Founded in 1826, Monumental Baptist Church is one of the oldest churches in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, and in the United States. When Monumental was born, life in America was not pleasant for men and women of African descent. Fast-forward to today; the cultural tide in America has shifted, the country has a president of direct African descent, and on Friday, Nov. 9 Monumental Baptist Church celebrated the 25th pastoral anniversary of senior pastor the Rev. Jesse Wendell Mapson, Jr.’ at the elegant Crystal Tea Room in the Wanamaker Building in Center City.
A member for at least two years, B. Renee Graham and her husband lead the married couples ministry at Monumental, “my husband and I are co-leaders,” she said. “The name of the ministry is ALIVE, that’s the acronym for Abounding Love In Vibrant Edification. Our Scriptures Colossians 3:12-14.
“We stress that it’s a couples’ ministry. It is a ministry of couples; they don’t have to be married to be part of the ministry.” Although ALIVE doesn’t discourage dating and engaged couples from participating, its main focus is to serve the needs of married couples.
“I work at the church as a custodian, I sing on the choir and I love the church. It’s like a family church,” said Jimmie Lee Graham, 52, husband of B. Renee Graham.
“I joined in 1972,” said Eddetine “Tina” Poulson, a senior saint at the church. Poulson, 91, has a very favorable opinion about Mapson’s preaching and teaching style. “I’m very pleased. He’s the type of man that speaks and preaches so that even a child can understand. He gives you wonderful thoughts.”
Poulson recalls a series that Mapson preached on the life of Joseph. “It was called “From the Pit to the Prince That was nine sermons; each Sunday, he took a portion. He loves his members, and he loves children.” Monumental has a children’s church that offers a separate and unique ministry experience that’s age-appropriate and culturally engaging to address the youth and young adults.
“They learn about God, and believe it or not, they are well equipped.” Poulson said, adding that Mapson is great at involving the youth in aspects of the worship service to keep them engaged in serving in the ministry, i.e. prayers, offertory, and other areas.
Monumental’s Charles Mitchell is the chairman of the deacons. “I’ve been a member there since 1960, for 52 years,” he said. During his five decades of ministry service, Mitchell has worked under two pastors, the Rev. Moses Marquette Peace and Mapson.
Mitchell is moving into his fifth year as chairman of the deacons. Commenting about his other ministry leadership roles, Mitchell lists his activism “the feeding ministry, the deacons’ ministry, and the men’s ministry, those are the three that I’m really active with.”
Last month, Mitchell and his wife celebrated 53 years of marriage. His advice for marital longevity and success? “You got to put God first.”
Pausing to collect his thoughts about Mapson and his leadership, Mitchell said, “He is a no-nonsense-down-to-earth preacher. He loves his church and he loves his people.”
On Sunday, Nov. 11, the celebration of Mapson’s 25th anniversary continued with special guest preachers the Revs. Dr. Harold Carter from New Shiloh Baptist Church, Baltimore., and Gerald Lamont Thomas, of Shiloh Baptist Church, Plainfield, N.J.
Carmen Hopson was chairwoman of Mapson’s anniversary celebration. “I’ve been a member of Monumental Baptist Church for 24 years,” she said. Also, Hopson is responsible for oversight of all special ministry events at the church.
Hopson says Mapson’s ministry changed her life, explaining, “24 years ago, I didn’t just come to Monumental. I actually accepted Christ, as an adult. Accepting Christ as my personal savior, and being under his ministry for the last 24 years, it changed my life and my family’s life.”
Hopson would like people seeking a church home to consider Monumental because, “I would encourage them to look at Monumental as a place to grow, it’s a place that is welcoming. Our church is a friendly church.”
For 30 years, Donna Montgomery has served in various roles at Monumental. Currently “I am head of our Children’s Church. I coordinate all of the volunteers for our Children’s Church. I coordinate the scheduling for all of our teachers (and) I get the curriculum information.”
Montgomery believes that technology is one of the biggest challenges facing youth today. Youths and young adults have easy-quick access to so much on the Internet that she worries about their exposure to negative influences.
Asked what she likes most about Mapson, Montgomery said, “I love the fact that he is truly a pastor, he’s an awesome preacher, he is a phenomenal teacher. He is a pastor to all of his congregation. He knows everybody. He loves the kids, and the kids love him.”
“One of my fondest memories is the first time I preached at Monumental, which was the second Sunday in March of 1987. I was pastoring in Elizabeth, New Jersey, at the Union Baptist Church, and I received a call from Rev. Robert Parker, who was at that time, the interim pastor at the church. Of course, Monumental’s pastor, Rev. M. M. Peace, Sr., had retired, and they were searching for a new pastor,” said Mapson.
Mapson credits a woman named Ruth Wells for his introduction to Monumental. She was a member of the search committee to identify a new pastor. Mapson said Wells was deeply connected within the clergy community in Philadelphia at the time. She knew of Mapson’s preaching and teaching acumen, and she was responsible for urging Parker to extend an invitation for him to guest preach at Monumental. The rest is history.
When questioned about his most impactful sermon, Mapson recalls the sermon he preached after the death of this father, “Yes, there was a sermon that I preached my first Sunday in the pulpit after my father died. My father died October 10, 2007; of course I eulogized him, he meant so much to me in terms of being good father, a good husband, and a good pastor, and a model for me.”
After taking time off from the ministry to spend time with his mourning mother and family in Florida, Mapson returned to Philadelphia and preached one of his most memorable and poignant sermons.
“When I came back, I think it was maybe the sourth Sunday in October of that same year, I preached a sermon called ‘Living with the pain.’ And it was impactful to me because it was out of my own experience of pain, recognizing that it’s one thing to eulogize the fathers and mothers and relatives of other people, and to speak words of comfort to them, to talk about pain in terms on an intellectual basis, but to actually have gone through the experience of losing someone so dear, it was a sermon I think that helped me move through my season of grief, but also hopefully helpful to the congregation, because we all have experiences of pain. Either we can deny the pain, act like it’s not there, and then try to cover it up with a kind of religious veneer...or there’s another alternative, the alternative to recognize the pain and recognize that it will always be there.”
Mapson is a scholarly clergyman. He earned his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College, his master of divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary, and his doctor of divinity degree from Palmer Theological Seminary. Last month, he was inducted into the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, an international brotherhood known for scholarly men of great community service. Notable members include the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, musician Duke Ellington, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and former U.S Vice President Hubert Humphrey.