Virginia Davenport was just one of the honorees at the “Champions for the Extra-Ordinary Excellence Award” hosted by the nonprofit Divine Change, Inc. Also honored were WURD Radio president and general manager Sara Lomax-Reese, life coach Dr. Daniel Lee, radio broadcaster Van Brown, Shiloh Apostolic Temple pastor Bishop Derrick Williams and the Revs. Moses and Rubye Ruffin. The event was held at Shiloh Banquet Hall, 1500 Master St. in North Philadelphia on Saturday, Nov. 16.
After spending a childhood in Philadelphia foster homes and experiencing abuse, Davenport might have been written off. This was only compounded by the fact that after being an alumnus of Gratz High School and attending other post-secondary education she was essentially functionally illiterate.
Joining Deliverance Evangelistic Church in 2010 was a fresh start for the Richmond native. Not only did she improve her reading and writing skills there but now she has completed the first level of the Deliverance Bible Institute with a strong showing. She is also active in many ministries ranging from intercessory prayer and home care to the new members and Helping Hand Ministries.
“We are an organization called by God to bridge our churches, schools and communities in order to create the kind of villages where our children will be safe,” said the Rev. Joan Preston, founder and director of Divine Change, Inc. “We, Divine Change, will work with the schools, communities and churches to invoke unity to close the gaps in Black on Black crime and bigotry in our nation. [This program] inspires individuals and organizations who are relentless in pressing forward to see their dreams manifested.”
All honorees received a Divine Change trophy, a City of Philadelphia plaque and congratulations letter from Gov. Tom Corbett. They were also given citations from their elected officials. Among those who signed these citations were Congressmen Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady, state Sens. Vincent Hughes and LeAnna Washington and City Council president Darryl Clark.
During the program Preston, the Rev. Joe Harvey and the Rev. Marc McCoy presented the segment “Lest We Forget.” In it the memories of trail blazers who inspired the honorees was the focus. Those remembered were Hiram Revels, Paul Robeson, William Seymour, Whitney Young and Sam Cooke.
On hand for the evening gala was City Councilman W. Curtis Thomas. He said that Philadelphia also mourns the loss of three great icons this year. These were Dr. Walter P. Lomax, Jr., the Rev. Dr. William H. Gray III and former City Councilwoman Augusta Clark. “We are here to celebrate the sacrifices so many have made,” Thomas said.
Remarks also came from board member Sharon Merriweather who challenged all “to be stewards” as she quoted from the biblical book of Romans. Musical selections including, “What A Mighty God We Serve” was presented by evangelist Rochelle Johnson.
The Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver chose to celebrate National Black Catholic Month Sankofa style. Since Sankofa is the Akan word that means returning to one’s past to recuperate what one has lost and then move forward, this was the message of their Seventh Annual Philadelphia Claver Awards Banquet recently. The event was held at the Springfield Country Club in Delaware County on Sunday, Nov. 17.
Honorees included Sister Mary Norbest Moline of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who received the 2013 Body of Christ Philadelphia Claver Award. Jermaine Bantum, Dawn Brown, Elsie Gloss Caldwell, Nellda Harris and Alma White received the Community Service Awards. Also, Kimberly Brown received the Chaplain’s Award.
The Rev. Rayford Emmons, the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s first African-American priest, shared his own anecdote about missing the original March on Washington. Emmons said as an elementary school student at the time he did not think that the convergence on the nation’s capitol would be historic. He said that he tried to go to Washington, D.C. to try to capture what he had lost.
“I went to the Million Man March,” Emmons said. “I tried to capture that spirit. But, it was this year when I had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. for the 50th anniversary of the march that I finally captured the spirit.” So, after his remarks Emmons shared the entire audio footage of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
Vocalist Bernadette Brooks, the minister of music at St. Cyprian parish in West Philadelphia, gave a crowd pleasing interpretation of “Take Me to the King.” Her daughter, Zatisha, did a praise dance as her mother sang. The duo garnered thunderous applause and scattered standing ovations after their performance.
This was followed by a candlelight tribute to the memory of Trayvon Martin. The afternoon also featured a candle burning and white rose ceremony as deceased members of the Knights of Peter Claver’s Ladies Auxiliary were remembered. Anthony D. Holloway, Jr. gave the youth empowerment address.
“What a pleasure for me to celebrate with you this major milestone,” said City Councilwoman-at-Large Blondell Reynolds Brown in her opening address. She pointed out that the banquet’s theme was “Walking in the Favor of the King.”
“Thank you for your faithfulness. God is good,” Brown said.
In keeping with celebrating National Black Catholic Month in November, the booklet recognized newspaper publisher Daniel A. Rudd, founder of the National Black Catholic Congress.
The Philadelphia Claver Award is given to an individual who has made a positive impact on the African-American Catholic community. Previous recipients were “History of Black Catholics in the United States” author the Rev. Dr. Cyprian Davis, “African Saints, African Stories” author Camille Lewis Brown, “A Black Nun Looks at Black Power” author Sister Mary Rogers Thibodeaux, St. Martin de Porres past president Anne Reimel, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and St. Martin de Porres pastor, the Rev. Stephen D. Thorne.
Prayer and Faith Temple Church of God in Christ is a community church. This was evident when the congregation held its Baby Bless Day recently. While many longtime and newer church members brought their children and grandchildren to receive graces at the 11:15 a.m. Sunday morning worship, non-members from the surrounding Wynnefield neighborhood did also.
Pastor Albert S. Thompson, Jr. said this is just one example of how Prayer and Faith is part of the West Philadelphia area. The church is centrally located in the former Thriftway supermarket at 1541-59 N. 61 St. They relocated from their old home at 3959 Lancaster Ave. two years ago and has only seen grown and more entrenchment in the neighborhood since, said Thompson.
“I was born and raised in this church and this community,” Thompson said. “I succeeded Paul Franklin Berry, Sr. Before that the late O. T. Jones, Jr. was pastor of Holy Temple at 50th and Callowhill, which is our Mother Church. It was the Church of God in Christ of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that appointed me as pastor here, but since this is where I grew up it’s like I never left.”
Being a home-grown pastor has its advantages, according to Thompson. He understands the diversity of West Philadelphia. Even within the predominantly African-American congregation there are differences in social class, family dynamics, religious backgrounds and educational attainment. Yet Thompson can transcend what may be barriers because of his familiarity with the community he shepherds.
So, Baby Bless Day successfully drew a cross-section of West Philadelphia to Prayer and Faith Temple on Sunday, Nov. 3. Children of the church and community received a special blessing. “It’s important for all our children to be dedicated to the Lord because they need that protection. That’s why we say that you don’t have to be a member to bring the children to be covered by the blood,” Thompson said.
“If you look through the media there are reports of shootings and students not doing well in school,” Thompson said. “On Baby Bless Day we look past all that negativity. We are saying that you can give your live to the Lord, we can pray over our children with a blessing, and we can decree and declare they can live victorious lives. Even in this environment our children can be empowered to live blessed lives.”
This is all part of the church’s holistic vision for the community. To this end Thompson does counseling and regular hospital visitations to sick members and non-members. Among the longtime members who are active in the life of the church mothers like Cynthia Zanders Rambert who succeeded Mother Johnnie Zanders. She is among those who lead the women’s department. The church also has a viable single ministry.
Additionally, Prayer and Faith boasts of a strong music ministry. Thompson said many are drawn to the church by the anointed music and stay because of the warm fellowship. The church’s musical director is Davida Reed and the assistant director is Brian Jackson, Jr., who plays organ. Other musicians include drummers Bryant Byrd, Jr., Tim Robinson, and Dante Smith as well as keyboardist and organist Joshua Riley.
“We have phenomenal music,” Thompson said. “But, there is a spirit of excellence here. We start our services and program on time. That’s why we have some who come from New Jersey and Delaware. We have first rate greeters and ushers. Our service is very intact. The flow is great. That’s why I say our vision is to transform through a holistic ministry.”
Thompson is also CEO of the AST (Albert S. Thompson) Ministries. This arm of the church plans the church’s special events, some of which garner a national profile. For instance during their summer conference among the guests were televangelist Bishop Noel Jones from Los Angeles, minster and singer Donnie McClurkin, and Pastor Albert Morgan from New Jersey.
When AST Ministries hold their winter conference during the last weekend of Black History Month from Feb. 27 to 28, 2014 the headliner will be another popular televangelist Pastor Jamal Bryant from Baltimore. Additionally, Daly Barnes, Jr., pastor of the 59th Street Baptist Church in West Philadelphia will also be on the program.
“We have people come from everywhere for our conferences,” Thompson said. “Paul Morton has been here with me in the past. We are so excited about AST Ministries because its reputation is growing. Our next step will be for it to be on the WORD Network.”
The reason the conference and church’s holistic orientation resonates with so many is because the temple combines faith and justice, according to Thompson. To this end about once a month the Rev. and State Rep. Louise Williams Bishop is invited to the church’s pulpit. Thompson is quick to note that this is because “she is supportive of our ministry to have an impact on the community by serving.”
The pastor said that he also brings to the church his familiarity with the intricacies of the West Philadelphia community Faith and Prayer serves. He went to Heston Elementary School, Shoemaker Junior High School, and Overbrook High. He continued to have close neighborhood ties while he was studying for his degrees in religion and psychology from Temple University. After his ordination, he served as an elder in West Philadelphia starting in 1990.
Thompson further conducts the midweek “Word Explosion” himself. This often draws dozens of congregation members and those who live in the surrounding community to the church every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., he said.
“We are making a holistic impact on the community we are called to serve,” Thompson said. “We have people come here from the shelters in the area and we have helped them to transition into their own homes. Many of these are now doing well. We have seen many people who are down and out be transformed because God has raised them up.
“But, we have people here from all walks of life. We have educated professionals here. All are welcome. I think the church succeeds because we [bridge the gap] between all and feel a part of the community even though some come from far to worship with us,” Thompson said.
The combination of faith and education prove to be a strong foundation for African-American students. If one follows the track of many successful figures in the city’s Black community one will find that many attended parochial schools or Catholic and Jesuit colleges or universities. The Office for Black Catholics recently helped 18 Catholic high school students continue the legacy by awarding scholarships.
So, 18 high school scholars were draped with a Kente-style stole at the “Saluting Catholic Education: Monsignor John Mitchell Memorial Scholarship Banquet.” After this ceremony, each student received scholarships to assist them in completing their parochial education at various local high schools, including West Catholic High School. The event took place at the Commodore Barry Club, 6815 Emlen St. in West Mount Airy. More than 100 gathered to celebrate the honor students from North, West, South, Northwest and Northeast Philadelphia. The keynote speaker was F. DeKarlos Blackmon of New Orleans, Supreme Knight of the national Knights of Peter Claver.
“I feel great about getting this award,” said Vitalis Unachukwu of West Oak Lane, a sophomore at the Cristo Rey High School in Nicetown before the program. “My two favorite subjects in school are science and math. I want to be a pharmacist because this is a way to combine what I love to do.
“My Catholic education has really benefitted me because of the beliefs. I am able to practice my beliefs [in an educational setting]. As a Catholic even while in school I have an opportunity to do something that I love and believe in,” Unachukwu said.
The children’s mother, Victoria, concurred. She said that she chose to send her children to Catholic schools because of “the rigor of the curriculum and the respectful behavior that is required.” She said she also like that there is an emphasis on values alongside quality academics. “The teachers do a great job and I appreciate that because it’s not an easy job,” she said.
Kianna Coleman, a freshman at Little Flower and a member of St. Martin de Porres parish in North Philadelphia, was also a scholarship recipient. “This is the biggest honor I’ve ever had in my entire life and I am very excited,” Coleman said. An aspiring attorney, Coleman added that she felt that Catholic schools have provided her with a strong religious and educational foundation.
“I believe that Catholic schools provide a good anchor for learning,” said Florence Morales, Kianna’s mother. “The environment is just more protected and it makes you feel safe. You learn more about religion than just going to church.”
The other Northwest Philadelphia recipients were Clifford Bryant, Sydney Charles and Leandra Ladouceur, all students at Bishop McDevitt High School in nearby Glenside. Additionally Ameer Adelkrim, Melissa Bellerjeu, Naydia Boateng, Miles Burton, Lauren Copeland, Joar and Josephus Dahn, Udochi Ekwerike, Devynn Gray, Katia Jean, Rebecca Kunwon and Sarajean Pierre-Louis also received scholarships.
Also honored was Gloria Richardson, a member of the St. Charles Borromeo parish in West Philadelphia. Richardson received the prestigious 2013 St. Martin de Porres Medal. She was recognized for her service to the community as an educator, director of religious education and volunteer spirit.
A historic stone bell tower overlooks a densely populated neighborhood of red brick row houses in North Philadelphia. Its pristine lawn is graced with a Madonna statue and inside one finds a statue of an African saint, Martin de Porres, amid the traditional stained glass windows and other artifacts. Individuals and families from the surrounding community and as far away as Mount Airy and New Jersey come to worship every Sunday.
This is the St. Martin de Porres Roman Catholic Church. Located at 2340 W. Lehigh Ave. in the heart of North Philadelphia, the church has two distinctions. One, it was named after an African Latino saint known for his commitment to social justice. Two, the current pastor is a North Philadelphia native son.
The Rev. Stephen D. Thorne grew up at the old Our Lady of the Holy Souls parish, just minutes north of St. Martin de Porres. He came to this church more than two years ago on the heels of being pastor of the St. Therese of the Child Jesus Church in Mount Airy for four years. He also served as director of the Office for Black Catholics from 2004 to 2009.
“I like the way that Father Thorne preaches,” said Pearl Pettus of North Philadelphia, a lifelong Catholic who joined St. Martin de Porres eight years ago. “His preaching is always very inspiring. I decided to come here because of the gospel music and I’ve stayed because I feel inspired.”
Pettus’ 22-year-old daughter, Nicole Benjamin, said that the youth and young adults are also spiritually stirred by the church. She was an altar server for four years. The Cardinal Dougherty High School alumnus also attended the Martin de Porres School. “I really feel church when I come in here and it makes you want to go to church,” she said.
“I came here about three years because my husband, William Sr., joined the choir,” admitted Martina Granger. She added that her family has Catholic roots in North Philadelphia and have been members of the old Holy Souls and St. Columbine parishes, and now St. Martin de Porres, for more than 50 years. She remembers the Thorne family and her path crossed her current pastor when he was growing up.
“His family lived near 21st and Tioga and my family lived around 21st and Westmoreland,” Granger said. “He, like my husband, went to the same Catholic schools just many years apart. I really love the way that he preaches because he brings home the themes. I love his stories because many of the [anecdotes] I can relate to because they are about growing up in North Philadelphia.”
Granger credits Thorne with refurbishing the appearance of both the church and the school. She said that the church and school’s renewed appearances has drawn in new members from both the surrounding community and other neighborhoods. “Before he came we had Father Ed Hallinan who is now in Wallingford. He was a great pastor, too, so I would say that we have been blessed,” Granger said.
Evelyn Turrentine, known as “Miss T” in the parish, joined the parish after the old Precious Blood Church merged with another parish to eventually form what is now St. Martin de Porres. The 84-year-old lifelong Catholic said that the church embodies all that is special about her Catholic faith.
“I like the quietness of the church because it makes you feel the peace of the Lord,” Turrentine said. “I love it when the choir gets real quiet singing something like Lord have mercy. Father Thorne is a loving pastor. When he preaches you know that he truly believes in Jesus Christ and that he loves the Lord. When a pastor is true to the word it brings you back Sunday after Sunday.”
The music at St. Martin de Porres ranges from the traditional Catholic hymns to Negro Spirituals and contemporary Christian music. The church choirs are under the direction of Tonya Dorsey of Willingboro, N.J. As the minister of music, Dorsey brings high energy to her piano playing and choir conducting. Soloist like Chris White captivated the congregation with his vocal prowess on “I Praise the Lord Every Day” on Oct. 20.
Dorsey also conducts the New Vision Choir and has set up the Tonya Dorsey and New Vision Scholarship Fund to train a new generation of performing artists.
During Black Catholic Month the church’s Youth Choir will take center stage at St. Martin de Porres. They will provide the music for the Mass on Nov. 10. The young people are usually featured on the second Sunday of the month, according to Dorsey.
“I came to this church in 2006 and I’ve been playing in Philadelphia churches for 30 years,” Dorsey said. “This is just an awesome church. We come here to receive a blessing from the word. After hearing Father Thorne you can’t leave without changing for the better. That’s why we have such [fervor] in our song and praise.”
The church welcomed its “sister parish” St. Katharine of Siena located in Wayne on Oct. 20. The suburban congregation helped St. Martin de Porres School secure a new library and other development projects. So, Monsignor Hans Brouwers, pastor of St. Katharine, presided over the service alongside Thorne on Oct. 20 as many visitors from the Wayne parish filled the pews.
During National Black Catholic Month in November St. Martin de Porres will host a special Mass. The church will host the Feast of St. Martin de Porres on Nov. 3 at 10 a.m. The day’s festivities will also celebrate the parish’s 20th anniversary at a reception in the Community Hall after Mass.
Thorne invited the entire community to this event. He was ordained by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua on May 16, 1998. At the time he was the 7th African-American priest in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. In June 2002 he was appointed to the faculty of St. John Neumann High School after serving as parochial vicar at the St. Katharine Drexel parish in Chester.
He was pastor of St. Therese and director of the Office of Black Catholics, four years simultaneously, before coming to St. Martin de Porres. Thorne earned a B. A. in philosophy, as well as a M.A. in systematic theology and a M.Div. from the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and Graduate School of Theology, respectively.
“When I came here two and a half years ago it was wonderful to forge a relationship between St. Katharine and St. Martin,” said Thorne after the Oct. 20 Mass. “It is always wonderful when people come together. In our world and in our church there are often many walls between people. Jesus said that we should be one. So we come here asking for His blessing and to keep us in the right place.”
Thorne added that at the Nov. 3 anniversary celebration the official colors will be black, white and gold. In jest, he cautioned the men “not to wear gold suits up in here” as he commended the parish council for their diligent preparation.
“This is all part of celebrating St. Martin de Porres,” Thorne said to the parish. “We are a people of faith. We are a people who know that we are under one God. We are here to show God’s love and there is love here. When we leave here, we should leave better because God made each of us special. Thank you for believing you are special and that the God we serve is special.”