David Price; the Rev. Elvin Thompson), a special video presentation, a special recognition of men and women who have served throughout the years, a Youth Night Friday celebration and a Saturday fun-day community picnic
Harrison, like many others at Grace, are quite involved in some form of outreach serving the community.
“About five years ago, we started an outreach program in the community,” said Harrison. “We provide food on Wednesdays, for men and women in the community. Along with bags of groceries, we serve a meal, and usually, we have upwards of 100 [or more show up].”
In 1995, Harrison began an urban missions ministry called Overcomers Christian Center. He said that, “it’s a ministry that grew out of Grace Tabernacle Christian Church. In this particular ministry, we minister to men and women recovering from substance abuse problems.”
According to Harrison, a full-service ministry was spawned from Overcomers, Phoenix 2 Drug and Alcohol, Inc. “During the course of the year, we have about 300 men and women that come through the program,” he said.
For 15 years, Eva Dixon has been playing the piano for various Sunday services at Grace. She inspires many with her jovial personality. Eva and her husband Julian co-lead the Married Couples Ministry. She offers the following encouragement to other Christians, “Stay in the Word of God. Never deviate from what ‘Thus saith the Word’ in the Bible.
The late Rev. Tolbert’s widow, Opera Tolbert, abounds with energy and reverence for her husband. “He put so much time in the ministry, he did it with zeal,” she said. “He was very ambitious about seeing men and women, boys and girls, come to know the Lord Jesus, as their Savior. We were married for 53 years.”
The Rev. Dr. Thorpe, 69, senior pastor, was an early member of Grace. He and his family left to live and serve as missionaries in Nigeria, Africa.
“I was a missionary under the Afro-American Missionary Crusade in Philadelphia, from 1972 to 1982, Liberia, West Africa,” he said. “My role then was to teach and conduct ministry in the villages.”
Before departing Africa, Thorpe trained national leaders to continue the ministry work that he established.
Upon returning back to the states, he became a senior pastor of Calvary Bible Tabernacle Church, in Camden, N.J., and later retired. When the late Rev. Tolbert died, Thorpe was invited by the ministry leaders of Grace to become the senior pastor. He graciously accepted the offer to lead Grace, to extend the legacy of his dear friend.