Nazarene Baptist Church of Nicetown came into fruition in 1896. A young Virginian, Reverend George Russell, was instrumental in the organization of Nazarene. Weekly prayer meetings were held at his home located at 3952 North Nice Street and as an outgrowth, that location became known as the First Colonial Baptist Mission of Nicetown. Reverend Russell had a strong desire to reach more people in the community and secured the services of Reverend Andrew Jones, an evangelist, to conduct revival. To accommodate these services, larger quarters were needed and the mission moved to Ponemans Hall at Germantown Avenue and Butler Street. As the congregation increased, the need for even larger quarters grew as well. Two houses were purchased at 4036-4038 North Nice Street and were razed to house the First Colonial Baptist Mission of Nicetown at a cost of three thousand dollars ($3,000.00.) Lively services were conducted at the mission by this band of steadfast Christians who preached, prayed and sang in spite of the trials, which they endured. The quest for recognition as a church by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had now begun
The first council of local churches refused to recommend First Colonial on grounds that Reverend Russell was not an ordained minister and that a First Baptist Church already existed in Nicetown. In light of the need for the mission to have an ordained minister, Reverend Russell went to his home church, Piney Grove Baptist Church of Halifax County, Virginia in 1895 and was ordained there by Reverend Charles Coleman. Next, a name for the church had to be selected. After many suggestions, “Nazarene,” submitted by Jennie Morton, was chosen. These pioneers again sought recognition as a church. Reverend George Russell, Critte Russell, William Reed, Philip Christian, Charles Coleman, Missouri Reed, Henry Coleman, Gordon Coleman, Sophie Coleman and Betty Coleman, all of whom had previously united with the Grace Baptist Church of Germantown were now commissioned to form a Baptist church in Nicetown.
A second council was called April 5, 1896, which included Reverend Gibson, Chairman, Reverend Reed, Reverend Morton Winston, Reverend Diggs, Reverend Gordon and Reverend Lee. On April 9, 1896, Nazarene Baptist Church of Nicetown became officially recognized by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with Reverend George Russell as its first pastor. On June 12, 1911, Nazarene was officially chartered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with Reverend George Russell, John Barber, Barney Barksdale, Charles Coleman, Nelson Brooks and Thomas G. Coleman as petitioners. After serving as pastor for eighteen years, Reverend Russell resigned in January of 1914.
The church was not long without a pastor when a call was extended to Reverend Bartram Coleman in 1914. A few years into Reverend Coleman’s pastorate, the church acknowledged that the current church facilities were inadequate. In 1915, another site was purchased at a cost of four thousand nine hundred dollars ($4,900.00) at the southwest corner of Nice and Lycoming Streets, which was to be developed as a new church. On November 19, 1916, the cornerstone for the new building was laid and an edifice erected that year at a cost of twenty-two thousand dollars ($22,000.00.) Construction was under the direction of a black man by the name of Joseph Trent. The new church was dedicated in 1917. Reverend Coleman’s leadership continued until the Lord called him home on August 12, 1919.
After an intense search, a call was extended to, and accepted by, Reverend George L. Davis, then pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church of Columbus, Ohio. Precluded from acceding to the pulpit immediately because of his wife’s illness, he sent Reverend J.E. Thompson to serve temporarily. Reverend Davis’ ministry began in May of 1921 following the death of his wife. After graduation from high school, he attended Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania where he received a B.A. in theology in 1899 and a M.A. in theology in 1902. Reverend Davis had previously pastored in the Philadelphia area at the Second Baptist Church of Nicetown. After preaching for a few years, he ventured to law school and received his law degree from Ohio State University in Dayton, Ohio. While pastoring in Ohio, Reverend Davis was the editor of the Ohio State Journal. He was truly one of the best-educated African American ministers in Philadelphia at the turn of the century.
Reverend Davis led the campaign to satisfy the mortgage on the edifice at Nice and Lycoming Streets and the church burned it in 1923. Under Reverend Davis’ leadership, the church expanded its real estate holdings in 1926 by purchasing a 92-acre farm in Lahaska, Bucks County, Pennsylvania at a cost of sixteen thousand dollars ($16,000.00) with its original intention that it be used for an “Old Folks Home.” In addition, Mr. Rathblott, a real estate developer, in Philadelphia, made a gift to the church of eight building lots in Mizpah, New Jersey, which are still owned by the church.
Reverend Davis established a special communion service on the first Sunday afternoon of each month, which included a cappella singing and personal testimonies. The time of communion service changed in the late seventies with it occurring at the end of morning worship. Under his pastorate numerous auxiliaries were developed including Prayer Bands (1) and (2) which met early Sunday mornings and on Thursday evenings, the Missionary Society, Pastor’s Aide, Nurses Unit, Willing Workers, Ushers and Ladies Auxiliary, Baptist Young People’s Union (BYPU), Young People’s Choir, Youth Prayer Band, Junior Ushers (1923), Cradle Roll, Young Men’s Club and Marching Team were also established.
Christian Education was also developed as a vital part of Nazarene’s ministry. In 1931, Mary Staley Swann, a member from 1914 to 1972, was instrumental in organizing Daily Vacation Bible School, the first in the Nicetown area. The Bible School’s location alternated among Nazarene, Second Baptist and Holsey CME Church.
Nazarene was viewed as a beacon in the Nicetown community having been the first minority congregation to build its edifice. The Holsey Temple CME Church and the Second Baptist Church of Nicetown enjoyed a great fellowship with Nazarene. One of the most eagerly anticipated annual musical events in Nicetown was the “Community Choirs Day.” The organist/directors of the three churches: J. Pearl Nicholson of Second Baptist, Anna J. Selby of Holsey and Helen G. Gatling of Nazarene developed this novel idea. It began under Mrs. Nicholson’s chairmanship and the first event was held in February 1932. The first program for “Community Day” consisted of one selection by the massed choirs of the three churches directed by W.F. Hoxter. In 1937, the organists decided to change the program to a varied musical with W. Russell Johnson, a renowned teacher of piano, organ, voice and theory, serving as guest conductor of the mass choirs. He acted in this stead for more than 35 years. Through the years, many outstanding musicians, some internationally known, were invited as special guests. Each church alternated years to host this event, which usually brought a capacity crowd. “Choir’s Day” inspired the formation of a united Thanksgiving services among the three churches. This event continued until the late 1970’s.
Reverend Davis was so inspired by the singing of a chorus while attending a convention in Buffalo, New York in the early 1930’s, he was led to organize the Nazarene Church Chorus and several years later, the Davis Gospel Chorus, named in honor of Emma Davis, his wife. Professor Davis, one of Reverend Davis’ brothers, presented musical recitals.
Nazarene’s present location, 3975 Germantown Avenue was formerly the site of a restaurant owned by members Pinkney and Lula Graves. In 1940, charter member Charles Coleman, against the advice of others, risked his life to race into the church during a frightful but non-extensive fire to save the charter.
Reverend Banks received his early education in the Philadelphia School System, having graduated from Northeast High School with honors. He went on to the University of Pennsylvania, graduated and then matriculated to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he received his bachelor’s degree in divinity in 1957. His master’s degree was earned from Eastern Theological Seminary in June 1959 and he received his doctorate there in later years. He was licensed to preach by the Shiloh Baptist Church of this city by Reverend W.H.R. Powell who also ordained him to the ministry at Nazarene’s request.
Reverend Banks was a true teacher and Bible scholar. Although an advocate of men being church leaders, he believed strongly that all members should be well-educated in God’s word. He encouraged enrollment in various Bible schools, correspondence courses, attendance at church, Bible classes and Sunday School as well as other community classes sponsored by the Germantown Congress of Christian Education. He stressed “putting on the whole armor of God,” and encouraged members to exercise personal and church discipline under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Bibles were placed in pews to encourage full participation in worship. Armed with a penchant for missions, he encouraged stronger support for missionaries serving in Africa, Japan and the United States. Many Bible conferences were held at the Nazarene Center in Lahaska, which led to the establishment of our current Labor Day Bible Conference.
Under Reverend Banks’ leadership, a Male Chorus was organized, the Young Adult choir reorganized, and the Junior Choir was reactivated in 1959 under the direction of Helen Gatling, with her student Joyce Erlinda Gregory (Drayton) as accompanist. Young Erlinda, under the direction of Georgia Gregory (her mother) had been playing the piano for the Church School Choir since 1957. Reverend Banks always encouraged a full music ministry. He was blessed with a strong baritone voice and enjoyed singing with the Senior Choir on special occasions. Junior Deacons and Junior Trustees were added. Morning Sunday School was added to Sunday worship as a year round activity. In 1958, the Scholarship Committee became an official church organization. Weekday Bible clubs, Saturday Night Bible Class, Boys’ and Girls’ Days and weekend young adult retreats, New Members’ Club. Harvest Retreats were started by Lillian Williams. Many Sunday School teachers and apprentices, interested in furthering their education, attended Manna Bible Institute or Philadelphia College of the Bible.
The evangelistic outreach was expanded to include street meetings, nursing home ministries, a weekly radio broadcast and publication of a congregational devotional guide of daily readings. Reverend Banks was also quite ambitious in beginning a building fund and establishing a Christian camping program at the Nazarene Center. The 6:00 a.m. Prayer Band started by Reverend Davis continued to meet and was highlighted for several years with the unique presentation of the “Holy City Cast” at Easter Sunrise Service at 4:00 a.m. This play, hosted by the Davis Gospel Singers with its member Lucy Clayton as one of the cast, was very inspirational and well-attended.
A bus was purchased to assist with the increasing need for church transportation. Land on adjoining Nice Street was purchased for parking and 3971 and 3975 Germantown Avenue were purchased for church expansion. Administratively, full and part time secretaries were hired. In recognition of the need for a strong organizational church structure, Reverend Banks instituted a “Departmental Church System” where each church auxiliary/ministry was placed in an applicable category (Missions and Evangelism, Finance and Property, Christian Education, Public Worship.) Each department would then report to the general church body on a quarterly basis. A revised edition of Nazarene’s bylaws was adopted by the church.
After thirteen years of faithful, innovative service, Reverend Banks, burdened with a strong desire to expand his teaching ministry, resigned in 1970 to accept a teaching position at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. Once again, Nazarene’s steadfastness was tested as it sought another leader. In the interim, the congregation continued to worship under the leadership of its Senior Associate Minister, Reverend Howard O. Lewis, Rev. John White and the Board of Deacons, led by its chairman, Felix B. Smaller. After a brief search, God answered the prayers of the saints by sending Reverend James L. Cherry, Sr. from McKeesport, Pennsylvania on June 6, 1971.
Reverend Cherry was an inspiring preacher, teacher and singer. He continued to emphasize Godly living, Bible study, evangelism and ministering to the youth and the aged. His charisma and kind manner endeared him to old and young alike. Under Reverend Cherry’s ten-year leadership, the church liquidated the mortgages on the parsonage located at 800 E. Phil Ellena Street and one of its holdings at 3971 Germantown Avenue. A parking lot, adjacent to the church and formerly owned by the City of Philadelphia, was purchased for increased parking. In order to satisfy an additional need for transportation, a van was purchased providing service to shut-in members, small group trips and for travel for singing groups to other churches. The building program was expanded with members strengthening their commitment to invest in a new edifice. Camping activities were tremendously increased.
There were several “firsts” during Reverend Cherry’s pastorate: a “Golden Health Club” for senior citizens with Margaret Eaton and Juanita Campbell as directors; a church bowling team, established in 1972 that later joining the American Philadelphia Baptist Athletic Association; establishment of Nazarene’s Youth Basketball Team that became a member of the Interdenominational Church Basketball League in 1979; the official recognition of the Women’s Day Choir becoming the Women’s Chorale, an official church choir under the direction of Joyce Erlinda Drayton who also served as the Women’s Day Director and musician. Mrs. Drayton arranged for the Women’s Chorale and Reverend James L. Cherry to appear on live television on the “Sunday Show.” Pastor Cherry often sang with the group on special occasions; the Nazarene Gazette, a quarterly newspaper edited and co-edited by Constance Jenkins and Ida Middleton, compiled church calendar listing of church events, birthdays and anniversaries; and the church cookbook sponsored by the Scholarship Committee.
On June 28, 1981, Reverend Cherry resigned to accept the call to pastor Aenon Missionary Baptist Church in Rochester, New York. In May of 1984, God blessed us with our sixth pastor, Reverend Keith Marshall Williams, Sr. who preached his first sermon on June 3, 1984. Pastor Williams was blessed with a great variety of educational and ministerial experiences to prepare him at a young age to be Nazarene’s under shepherd. He graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and in 1981 graduated from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary of Philadelphia with his Master’s of Divinity degree. He traveled to the Far East and Africa with Sports Ambassadors, a missionary basketball evangelism team. He also taught Bible studies and served as chaplain of Philadelphia’s professional sports teams.
Pastor Williams came to Nazarene from Mount Olive Baptist Church in Glassboro, New Jersey. His strong expository preaching and teaching have enabled the church to continue to grow spiritually, numerically and financially. Christian Education was expanded to include many specialized ministries including Youth, Singles, Men, Women Marriage and Senior Saints Fellowships. During the summer months, evangelistic outreach services are held outdoors to reach the community. A campus outreach ministry was established at Temple University, which significantly added to the young adult population.
Under Pastor Williams’ pastorate, many improvements and repairs were made to our past edifice including an air-conditioning unit, a computer with laser printer, 20 new properties, two new vans, two church buses and a new audio system and sound room. Improvements at the Nazarene Center include a new boys’ cabin, replacement windows in the main house and a new well.
From the inception of the church’s building program, development continued. Members, quite conscientious in supporting the building program for many years, were anxious to move forward in deciding what form of expansion should take place. The Master had his mighty hand in the decision as Pastor Williams began to share his vision of a new edifice with the Nazarene family and stressed the importance of uniting on one accord. The overwhelming majority was steadfast in its desire to build a new edifice, sufficient with all of the amenities for worship and ministry development at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Lycoming Street and plans began immediately.
With God as our leader, Pastor Williams, Deacon Board Chairman, Ralph Vaden, Trustee Chairman, James E. Rhone, Deacons, Trustees and church family, meetings were held and on April 25, 1990, a Building Fund Kick-Off Banquet was held at the Beulah Baptist Church, with Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Sr., Pastor Emeritus of the Grace Baptist Church of Germantown, as speaker.
To guide the church through the entire development/construction process, Cruse Development Consultants were hired. The Madison Design Group of Columbia, Maryland was hired as the architectural firm and E. Allen Reeves, Inc., a local firm, was hired because of its vast experience in building churches in the Philadelphia area. The professional team was then formulated and member Susan C. Moody, Esquire, Church Counsel, recommended that Carolyn Gaines serve as legal counsel for the project. Anita T. Conner and Associates were hired as accountants. Construction was financed by PNC Bank who joint-ventured with minority owned United Bank of Philadelphia. Construction began in November 1994. The foundation of the building was completed rather quickly as a result of a very mild winter in 1995 and the Lord blessed the relatively smooth construction period. The saints of Nazarene marched into their new edifice on May 25, 1996 surpassed the joy experienced at the official ground breaking service on November 19, 1994. One of the first official business decisions in the new church in 1994 was the election of three females to the Board of Trustees: Juanita Ogburn, Zella Michael and Cynthia Malachi White.
The music ministry continues to flourish under the leadership of the first appointed Minister Of Music in Nazarene’s history, Deaconess Joyce Erlinda Drayton who has served Nazarene musically for over 49 years and is the only member musician who has accompanied and/or directed every singing unit in Nazarene. For over ten years, Wilida Luff has served as director for the Nazarene Chorus, Young Adult Choir, Church School Choir and Male Chorus.
We are currently supporting 26 missionaries. 15 are home-based and 11 are foreign based. Several overlap and serve both home based and foreign.
Under the leadership of Pastor K. Marshall Williams, Sr., a Capitol Stewardship Committee was developed followed by the organization of other ministries including: Teacher Training, Men’s Discipleship, Women’s and Pastor’s Bible classes, Old Testament Bible Class, Recovery From Losses of Life Class, Christian Etiquette for Teens (now Teen Shop), Widow and Widowers Fellowships, College Outreach and Spiritual Brothers & Sisters ministries. The Missions and Evangelism Department was expanded to include the Life Threads Clothing and sheepfold ministries. Under the Department of Public Worship, the Audio Visual and Tape Ministry, Glorifiers Of God Praise Dancers, B.E.L.I.E.V.E. (Because Emmanuel Lives I Have Victory Every Day) Mime Ministry and a Mass Choir were organized.
In 1998, Nazarene united with the Greater Philadelphia Baptist Association and the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/Jersey. In 2002, the congregation hosted the largest meeting of their state convention. Other affiliations include the Pennsylvania Eastern District Congress of Christian Education, Germantown Congress of Christian Education, Pennsylvania Baptist Convention, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Federations of Bible Classes, and Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention.
In 1996, the Nazarene Community Development Corporation (NCDC) was organized with James E. Rhone as its first president. Deacon Lawrence Collins is its current president. The NCDC is partnering with the church in a community beautification project to be completed this year. It also sponsors the Education Through Culture Program that provides enrichment and service outings and activities to young people in the congregation and surrounding neighborhoods.
Nazarene Baptist Church has achieved its present status first and foremost as a result of our Heavenly Father’s faithfulness to us through the years and second, as a result of the devoted, loyal service of our under shepherd’s officers and members. We give God the glory for all He has done and for His sustaining power. We trust the Savior to continually lead us as we strive obediently to be “doers of the word and not hearers only,” Knowing that: “… it doth not appear what we will be, but we know that, when He shall appear, we will be like Him: for we shall see Him as he is.” (1st John 3:2). Nazarene is “Still Praising God and Abiding in the Faith.” (Psalm 84:4b; John 15:5).