Atheism is the profession of skepticism, disbelief, or blatant anti-religious conviction that God does not exist. According to the Bible, atheism is an anathema against God. Psalm 53:1 states that “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.”
But Luke 15:10 proclaims that God and His angels rejoice in heaven when non-believers repent and faithfully follow God.
Such is the case with Faith Therese Leopold, she was once an atheist, but heaven is now rejoicing over her devotion to Jesus Christ!
Leopold, 20, is a perky, intelligent young lady from Delaware County. She’s a graduate of Interboro High School in Prospect Park.
Leopold is a talented young lady, she writes and performs original Christian songs, she’s written about 30 songs. Her testimony is stirring, in that, she was raised within a religious family setting, yet she rebelled against religious orthodoxy and was an atheist.
“I grew up in a really amazing family,” she said. “My whole family, they’re practicing Catholics. My father was actually in a seminary for seven years, and then after he left, he met my mother. While I was growing up, in my teens, I really couldn’t believe in God.”
Leopold said she felt that people were using God as a crutch in life, and this was unsettling to her.
The youngest of seven, Leopold and her siblings are living miracles.
“My mom wasn’t actually suppose to have children, Leopold said, adding that her mother suffered from some serious health issues and was advised that childbirth would place her life at risk. “[Doctors] told her not to have kids. And [they] said that anytime she got pregnant, she should probably abort the child. But she decided to have seven kids, and I was the last one.”
Leopold said that her mother was pro-life, as is her whole family.
Leopold said that by the time she was 17, her mother, “was really sick. She needed a kidney transplant.” Her mother was able to get the organ transplant she needed, “but it ended up causing sepsis, and she passed away when I was 17.”
When she graduated high school, Leopold decided to attend Christendom College, in Front Royal, Va., “because my sister and brother had gone there.” Christendom is a conservative Catholic college, it has a student enrollment of approximately 407 undergraduate students, and despite Leopold’s unbelief in God, she matriculated to the college anyway.
“I was an atheist, and it was really frustrating when people would talk about religion, but I thought, I should at least give it a shot,” she said.
Atheists attending Christian colleges may seem like an oxymoron, but it’s more common than most might consider. For instance, there are blogs devoted to supporting atheists attending Christian colleges; the following were two blogs posted on christiancollegeatheist.wordpress.com:
“I need to be saved. Not by Jesus. By someone with a getaway car and a decent understanding of the scientific method.”
“After surviving another semester of terrifying nonsense I find myself, by luck, able to spend winter break in Northern Europe. I’m telling you, it’s atheist paradise. Sure, there are religious people. But you wouldn’t really know it. In spite of the fact that almost everyone is celebrating Christmas, there’s very little mention of God or Jesus (and when it does occur, it’s kind of in the spirit of ‘yeah-whatever-that’s-the-cultural-background-let’s-all-just-enjoy-the-time-off-from-work.’)”
And this blog excerpt appeared on www.patheos.com (Ask Richard, the Friendly Atheist):
“I’m an atheist in a mostly Christian, Republican state trying to get through college with my sanity intact. I graduate next semester, and thought I’d manage to get through this without any serious repercussions due to my unpopular views. Unfortunately my business law teacher this semester might break that record. The first class set off alarms when he said he couldn’t call gay marriage real marriage because Christians defined marriage for centuries already, but I didn’t want to start conflict on the first day. … Any topic that touches on religion or equal rights (for any minority) sets him off in a very bigoted direction...”
Over time, Leopold began noticing a difference in the lives of her Christian peers at Christendom.
“People who had religion in their lives, just seemed substantially more happy and more peaceful,” she said. “And I was always kind of searching for peace when I was in my teenage years.”
During her return home from school breaks, she resided with her sister (Ky) and brother-in-law (Richard).
“They just would talk to me (about Christ), whenever I’d come home from school on visits,” she said.
Leopold said that she would cry and become very upset when relatives or friends would witness to her.
“I just felt like I was being tricked by all these people, because they were all so religious, and it just seemed like a ruse,” she recalled.
But Leopold eventually had a change of heart.
Leopold said that family members urged her to pray and suggested that she spend time in Eucharistic Adoration. Leopold relented and sought private time in Eucharistic Adoration, in doing so, Leopold said she accepted Jesus Christ into her life.
In Catholicism, Eucharistic Adoration is solitude time spent in prayer and meditation honoring the Eucharistic Presence of Christ. According to the Vicariate Apostolic of Kuwait, “By worshiping the Eucharistic Jesus (John 6:41), we become what God wants us to be ... Eucharistic Adoration is ‘God and Man reaching out for each other, at the same time.
“[The Eucharistic Adoration] is a beautiful way to just directly glorify God, and Catholics believe it’s the true presence [of God],” Leopold said.
Leopold concluded, “I really just made an effort [to worship]. Every day, for like two or three weeks, I would just sit in the chapel at Adoration, and I would just sit before the Eucharist, and I would really truly pray. And at first it just felt like I was talking to myself, but I just made an effort, and I humbled myself enough to just believe maybe there could be something more than just the physical and that there is a spiritual aspect to the world that me and a lot of other people just deny. So, I just made myself vulnerable and I just opened up my heart.”
She then accepted Jesus into her life.
In Romans 10:9-11, the Holy Bible reveals that the spiritual conversion/salvation experience from unbelief to authentic believer in Jesus Christ occurs when a person sincerely confesses “...with (their) mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, ‘Whosoever believeth on Jesus shall not be ashamed.’”
Now, Leopold says she “has the most beautiful, passionate love for God. It’s a very personal relationship; I can just feel Him in my life.”
And she strongly believes that God is leading her, “to be the woman He wants me to be.”
Leopold is reveling in the new spiritual life and loving family that God has given her, “We’re just a really great family,” she said. “I’m just so glad [my mother] gave us the chance to have life” [and to have it more abundantly.]
Leopold attends Saint Gabriel Roman Catholic Church, 233 Mohawk Ave. in Norwood. Sunday Mass is held at 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. Father Sam Verruni is the pastor. For more information about Saint Gabriel, call the church office at (610) 586-1225.
For the past several months, I have been preaching a series of sermons from the book sub-titled “Break Free From the Bondage of your Past”: Joyce Meyer, by Richard Young. Also in this series I refer to Bishop T.D. Jakes’ book entitled, “Let It Go.”
In each of these books, the author talks about the need to get rid of excess baggage as well as the importance of forgiving, so that we can be forgiven. I would argue strongly, many of us cannot really enjoy life because we are still carrying yesterday’s hurts, mistakes and past failures. We will never experience the real joy of life until we let go and move forward in our lives. As pastor of the Bethlehem Baptist Church for more than 25 years, I have encountered many people who are stuck in the past. They have become angry, mean-spirited, have little or no self-esteem, and blame everyone else for their troubles.
I do not know how many people have been helped by these sermons, but I can honestly say these books have helped me to let go of some things. I believe in being transparent and vulnerable in sharing my own journey. Nothing is gained by holding on to yesterday. Bishop Jakes writes in his book, “We cannot embrace God’s forgiveness if we are so busy clinging to past wounds, and nursing old grudges; in order to move into the blessings of our future, we must relinquish the pains of the past.”
Richard Young writes, “Who are you helping most when you forgive the person who hurt you? Actually, you are helping yourself more than the other person”. I always looked at forgiving people who hurt me as being really hard. It seemed so unfair for them to receive forgiveness when I had been hurt. I got pain and they got freedom, without having to pay for the pain they caused. I now realize I am helping myself when I choose to forgive.
There is so much truth in what these writers have to say. There is an art to forgiveness, and when you discover that art, you are able to “Break Free From The Bondage of your Past.” Our past experiences may have made us the way we are, but we don’t have to stay that way. There is a plaque on my desk I read daily which says, “Live, Laugh and Love.” You really can’t do that when you are bound or slave to the past. Every day is a good day; let yesterday be the past, for this is the day the Lord has made, and surely we can rejoice and be glad in it. You cannot rejoice being angry, holding a grudge or being resentful. Life will pass you by, and the people you are angry with will enjoy life while you wallow in your pity. Sometimes you must write off the past so you are available for the future. There is a portion of Scripture in James 1:2 that reads, “Count it all joy, when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience”.
I encourage you to approach each new day with trust and confidence in God. Do not worry about your enemy; according to the Word, he will make your enemy your footstool. Learn to live each day to the fullest and trust God completely. One of the blessings that come to mind is the opportunity to reflect upon my life’s journey. In the words of the songwriter, “God has been good to me; all of my good days outweigh my bad days, I won’t complain.” I have had enough setbacks and failures to be dependent on God, and enough blessings to trust in God. There were those who tried to block my blessings, but they only became steps for God to take me to a higher level.
I will use this column in the coming weeks to write this series of sermons I have preached on “Break Free From the Bondage of the Past.” I pray they will be a blessing to you.
Have you succumbed to the notion yet that prayer will get you through it? The “it” I’m referring to is everything. If you’re like me then the truth is at times you’re not very enthusiastic about your faith. That fire that initially burned in me when I finally met Christ leaves me more cold than hot and I cannot and do not remain constant or consistent in my journey towards eternal salvation, Have you ever been there?
Even my prayer life is more often weak than strong. I’ve finally figured out at times like these that if I only do one thing, I have to continue to pray. However casual or cavalier I might think it is, if I do nothing else, I’ve learned that I’ve got to pray my way through it.
If you’ve ever been lost on a nameless highway and know that you’re lost, you probably understand what I’m talking about. No exit, no gas stations, no people or other cars around, no one to ask for directions. You just keep driving and you just keep looking. It’s just you and the needle on the fuel gauge. Given your and my circumstances, prayer is probably very appropriate when one is spiritually lost; especially when you are forced to acknowledge that you are lost. My word to you is to just keep praying.
At this stage of my spiritual development, I can’t think of an alternative. I just happened to look up prayer in my Bible’s Concordance and found out that I’m correct in my assumption that prayer(s), pray(ed), praying, all hold a special place in spiritual history and in the eyes of God. For every quote I could give you right now, there are many of you who could quote at least three more appropriate ones for this message. James 5:15–16: “And prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you might be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
I will not sit here and profess to you to be a righteous man. What I will do is to profess to you and anyone who will listen that I am a sinner seeking God’s forgiveness. I am also on record as praying for you, my fellow man, that you too, will understand God’s faithfulness. Mark 11:24–25: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” I’m not making this up. This is what the text says. Hopefully, what I’m trying to convey to you is once I was lost. I’m sure I’ll get lost again and when it happens, prayer will continue to lead me home. It is an irrefutable spiritual fact. Try it. Speak to God from your heart. Let him know that you know he knows you are lost. He will then step up and act out on your behalf, proclaiming for all to see that you are never really lost. He has known where you were from the beginning of time.
May God bless and keep you always.
President Barack Obama recently expressed his support and endorsement of same-sex marriage. This is the first time that a sitting United States president has affirmed marriage between persons of the same sex. President Obama’s decision to support gay marriage is not only historic, but also demonstrates his commitment to ensuring that all Americans are treated equally under the law. All American citizens, including persons like myself who maintain the traditional, Biblical view that marriage is “between a man and a woman,” should respect the president for taking such a courageous stance on such a very sensitive and political issue.
I share the aforementioned because Obama is not a pastor. He is a political leader. He is the president of the heterosexual and homosexual, the rich and poor, Black and white, Christian and non-Christian. He has to make decisions that he believes are in the best interests of all Americans, so as to maintain every citizen’s Constitutional rights.
Given these parameters, his recently articulated position on gay marriage should come as no surprise. The debate on same-sex marriage or civil unions is not new to Americans, its presidents or religious institutions. To date, same-sex marriage/civil unions have passed in six states (Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Connecticut) as well as in the District of Columbia. It will be legal in Washington state effective June 7, 2012, and in Maryland effective Jan. 1, 2013. In addition, 31 states (including Pennsylvania) have already banned same-sex marriage. The reality is that this is still very much a state-to-state issue rather than a federal issue. There is no federal legislative foundation supporting same-sex marriage. The president’s position does not make it law.
Moreover, the issue that is at the crux of this debate, and is often overlooked by those for and against gay marriage, is: How can we maintain the separation of church and state while giving individuals freewill to be in committed, monogamous, legal relationships that are heterosexual or homosexual? That’s the real dilemma we, as Americans, must resolve.
As an ordained minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I am called to love all persons regardless of one’s sexual orientation, race, gender, class or pedigree. Anyone who comes to Bright Hope Baptist Church will concur that I make every effort to make every worshipper feel welcomed in God’s house. I do not judge, lest I be judged. I do not condemn, lest I be condemned.
However, as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.” I cannot and will not abdicate this responsibility. As a pastor, it is my responsibility and obligation to exhort the teachings of the Bible, including the Biblical principal that defines marriage as being “between a man and a woman.” And while I have never made a big issue of homosexuality in the church, everyone who attends Bright Hope knows where I stand and that I firmly maintain and uphold the Biblical definition of marriage “between a man and woman.”
Given my beliefs on marriage and Obama’s beliefs on it, one may ask: “Can a Biblically-based pastor support the president’s recent decision while also maintaining one’s religious belief?” My answer is “yes.” People of faith can still believe in the Constitution of the United States of America and still maintain their religious convictions and beliefs.
Certainly, the religious right would have us to believe that this is not possible — that people of faith have to choose between their faith and what is constitutionally right. I beg to differ. I believe one can be governed by and maintain one’s religious beliefs while also living in a democratically governed, and pluralistic society.
Indeed, that is what makes America so great — that we can live in harmony with others even if we do not agree with their politics, faith, beliefs or decisions. If a group of individuals’ goal is to legislate faith in America, then maybe they should consider moving to a religiously governed society. However, if they choose to live in America, then they must understand the tenets of democracy and how it allows for individuals to co-exist even when there are major differences and beliefs amongst them.
Lastly, while Obama and I share different opinions on how the “institution of marriage” is defined, I nevertheless support his effort to advance human and civil rights for all. If the president’s recent position on same sex unions will 1) affirm the separation of church and state and 2) allow for religious leaders to not be criminalized or prosecuted because they hold firmly to their religious beliefs that “marriage is between a man and woman,” and therefore are not forced to perform such ceremonies in their religious organizations, then I can support him. I support the president not because he and I agree on same sex marriage — we do not and never will — but rather I support his efforts to bring equality of human and civil rights to all Americans, which is President Obama’s obligation as the leader of the United States of America.
Anyone who understands the importance of the separation of church and state in American history will have to agree that one can support civil laws for same sex unions as long as they do not infringe upon the rights and freedoms on religious institutions. Both can co-exist just as Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and other believers co-exist and practice their religious beliefs in America. We are Americans and live in a pluralistic, democratically governed society. We must find a way to affirm one another’s individual beliefs even if we do not agree with them. We have done so in the past and can do so in the future.
Reverend Kevin R. Johnson, Ed.D. is senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church.
Last Sunday, little Kaela Pointer, a 5-month-old girl, was baptized and celebrated by her church family, Saint Cyprian Roman Catholic Church, the largest African-American Catholic parish in Philadelphia.
The Gospel of Matthew 28:19 documents the Great Commission given by Jesus Christ, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Saint Cyprian is a great example of a church that fully embraces teaching the Word of God, baptizing and making disciples, and taking the Gospel of Christ abroad; Saint Cyprian is probably one of the most culturally versed/well traveled congregations throughout the world, having visited Egypt, Jerusalem, Italy, Greece, Spain, China and so many other international locations.
Rev. Msgr. Federico A. Britto is the endearing and beloved founding pastor of Saint Cyprian. Eleven years ago, he arrived to lead the transition of consolidating two Philadelphia parishes: Transfiguration of Our Lord and Saint Carthage — today, known as the Saint Cyprian Roman Catholic Church, located on Cobbs Creek Parkway.
Britto has had several pastoral assignments during his 29 years as a priest, but Britto’s first pastoral assignment was shepherding the parish of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish, in Philadelphia.
Commenting on the consolidation of the two churches, Britto shared that, “The people, at the time, came together and decided that a new vision was needed for this area, as far as their parishes were concerned.”
Saint Cyprian boasts a long list of ministries and organizations for members of the congregation to serve, including: Hospitality Committee, Helping Hands for the Hungry, Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver, Marriage Preparation, Share the Faith (Door to Door Ministry), Men of Saint Cyprian and F.R.O.G.S. (Fully Relying On God). “If someone is looking for (a ministry to serve in), they can find it here,” said Britto.
Britto is a well-educated man, but is not lofty, he’s quite humble and extremely approachable. Britto earned his B.A. in Philosophy, an M.A. in Theology, and an M.S. in Strategic Leadership, from Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, in Wynnewood, Pa. and he serves on the Boards of Neumann University, Mercy Catholic Medical Center and St. Ignatius Nursing Home.
“He has such a great sense of humor, (he’s) so friendly and he treats everybody the same,” said Carolyn Rice, 61, a member for eleven years, commenting about Britto and his personality. Rice is an entrenched member because the Saint Cyprian congregation is so “loving” and is very “family oriented.”
For John Odom, a member of 10 years, it’s real simple, he’s an entrenched member because, “I like how (members) come together to help others in need.” Odom, 61, serves as a driver, Pastoral Council member and in other ministry capacities.
James Spruill Jr., 45, has been a member of St. Carthage and Saint Cyprian for a combined 40 years.
What Sprull likes best is, “Saint Cyprian is a close knit community; we are all united in commonality of our faith.” A devoted husband to his wife, Kimberly, and a father of two young children, Spruill loves Saint Cyprian because of its family atmosphere.
“We know each other’s family, (and) we support and help each other,” he said.
Spruill serves on the finance committee, parish council and Men of Saint Cyprian ministries.
Every Sunday, Kia Gray, 36, and her family trek all the way from Collegeville, Pa., to fellowship and worship at Saint Cyprian.
“(We are) the largest Black Catholic congregation in Philadelphia and Monsignor Britto is very good for our church … he is constantly trying to work with our youth and seniors,” said Gray, who is the leader of the Young Adult ministry and she’s also a Lector at Saint Cyprian.
Gray is the mother of two girls, Kaela (the infant who was baptized on Sept. 25), and Kai, 14; her husband is Jerome Pointer. As the leader of the Young Adult Ministry, Kia involves the young adults in conducting community service initiatives and she exposes the young adults to guest speakers.
Geraldine “Geri” Fuller, 78, has been of member of Saint Carthage and Saint Cyprian for a combined 50 years.
“I am what is called a cradle Catholic,” she explained. “I was taught by Holy Family nuns,” during her childhood years in New Orleans, La.
Fuller is in charge of organizing the international trips that Saint Cyprian schedules for its congregation and the general public. Her ministry activism includes Legion of Mary, president of Women of Saint Cyprian and Extraordinary Ministry for Mercy Hospital.
Jean Smith, 72, a member for 10 years, made this comment about Britto, “He’s a very caring person, he has the best interest of people in mind.”
Smith enjoys helping organize the international trips that Saint Cyprian takes, the Gospel choir, the Women of Saint Cyprian and food pantry ministries.
Saint Cyprian is, “a very warm and welcoming church and we have a lot of activities (and ministries for people to participate in),” she said.
Smith is equally enthralled about her pastor, saying, “He’s very good with youth and seniors. I hope he never has to leave.”
Saint Cyprian Roman Catholic Church
525 S. Cobbs Creek Parkway
Philadelphia, Pa. 19143
Telephone: (215) 747-3250
Sunday Worship Services: 8 a.m. & 11 a.m.
Priest: Rev. Msgr. Federico A. Britto
On Jan. 14, several hundred ministry leaders and a virtual Who’s Who roster of local pastoral leaders gathered at Wayland Temple Baptist Church, 2500 Cecil B. Moore Ave. in North Philadelphia, to celebrate the 2013 Installation Service of Baptist Pastors & Ministers Conference of Philadelphia & Vicinity. The Rev. Robert J. Lovett, Sr. is the senior pastor of Wayland Temple and was the host pastor for the installation service.
The Baptist Pastors and Ministers Conference of Philadelphia & Vicinity was organized to provide peer fellowship for pastors throughout the City of Philadelphia and vicinity.
Several hundred lay leaders, church officers and pastors turned out to bare witness to VIP clergy being installed as executive officers and cabinet members of the 2013 Pastors & Ministers Conference of Philadelphia & Vicinity, those installed included:
The Rev. Albert G. Davis, Pastor-Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, in Ardmore is a former officer of the Baptist Pastors & Ministers Conference of Philadelphia & Vicinity who offered some history about the organization.
“I’m a past President of this Conference,” he said. “Historically, we merged two Conferences together, the Baptist Ministers Conference and the Pastors Conference, two years ago. The Rev. Harry Davis was part of the Baptist Pastors Conference. We took two conferences and merged them into one. Historically, this [organization] is the voice Black community.”
The Rev. Joseph E. Daniels, Pastor-Emanuel Institutional Baptist Church, 1730 N. 22nd St. was an exuberant attendee.
“I’m here because I am supportive of the conference and of the incoming president [Rev. Harry Davis, Sr.],” he said. “And during the Conference, I’m one of the featured teachers that delivers the Sunday School lesson every week.”
“Tonight, we are installing our new officers in the Baptist ministers and pastors conference. Pastor Harry Davis takes over as the president for this year. My role is to be one of the Presiding Worship Leaders in the service tonight. So, I’m looking forward to participating and supporting him,” said the Rev. Scott C. Dorsey, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Holmsburg.
“[Davis] has been a strong supporter of all the presidents throughout our history, and now it is our time to support him,” said Dorsey. “My role tonight is to lead in the installation part of the service.”
A few of the numerous ministry leaders and lay leaders in attendance included: Clara Copeland, trustee-Greater Enon Missionary Baptist Church; Mrs. Pruden Harvey, vice president-Ministers Wives and Widows Ministry of the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention; the Rev. Dr. Malcolm T. Byrd, Director-Faith Based Initiatives/Mayor’s Office-City of Philadelphia; the Rev. Dr. James Hall, Pastor-Triumph Baptist Church and the Rev. Dr. Wendell Mapson, Jr., Pastor-Monumental Baptist Church.
The former presidents (living and deceased) of the Missionary Baptist Pastors & Baptist Ministers Conferences are: the Rev. Claude Ashe; the Rev. Anthony Floyd; the Rev. Clarence Green; the Rev. James Christmas, Sr.; Dr. James S. Hall, Jr.; the Rev. Ronald King Hill; the Rev. W. Gregory Fleming; Dr. William J. Shaw; the Rev. Joseph C. Fuller Jr.; the Rev. J. W. Witherspoon; Dr. Arthur R. White; the Rev. Guy Campbell, Jr., Dr. James S. Allen, Sr.; the Rev. James Moore, Sr.; the Rev. Albert G. Davis, Jr.; the Rev. Larry Marcus; the Rev. Harry E. Bronson; Dr. Wendell Mapson, Jr. and the Rev. Harry Moore, Sr. It should be noted that Hall served as president of both conferences.
Some of the scheduled speakers for the evening included the Rev. Dr. Damone B. Jones, Sr., Bible Way Baptist Church & Moderator-Pennsylvania Eastern Keystone Baptist Association; the Rev. Dr. Terrence Griffith, President-Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Pastor-First African Baptist Church; and the Rev. William B. Moore, Pastor-Tenth Memorial Baptist Church & Board Chairman-Foreign Mission Board, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
The keynote preacher that delivered the evening’s sermon was the Rev. Harry Davis, Sr., Pastor-Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church & President-Baptist Pastors & Ministers Conference of Philadelphia & Vicinity.
Former Presidents of the Baptist Pastors and Ministers Conference of Philadelphia & Vicinity include: the Rev. Nathaniel R. Walker, Sr. (2011) and Dr. G. Daniel Jones (2012).
Reflecting on Davis’ leadership as the incoming president, Dorsey said, “He’s humble, he’s a servant of the Lord, and he works very hard in supporting everybody – he’s a guy that has supported everybody fairly and equally.”
Camden, N.J. — On June 9, a 25th anniversary celebration was held for the Rev. James C. Jones, evangelist and senior pastor of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Camden, N.J., at the Mansion on Main Street in Voorhees, N.J.
The keynote speaker was the Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw, senior pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia. From 2000 to 2009, Rev. Shaw served as the national president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBCUSA, Inc.) the largest African-American religious organization in the nation with more than one million members throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. He offered a tribute to the dedicated service and extensive accomplishments of Rev. Jones.
Rev. James C. Jones has spent his pastoral career in service to God and the communities of Camden and vicinity. In 1987, Rev. Jones chose to move to Camden from his hometown of Glassboro, N.J., at a time when many ministers were fleeing the City.
“Ministry is about more than being a pastor,” said Jones. “The most rewarding aspect of my work is evangelism. This gift, which God gave me, allows me to support the salvation of all with whom I come in contact.”
Rev. Jones, who is renowned for his compassionate prison ministry outreach, was one of the first clergy members in Camden to reach out to the prison population. Rev. Jones ardently petitioned local and state officials and was eventually granted access to the former Riverfront State Prison, and was subsequently invited to the Camden County Jail, where he conducted worship services, witnessed to prisoners, and worked to remove the stigma associated with incarceration. “Everyone in jail is not a bad person,” he said. “Good people make bad decisions. God forgives us all.”
Rev. Jones has helped transform the thoughts and behaviors of numerous convicts and addicts; several of whom became members of Mt. Calvary as their lives improved.
Pastor Jones is a member of the Economic Recovery Board and the former president of the Concerned Black Clergy of Camden. He fervently advocates for the communities of Camden and has been instrumental in coordinating forums to heighten the awareness of the City’s residents regarding economic recovery.
Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church also serves its community through their Board of Christian Education, Community Development Corporation, Black History programs, Spanish Heritage programs, the Bible Bowl, Children’s Church, Youth Church, Seniors Ministry, the Food Bank, Street and Nursing Home Ministries, and many other church activities and ministries.
In 1906, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt became the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In that same year, Calvary Baptist Church was organized, and the Rev. George Lee Robinson was called to be its first Pastor. He served until his death in 1918.
Fast forward to 2012, Calvary is experiencing dynamic growth and is making great impact in the West Philadelphia community under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Garth Gabriel Gittens, Senior Pastor.
Calvary has a socially conscious congregation. The church subscribes to a code of beliefs and ethics that underscores its stellar commitment to serving the community
Zavia Forney has been a member of Calvary for at least 2 ½ years, she serves as a deaconess and she is currently a minister-in-training. Remarking about Rev. Gittens, she said, “Pastor Gittens is a man of God, he is a truthful man - he’s a person touching the lives of people.”
She also serves on the Strategic Planning Committee, primarily responsible for the oversight of church growth.
Her husband, Andre Forney, Sr., is also a minister-in-training. He was attracted to Calvary because of the informative, practical and charismatic preaching and teaching of Rev. Gittens.
“Pastor Gittens preaches the unadulterated Gospel,” he said. “and the atmosphere here with the people, they are loving and they make no apologies for their worship of the Lord.”
A. Forney admits that his greatest spiritual transformation has occurred through his grow with the Men’s Fellowship ministry,
“It’s an opportunity for Christian men to come together to address issues in Christian men’s lives, and how to address those issues through the Word of God,” he said. “ The Bible says iron sharpens iron, and (the Real Men’s ministry) is an opportunity for men to grow and to take our rightful place in the Kingdom, to affect God’s people.”
Calvary has at least 19 official ministries designed to serve its members and the community at large. Among them are: Children’s Church, Women’s Fellowship, Agape, Youth ministry, Seniors ministry, and the Deacons ministry.
Emmett Russum, chairman of the deacons, has been a member for 19 years.
“I’ve been serving as deacon for nine years.” Russum said his greatest challenge leading the deacons has been, “being able to pass on information that the church (leaders) and the pastor have given me and the deacons, so that we can go out and serve our congregation.” Calvary has a swelling congregation, its membership is so robust, the church had to move to three services just to accommodate the weekly throng of members and visiting worshippers.
Russum recalls when the resignation of a previous pastor that left a void for five years, but once Rev. Gittens came on board, the church has expanded its ministries, became more focused on serving community, and became more strategic in business and ministry planning.
There’s a vibrancy that runs common among Calvary church leaders and one of its most vibrant leaders is the Rev. Thomas Glover. Glover is an eight year member of Calvary, during his tenure, his ministry affiliations have included deacons, culinary, and now pastor of operations. He said his biggest challenge as pastor of operations is, “managing people, and getting everything to gel. To make sure things run well, not just on Sunday, but throughout the week, in everything that we do.”
As Pastor of Operations, Glover has been working in this capacity, full time, during the last three years. Prior to becoming a full-time servant-leader at Calvary, Glover was a chef, professionally trained at The Restaurant School in West Philadelphia.
“I enjoy cooking – but God called me to other things, to tend to the flock, to help pastor,” he said. “Because a man with that kind of vision, need people to hold his hands up, to help to do what needs to be done.”
Glover’s said it’s a challenge eeping pace with Rev. Gittens’ high energy, vision and service to the community at large, which includes a motor coach business, an emerging water ice venture to hire local residents, an emerging day care, a summer camp, “And Agape, which feeds over a thousand people a year,” he said. “We have a music school, we’re trying to do plays, theatre – our pastor is a visionary. As he continues to put out the vision, it’s our job to run with the vision to make it happen.”
In addition, Calvary has a relationship with Harcum College.
“Every Tuesday and Thursday night, people are coming here to get their college degree, our pastor is big on education,” Glover said.
In addition to all his responsibilities, Glover teaches a weekly Wednesday morning Bible Study and evening Youth Bible Study.
The senior members of Calvary are also vibrant and active in ministry outreach. Mattie Hull, 70, shared this reflection about her membership: “I’ve been a member since (July) 1961 – and Christian unity, striving together (as a congregation) to continue to get closer to God and to meet the vision of the pastors,” has been Calvary’s most significant accomplishment.
Her advice for the younger generation of leaders is to become good listeners, “and be careful who you pattern after, it’s all about God and not about any person.” she said.
Gabriel Gittens, 18, is the son of Rev. Gittens and First Lady Gillian Gittens, and the sibling of older brother the Rev. Andre Gittens. Gabe believes that peer pressure is one of the greatest challenges for youth and young adults today.
“There are a lot of people that do things that are not exactly Godly,” he said. “There’s a lot of drinking, there’s a lot of smoking, a lot of gang banging, a lot of stuff that people try to involve you in, but you just got to go your own path.”
Gabe is college-bound this fall for Coastal Carolina University in South.
Tanisha Jones, 28, a member for four years, is very engaged in ministry at Calvary. She was drawn to the church by its praise and worship ministry.
,“I came in broken, the praise and worship team was ministering, and I actually joined the church the second time visiting.” she said.
Jones is now very active with the praise and worship ministry and she’s an active teacher with the children’s ministry. She said she would urge people to consider joining Calvary, “because it’s a place where you can grow – you can actually start new ministries, Pastor Gittens doesn’t mind if you have a vision, he is willing to work with you.”
“It’s been nine years and a few months,” said Rev. Gittens about his tenure at Calvary. His proudest accomplishment is, “the motivation that comes with seeing people’s lives transformed, and that’s ongoing accomplishment. We’ve seen families come back together, we’ve seen homes restored, people getting off of drugs – their situation’s changed, and now becoming employed, that kind of process gives me the best feeling of accomplishment.”
Rev. Gittens believes that pastors should have a very strong teaching ministry, “Preaching proclaims, teaching explains. And that’s the big difference. Instructing people is a very different thing. And the transformation of people’s lives comes through the instruction. We believe that economics and education are the pillars of liberation.”
On the horizon, Calvary has a few major events planned, a dramatic play “Heaven or Hell” (three- night revival); the annual Carroll Park Picnic and an All Culture Day. For more information, call the church at (215) 747-9979.
On Nov. 20, the Rev. Dr. Damone B. Jones Sr., one of Philadelphia’s leading young pastors, was unanimously elected as moderator to lead over 50 churches affiliated with the Pennsylvania Eastern Keystone Baptist Association. Jones will succeed the Rev. Dr. Steven Avinger Sr., senior pastor of Greater Saint Matthew Baptist Church, who was moderator for four years.
Avinger shared this about his four-year role as moderator, “It’s been a very, very enjoyable and rewarding four years, and we’re on a precipice of moving to another level, with a new administration coming in.” Avinger expressed his excitement and support of the new line-up of pastors and leaders that will, “…move PEKBA into the future.”
Under Avinger’s leadership, here are a few of his notable ministry innovations and accomplishments:
• Implementation of the Baptist Training Institute — where pastors, ministers, trustees, deacons, ushers, nurses, etc., can receive structured training in the Baptist way of ministering in their respective roles in the church.
• Health Ministry — implementation of men’s and women’s health fairs, free flu vaccines, etc.
• Music Ministry — individuals are taught and trained in the traditional hymns of the church to preserve historical/traditional songs.
• Reconciliation — resolution of disputes between pastors and deacons, and church boards, etc., to help congregations keep such issues confidential and in-house.
The aforementioned were deliberate initiatives that Avinger led to underscore his visionary leadership theme, “Rekindling The Fire.”
Avinger chose this particular theme to, “… re-awaken in the hearts and minds of Baptists, Black Baptists in particular, associational life … Jesus certainly practiced the principal of association … it’s important that we, as pastors and members of congregations, associate with each other … for the principal of not only espousing the teachings and doctrines of Jesus Christ, but (to emphasize the importance of) fellowship.”
Avinger also serves as vice president of the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention, a feeder to the National Baptist Convention.
PEKBA is a statewide association of over 100 member churches; the organization is over 60 years old, and serves as a feeder to the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention. Many of Philadelphia’s most prominent pastoral leaders are members of PEKBA.
One such leader is the Rev. Dr. William Shaw, former president of the National Baptist Convention, one of the largest religious associations in America. Shaw is also senior pastor of White Rock Baptist Church, located in West Philadelphia. Shaw gave remarks during the evening’s PEKBA moderator’s address and officers elections.
Along with his new role as moderator with PEKBA, Jones will continue to serve as the senior pastor of Bible Way Baptist Church, located in West Philadelphia. Before being elevated to the role of moderator, Jones faithfully served four years as vice moderator-at-large and chairman of the Annual Session for PEKBA. Bible Way Baptist Church played host to the election of new PEKBA officers and the landmark for Avinger’s last public sermon as the association’s moderator. Before the evening moderator’s address, international Gospel recording artist Jeff Majors performed with fellow gospel artists Al Johnson and Theresa Gray at Bible Way Baptist Church.
“As we begin our Annual Session this year for the Pennsylvania Eastern Keystone Baptist Association, we look forward to a wonderful time of preaching and fellowship with all of our Associated churches and with all of our visiting friends,” shared Jones. The evening was a bittersweet celebration for Jones, as he is replacing Avinger, one of his friends and clergy mentors.
Commenting on Avinger’s final sermon as moderator, Jones said, “We are filled with gratitude for the vision, tireless service and energy (Avinger) has put into our Association and the distinction with which he has led our Association over the past four years. Above all it's an opportunity as we approach this (Thanksgiving and Christmas) season to worship the Lord for His faithfulness and loving kindness toward us all.”
Evangelist Jillian Gittens, outgoing president of the Women’s Ministry/PEKBA, was joyful about her leadership service as one of the officers of PEKBA, Gittens was especially proud of the unity and special outreach gatherings she organized that rallied many women to serve: “We all came together in agreement and unity, and we have a love for each other that meant a lot to me.”
Gittens said, “We reached out to other churches,” to conduct hallmark social and ministry events like ‘Hat-Attitudes,’ gospel concerts, health fairs and scholarship fundraising, as a result, “It was a good and wonderful (experience).” Gittens also offered encouraging words of wisdom for her successor, Rev. Valerie Andrews, “Whatever God has placed in her heart, that’s what she should do,” to carry the ministry forward.
Ollie Lear, Chief Communications Officer/PEKBA, was bursting with enthusiasm because, “We are celebrating four years with our (outgoing) moderator, Dr. Steven Avinger Sr., and we’re also celebrating our new moderator that’s coming in, Dr. Damone Jones … It’s been an exciting fours, we’ve done so many new things, and I’m looking forward to the new ideas that our new moderator has in store (for PEBKA).”
“We are excited and elated for our pastor, Dr. Damone B. Jones,” exclaimed Rev. James Clifford Jackson, pastoral assistant to the senior pastor of Bible Way Baptist Church. Jackson offered this simple perspective on Jones’ new leadership role, “He’ll be guiding and leading (member churches),” throughout Pennsylvania.
The Rev. Clarence Washington, senior pastor of Millennium Baptist Church, in Philadelphia, is encouraged about the new change of leadership, “An exciting time! As the present moderator (Avinger) prepares to leave office, with all the work he’s done, and then looking forward to the new moderator … which will be Pastor Damone B. Jones, my pastor. I’m looking forward to the work that will come in the future.” Washington continued, “Oftentimes councils and conferences can get a boost of energy from new leadership. Pastor Avinger has done a great job, and we hope that Pastor Jones can continue to carry the torch.”
Have you ever gone to a specific church to hear a particular pastor only to find out that said pastor will not be in the pulpit? It’s happened to me and I’ve come to appreciate it’s not the messenger. It’s the message. And so it was recently when a minister unknown to me spoke of humility. Fortunately for me, it was one of the first principles I remembered from the guy who saved my life, the minister I was going to hear. Humility, as the guest pastor clarified, was particularly evident in Philippians 2. The entire chapter is devoted to Paul’s message to the church at Philippi regarding “Imitating Christ’s Humility.” As I listened, humility went from a concept of docile behavior to a fact of faith and strength of conduct. It was made clear that Christ deliberately chose to consider himself at best equal to, if not less than His fellow man. Remember, this is God choosing to make himself human, in order to serve his divine purpose. This text tells us. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Now, my recollection of Christ says that’s a pretty good description of how he looked upon his duty and pretty much what got Him killed.
Isn’t it ironic to think that the most dangerous, therefore the most powerful and important thing you can do in life is to care more about someone else than you care about yourself? This humility thing has teeth. Paul teaches us that it is our fundamental responsibility as Christians to be united in emulating Christ’s denunciation of status, pride, ego and self. I mean really, if anyone had a right to be arrogant, try being the walking talking Word and deliberately transform yourself into a mere mortal. If you can grasp that thought, please do not let it blow your mind because you know you couldn’t do it. I certainly couldn’t, no matter my intent. I mean, become the Son of God and die on the cross at the hands of men. Fortunately, as the guest minister sermonized, Paul was not asking us to do the impossible. He lets us know the goal is service unto our fellow man. He reminds us that the mission is to put a cap on what we think of ourselves and our independence in favor of the recognition of our collective interdependence upon each other and the Almighty. Christ died to save us all, and here in Philippi, Paul tells us that our conduct must be based on the recognition of the following truth. Out of this thing called humility, Christ saved the world. Are we better than he is? Think it through. If you look down your nose at anyone, if you think you’re better than anyone, then you think you’re better than Jesus, who thought himself no better and even less than you. He died in service to you. Do something today for someone else simply because you can. If you don’t get this, I think you had better think again.
May God bless and keep you always.