History

OUR ROOTS

Historical accounts tell us that it was often difficult, even after Emancipation, for black people to live as free citizens. They were often intimidated and punished for attempting to do so. Travel out of the South was especially hazardous for blacks since their labor was still in demand in the fields of plantation owners. Nevertheless, some time after the Civil War, a small, brave group of people from Louisa County, Virginia, migrated North seeking freedom and opportunity. They settled in Linwood, Pennsylvania, just a mile across the Chester city limits. Among the cherished freedoms they sought was the freedom to serve God. To that end, they soon began to meet for prayer services. The first services were held in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Basil Thompson in 1875. Brother Lorenzo I. Thompson, who passed during our Centennial Year, was the grandson of these good people.

It was those prayer meetings that what we now know as Calvary Baptist Church was to be born. The following excerpts of the pioneering efforts of our founders were found in the Chester Times of August 11,1879. They are the words of a Mr. Jackson, described as a ‘colored gentleman’ who related this historical reminisence when he was called upon to speak at the dedicatory services of the church:

We began our work in 1875 collecting a few persons for services in a little stone house (The Thompson
house). During that year four from our number joined the First Colored Baptist Church of Philadelphia. The last part of this year and the first of the next was dark and gloomy. Clouds gathered and obscured us and we were obliged to give up our services. The latter part of 1876 they grew better. We thought it was better for us to be organized as a church. So in a body we went to Philadelphia and having joined the First Colored Baptists in that place, Were organized as a church.

Along with Mr. Jackson, these names were included among our founders: Joshua Bland, Basil Thompson, Albert Robinson, Emily Thompson, James Brown, Lydia Robinson, Henry Harris,, and Dinah Frazier. They began to meet in a building more suited to their needs than a home. The building was located at Fourth and Edwards Streets in Chester. Referring to themselves as a ‘society’ this group maintained the tiny church at the Fourth and Edwards location. They learned of a wealthy, philanthropical family of Upland named Crozer who endeavored to underwrite the building of institutions devoted to the perpetuation of the Baptist faith. The Crozers were benefactors to a number of institutions, including Upland Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Chester, Crozer Hospital, Crozer Theological Seminary, Crozer Park, and Bucknell University. Led by Mr. Jackson, they approached a member of that family, Samuel A. Crozer, with an appeal for a donation to aid in their building a church.

THE BUILDING

Money was provided by Samuel Crozer. The resulting edifice was a brick structure fifty feet long, thirty feet wide and twenty feet high erected at Second and Baker Streets. There were four windows on each side and four in the front. The walls on the inside were painted in imitation of stone. The windows and mopboards were painted slate colored and brown while the pews were of black walnut. At the back of the church was a platform about three feet high with stairs on either side. On the platform was a pulpit of black walnut and three chairs of the same material. Under the pulpit was a baptistery. The seating capacity was 250. The cost of the church was reported to be about four thousand dollars.

Original Church Building

The church was dedicated on Sunday, August 10,1879. There were three services held that day – morning, afternoon, and evening. The dedicatory service was scheduled for three o’clock in the afternoon.

THE DEDICATION

Although the membership of the church numbered about seventy persons, according to newspaper accounts, ‘as early as two o’clock nearly every seat in the church was filled and chairs had to be brought in…’ By the time the afternoon services began, ‘There was in the neighborhood of 400 persons in the room, and as many as 200 were on the outside unable to get in.’

Program participants and honored guests included Mr. Jackson, Rev. Harpar, pastor of the South Chester Baptist Church, a Dr. Roberts, who was a teacher of freedmen ministers in the state of Georgia, a Rev. Henson, who preached the morning and evening services and pronounced the benediction at the dedication service, a Dr. Pendleton of Upland, Dr. Griffin, pastor of the Upland Baptist Church, and Mr. Samuel A. Crozer.

Dr. Griffin, who preached the dedicatory sermon, presided. Services began when the choir sang ‘Coronation’, followed by a congregation hymn, ‘I Love Thy Kingdom Lord.’

Mr. Jackson was called upon for remarks. The first part of his speech is recorded above. He ended his
remarks by noting:

In all our trials God was sufficient for us. We went to Mr. Crozer, and he promised to help us. But none of us dared to hope that we would be helped so soon and so much as we are. We, in our narrow sightedness, did not think God would give us so much. He has more than answered our prayers.

Samuel A. Crozer was called to give some of his reasons for erecting the building; he said:

For many years I have felt that much was being done for the white people and nothing, comparatively, for the colored people. This has long lain on my heart, and when the little band of African Baptists here in Chester and South Chester asked me to assist them, I promised I would help them some day. There are several churches in Chester for people of your color, but all for other denominations. There is no Baptist church, and that is the reason for the erection of this Church.

At the end of the services, Dr. Pendleton, as the oldest minister in the gathering, was called upon to give
closing remarks. The following is excerpted from his remarks:

….I had no idea there were so many colored people in Chester….the minister of this church will hold a very important position, not only toward his flock here, but toward all the people around….

In the years to come, these words of Dr. Pendleton’s were to prove most prophetic. Atthe closing of his
little talk, the choir sang its final selection, ‘Have Mercy Upon Us’, and the dedicatory service ended.

THE MYSTERY OF THE NAME

Our research has unearthed some controversial and puzzling information. There is some evidence that in the first few years, the church was known in South Chester as the Ebenezer Baptist Church with Rev. Thomas Henson as pastor. It was noted above that Rev. Henson preached the morning and evening services and pronounced the benediction at the end of the dedicatory service. In other places, the church is referred to simply as the Baptist Church or the Colored Baptist Church. The first reference to it as the South Chester African Baptist Church came on February 13,1882, when the installation of Rev. Samuel Christian as pastor was announced. By 1882, the church appeared in the Chester City Directory as the African Baptist Church. Interestingly, all churches at that time, which were attended by black people, seem to have been politely referred to as African rather than Negro or Colored. In the newspaper accounts, for example, all of the various M.E., A.M.E.,C.M.E., etc. churches came to be listed under the heading African Methodist.

More research will have to be done in order to conclude authoritatively whether our church was ever referred to as Ebenezer Baptist.

We are certain, however, that it was on Monday, August 6,1900, while Rev. John W. Thompson was pastor, that a notice appeared in the Chester Times that our church had been named Calvary Baptist Church and would no longer be referred to as the First African Baptist Church.

EARLY MINISTERS

The record shows that the people of the early Calvary had a tremendous struggle to keep going. Apparently, it was only after Rev. Samuel Christian was called that its growth was assured. This account of Rev. Christian’s early ministry was found:

An immense crowd gathered at the Colored Baptist Church yesterday ….as many could not gain admittance as those who did…. they have been struggling for a long time but have just found a preacher that is able to lead them to success and it seems a novelty for the people in our vicinity to worship and bring into vogue the old southern way of worshipping….Mr. Christian is now the topic of conversation among religious circles.

Rev. Christian served until about 1884. He was followed by Rev. Joshua A. Brocket!. After Rev. Brockett came Rev. William R. Burrill.

Rev. Burrill was not only the pastor of the church, he was also a school director and an influential citizen of Chester. His ties to the city and to the church were very strong. Even though he left Calvary to accept a call in Pittsburgh and later died while pastoring another church in Harrisburg, his remains were returned to Chester to be funeralized on February 12,1902. Rev. J.W. Moore preached his funeral at Calvary to a packed church. He was buried in Gravel Hill Cemetery.

Around 1895, Rev. John W. Thompson succeeded Rev. Burrill. He was recognized as a great speaker and was an early advocate for a social Gospel. Policy (numbers writing) was considered a problem even back in those days. Rev. Thompson led a crusade against the practice. He also led the church to undertake in setting up an Industrial School. Instruction was begun in the church basement. Girls were to be given instruction in homemaking skills and boys were to be taught bricklaying, carpentry, and masonry.

Rev. Joshua W. Moore’s tenure began around 1902. He was also noted as a great speaker. The next three pastors were Rev. M.N. Sparks, Rev. A.R. Robinson, and Rev. Alexander Gordon. It was Rev. Sparks who was the first minister to live in the parsonage at 1614 W.Second Street.

The coming of Rev. and Mrs. J.R. Bennett marked a period of increasingly dynamic and constructive Christian witness. We are calling the period beginning with their service, the modern era.

THE BENNETT YEARS

The year 1913 found America in the wake of the challenging reforms of the Progressive Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson and the pressures of foreign affairs • the beginning of a World War. The devastating appearance of the bollweevil that literally destroyed the economy in the South by dethroning ‘King Cotton’. Times were critical on both the local and national scenes.

In 1913, many men of the labor force in the South were becoming very restless and assertive. They had heard of the golden opportunities in the Northern industries. Jobs were for the asking. Men began to move. Chester became flooded with men looking for these jobs and with women and children who followed the husbands and fathers. The housing shortage did not stop the influx. There was no Department of Public Assistance as we know it today. Therefore, relatives tried to help. Churches also did their very best to meet the challenge. In spite of inconveniences, these were better times for the northern economy and for these working men who had never received so much money for a working day.

This was the Chester that greeted Reverend and Mrs. John R. Bennett on their arrival in 1913. Rev. Bennett had been called as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church. He had held pastorates in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Altoona, Pa. and Missouri. Rev. Bennett was active in the National Baptist Convention:

therefore, it was only natural that he would help the church become a part of this forward movement. Rev. Bennett’s pastorate at Calvary brought a new dimension to the church. Then, as now, the membership welcomed strong leadership and eagerly participated in progressive Christian organizations. The affiliation made with the National Baptist Convention, under his leadership, was to last for the next 60 years.

Another insight into the character of the man, was his staunch support of the work of his wife, Mrs. Ruth L. Bennett, who became an outstanding social worker in Chester. From History of Twenty-Five Years of Service, by Ruth L. Bennett, we learned that during the great migration, women and children were directed by City Hall to the Calvary Church parsonage for refuge. Because of the number of these women and children, Rev. and Mrs. Bennett actually slept on cots on the floor of the lounge of the church. That way, they were able to turn the parsonage over to give aid and shelter to these frightened and frustrated women who had no place to go. Rev. Bennett had to have a similar zeal as that of his wife to have borne these inconveniences in order to accomodate the unfortunate. This was truly living the Bible.

The above source also stated that Rev. Bennett advised his wife in the purchasing of the property on Second Street to provide a ‘home awayfrom home’ where working women and girls could live safely and respectably. That Home, bearing her name, still stands and carries out that purpose. It is a living monument to those farsighted, Christian-hearted persons

After ten action filled years at Calvary, Rev. Bennett moved on again and became founder of our sister church, Providence Baptist.

EXTENDING A HELPING HAND

It was during the pastorate of Rev. Bennett that a group of former neighbors came to Chester from Waycross, Georgia. Their aim was to get settled sn Chester and to organize a church. Therefore, these Georgians, with Rev. Bennett’s understanding, joined Calvary under Watchcare. As soon as they could, they organized a church of their own in April, 1917, the Bethany Baptist Church. The story of their beginning is much like our own, and from the beginning, Calvary and Bethany, the church these Georgians organized, have shared a special relationship with each other.

THE MORRIS TENURE

Between 1921 and 1932, the pastor of Calvary was Rev. Ernest B. Morris. During his tenure, Calvary moved into prominence in the National Baptist Convention and continued to enjoy the position as a vanguard church in the community which former pastors had helped to establish.

Under the Pastorate of Rev. Morris, Calvary experienced one of its truly ‘Golden Eras’, for during this period, much of the consensus of Chester was that Calvary was blessed with ‘the’ outstanding preacher in the area. Among others, Dea. Henry Badie, who was the youngest member of the Deacolate in 1926, still refers to Rev. Morris as Calvary’s ‘Powerhouse Preacher.’ In addition to ministerial prowess, our church was renowned for its exceptionally talented choir. In the National Baptist Convention, we were very ably represented by Mrs. Nannie Banks and the leaders of our strong Missionary Society. Among them were Mrs. Rosella Woods, Mrs. Ida Ware, Miss Eva G. Smith and many, many others. Outstanding social activities and organizations made Calvary a hub for the community. How many recall the Sunday School Cradle Roll?

All year, the entire congregation rehearsed for some particular event which would be featured in the annual extravaganza called ‘The Mayfair’. All ages, all sizes, and both sexes participated. Each group wanted to outdo all the others in their performances. The Tom Thumb Wedding, the Womanless Wedding, the wrapping of the Maypole by costumed children, the drill sessions, the fashion show, the play or operetta, the crowning of the queen, and of course, the Slab-Town Convention – not to mention the delicious food that was sold in the old church basement during this week-long celebration, all are memories from the Morris days.

Rev. Morris’ tenure ended in 1932, and he left Calvary to become the founder of Shiloh Baptist Church.

THE BARBOUR ERA

After Rev. Morris’ tenure ended, our pulpit was filled by a man who was to lead us for the next forty years. He was the Rev. Dr. J. Pius Barbour, a native son of Galveston, Texas. Born in 1894, he was the son of a minister and a pious mother. His brother, Russell Barbour, was also a prominent minister. Early in life he saw that for one to show marked and forward progress, he must be well-prepared educationally. His concentrated scholastic studies resulted in an A.B. Degree from Moorehouse College in Atlanta, Ga.. Dr. Barbour broadened his spiritual experiences by successfully serving as Pastor of churches in Galveston and Hempstead, Texas; Montgomery, Alabama, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was from the latter city that he was called to the pastorate of the Calvary Baptist Church in August, 1933. Some might recall that the topic of his first sermon was ‘Fading Popularity.’

To share in his ministry, Rev. Barbour was accompanied by his wife, the former Olee Littlejohn was blessed with a memorable voice and inordinate energy. Mrs. Barbour served the church in her own right throughout the years of their ministry. She devoted many years to the musical training of our youth and was the organizer and director of the Junior Choir. She gave a quarter of a century of leadership to the Rosella Woods Missionary Society, and was deeply interested in numerous civic and fraternal organizations. The Barbours had three children; Pius, Almanina, and Littlejohn.

Reverend Dr. J. Pius Barbour

In the ensuing years, Rev. Barbour continued to broaden his outlook with appropriate studies and made appreciable gains spiritually, educationally, socially and politically. He enrolled in the renowned Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pa., and at the termination of these studies held the distinct honor of being the first Negro graduate to earn a B.D. Degree in Religion from that school. After graduation, he continued to maintain strong contacts with Crozer and it was from this affiliation that he took the church body into the American Baptist Association. From further studies at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa. he earned the prestigious Th.M. Degree. Later the Doctor of Divinity Degree was conferred upon him by Shaw University.

Dr Barbour’s thoughts were never far from the religious programs at Crozer, and as young black men enrolled in the seminary, he invited them to become a part of Calvary. The parsonage became a haven where seminars were held and he taught these ‘Sons of Calvary’ the art of ‘Black Preaching and Ministry.

Calvary enthusiastically participated in this mission. Young men far from their own families found good food and comfort in the home of many of our members. Some of those who came with little more to support them than faith were aided when ‘Doc’ and the members would take up special collections to help pay tuitions or to meet other needs. Young men throughout the East coast learned that if they could reach Chester, they would find a champion for their cause in Dr. Barbour. He delighted in expounding upon the philosophical aspects of religious and secular thought. Serving as teacher, advisor and counselor, he guided them in plotting their course. After each sermon that they preached, he would give them a grade of A, B, or C, and they would go to the parsonage, better know as the ‘open air University’, where he would hold a private seminar on technique. Some of these young men came fondly, if irreverently, to refer to him as ‘De Lawd.’

THE SONS OF CALVARY

Because Dr. Barbour’s interest and dedication to Crozer and to the young seminarians continued, Calvary was drawn into the mainstream of Christian endeavor. Many who were to distinguish themselves carry in their hearts fond memories of the help and hospitality provided by Calvary’s members. One such young man, known simply as Mike while a student at Crozer, was the son of one of Dr. Barbour’s good friends. Later, he was to become known to the world as Dr. Martin Luther King. At Rev. Barbour’s funeral, Dr. Lawrence Reddick, Martin Luther King’s biographer, related that Dr. King credited J. Pius Barbour as being one of the single most influential forces in his life.

Calvary is proud of all of her ‘sons. ‘Aside from Dr. King, a few others included Dr. Samuel Proctor who succeeded Adam Clayton Powell as pastor of Abyssinia Baptist Church and Dr. William A. Jones who became president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Aside from all of his other accomplishments, most salient to his own congregation was the fact that Dr. Barbour was a truly gifted preacher. At Dr. Barbour’s funeral, his old friend, Dr. C.C. Adams, related that Dr. Barbour had once lamented that he had not been given the gift of ‘Whooping.’ Whereupon his friend assured him, ‘You have been given the gift of eloquence; you don’t have to whoop.’ And so it was. Who could forget having heard that eloquence expressed in such sermons as: ‘Rock Religion,’ ‘Rotten Rags,’ ‘Jesus Cooks Breakfast’, or ‘Is There any Word from the Lord?’

Another important instrument that Dr. Barbour held in high esteem was the National Baptist Voice, the official publication of the National Baptist Conference. He ‘inherited’ the editorship when his brother became incapacitated and served in this office for over sixteen years. His dedication to this cause projected him into the limelight of religious, laic, social, and political arenas and brought him national and international acclaim.

In 1947, he was selected by the Convention as a delegate to the Baptist World Alliance in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. During that time, he traveled widely in Scandanavia and the Holy Land.

His civic interests and memberships included, the N.A.A.C.P., the Ministerial Association, the Council of Churches, the American Academy of Political Science, the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He also served as a board member of the Chester Water Authority.

REBUILDING THE CHURCH

During Rev. Barbour’s tenure, the church embarked upon a new phase. A giant building program was undertaken in the mid 1950′s. Old houses next to the church were purchased and razed. In their place a modern chapel, Sunday School rooms, and social activity areas were built. After that, the Sanctuary was completely rennovated. Much of the supervision for this major undertaking was orovided by Mr. Joseph S. Hunt, then Chairman of the Trustee Board. A builder himself, Mr. Hunt oversaw the complete gutting and rebuilding of the Sanctuary and construction of the additions to the orgioal church.

The success of this project belongs largely to the well organized Building Fund Committee. This group, known as The Committee of Forty, contacted and collected assessments from the membership which had been divided into groups and teams. The Chester Times bears witness to the many teas, chicken dinners and other activities which the people of Calvary sponsored to support this effort. In the end, the successful result was the beautifully appointed edifice which we now enjoy. The total cost of reconstruction was in excess of a quarter of a miiiion dollars. When the new chapel was completed, it was named Chapel of St. Simeon and was dedicated to the betterment of racial harmony.

MOVING BEYOND OUR WALLS , ,

The story of Calvary’s history during the Barbour years cannot be completed without a glimpse of Calvary’s place in the Civil Rights movement. Certainly the intimate association with Martin Luther King had its influence on the developing social consciousness of the congregation, as did continuing association with the Crozer seminarians as the Civil Rights struggle developed. By the time the impact of the struggle for equality became a fact of life in Chester, many of our members were already knowledgable and committed. It’s impact was brought home most forcefully when one of the Seminarians who served as our Youth Director, Rev. Earl Talbot was fired from his job for his participation in peaceful demonstrations. In the ensuing struggle many of our members offered their resources and time to bring the city of Chester to the recognition that all God’s children must beaccorded their rights.

THE BATON IS PASSED

Approaching the end of his forty years of service, Rev. Barbour, nearing eighty years of age became ill. Though his voice still resounded with authority from the pulpit he was unable to attend to some of the more rigorous aspects of his pastorate. It was agreed that an assistant minister should be found to aid in the over-all ministry of the church. A young seminarian from Eastern Baptist Seminary, The Rev. Wallace Charles Smith was recommended. Rev. Smith a native of Philadelphia, Pa. is a graduate of Yeadon High School and Villanova University. He was unanimously elected to the position with special responsibilities for the youth. He preached his first sermon entitled ‘Bridge Over Trouble Waters’ on June 27,1971. Among his innovations was the dedication of the fourth Sunday to the participation of the young people in the regular services. From the beginning he demonstrated a quality of sincerity and concern as we!i as an admirable preaching ability.

After forty years of active service to God, Church and Community, on January 5, 1974 Dr. J. Pius Barbour was called from earthly labor to his heavenly reward. In accordance with his wishes, his remains lie buried on the Church grounds.

The feeling among the membership was over whelming that Rev. Smith should become our pastor. In April 1974, he was elected pastor. On May 19, 1974, Rev. Smith was graduated with honors from the Eastern Baptist Seminary with the Master of Divinity Degree. On June 2, 1974 at 6 P.M. in a beautiful service, the Rev. Wallace Charles Smith was formally installed as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church.

For the first time in many years, Calvary is favored with a young first family. Rev. Smith was married to the former G. Elaine Williams on June 18,1976. God richly blessed them and they became a family when on September 3, 1977, their daugther Christen Anne was born.

Not satisfied to rest on his substantial laurels, Rev. Smith pursued further studies at Eastern Baptist Seminary, and on May 20, 1979, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Ministries.

Not only did he have the distinction of being the youngest minister to pastor an old established Church in Chester, he also became the first black minister with an ‘earned’ doctorate.

In keeping with Calvary’s tradition of involvement with the larger fellowship, Dr. Smith has taken an active role in the Progressive National Baptist Convention. He is a participant on several standing committees and recently was appointed a member of the Home Mission Board. Dr. Smith also has had the honor of being invited to preach at the Convention. With this type of dynamic leadership, the Pastor is revitalizing the great tradition that Calvary has had as a strong convention Church.

Under Dr. Smith’s leadership, the church has witnessed phenomena! growth. Not only has he established his reputation as an excellent Gospel preacher, but he has led the congregation to an increased awareness of it’s involvement with the community.

The Pastor has become a real force in the life of the city and state. He has won the respect not only of the lay community but also of his fellow Clergy. Dr. Smith has held the position of President of the Chester Clergy Association. He is now President of the Chester Community Improvement Project and serves on the Board of the Chester O.l.C. In all aspects of our community life, Rev. Smith has not been afraid to challenge the establishment. He is an advocate for a better way of life for all people.

Our history shows that Calvary rests upon a solid foundation of faith, tradition, values and cohesiveness. This church has been blessed with the influence of strong and able pastors, dedicated lay leaders and an energetic God-fearing congregation. All of these attributes have brought us to the milestone of our first hundred years. Under the guidance of Rev. Dr. Smith our present Deacons, Trustees and other leaders we stretch forth our collective hand to God that we may be led even more productively in His name toward the SECOND MILESTONE.

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THE MYSTERY OF THE NAME

Our research has unearthed some controversial and puzzling information. There is some evidence that in the first few years, the church was known in South Chester as the Ebenezer Baptist Church with Rev. Thomas Henson as pastor. It was noted above that Rev. Henson preached the morning and evening services and pronounced the benediction at the end of the dedicatory service. In other places, the church is referred to simply as the Baptist Church or the Colored Baptist Church. The first reference to it as the South Chester African Baptist Church came on February 13,1882, when the installation of Rev. Samuel Christian as pastor was announced. By 1882, the church appeared in the Chester City Directory as the African Baptist Church. Interestingly, all churches at that time, which were attended by black people, seem to have been politely referred to as African rather than Negro or Colored. In the newspaper accounts, for example, all of the various M.E., A.M.E.,C.M.E., etc. churches came to be listed under the heading African Methodist.

More research will have to be done in order to conclude authoritatively whether our church was ever referred to as Ebenezer Baptist.

We are certain, however, that it was on Monday, August 6,1900, while Rev. John W. Thompson was pastor, that a notice appeared in the Chester Times that our church had been named Calvary Baptist Church and would no longer be referred to as the First African Baptist Church.

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EARLY MINISTERS

The record shows that the people of the early Calvary had a tremendous struggle to keep going. Apparently, it was only after Rev. Samuel Christian was called that its growth was assured. This account of Rev. Christian’s early ministry was found:

An immense crowd gathered at the Colored Baptist Church yesterday ….as many could not gain admittance as those who did…. they have been struggling for a long time but have just found a preacher that is able to lead them to success and it seems a novelty for the people in our vicinity to worship and bring into vogue the old southern way of worshipping….Mr. Christian is now the topic of conversation among religious circles.

Rev. Christian served until about 1884. He was followed by Rev. Joshua A. Brocket!. After Rev. Brockett came Rev. William R. Burrill.

Rev. Burrill was not only the pastor of the church, he was also a school director and an influential citizen of Chester. His ties to the city and to the church were very strong. Even though he left Calvary to accept a call in Pittsburgh and later died while pastoring another church in Harrisburg, his remains were returned to Chester to be funeralized on February 12,1902. Rev. J.W. Moore preached his funeral at Calvary to a packed church. He was buried in Gravel Hill Cemetery.

Around 1895, Rev. John W. Thompson succeeded Rev. Burrill. He was recognized as a great speaker and was an early advocate for a social Gospel. Policy (numbers writing) was considered a problem even back in those days. Rev. Thompson led a crusade against the practice. He also led the church to undertake in setting up an Industrial School. Instruction was begun in the church basement. Girls were to be given instruction in homemaking skills and boys were to be taught bricklaying, carpentry, and masonry.

Rev. Joshua W. Moore’s tenure began around 1902. He was also noted as a great speaker. The next three pastors were Rev. M.N. Sparks, Rev. A.R. Robinson, and Rev. Alexander Gordon. It was Rev. Sparks who was the first minister to live in the parsonage at 1614 W.Second Street.

The coming of Rev. and Mrs. J.R. Bennett marked a period of increasingly dynamic and constructive Christian witness. We are calling the period beginning with their service, the modern era.

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THE BENNETT YEARS

The year 1913 found America in the wake of the challenging reforms of the Progressive Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson and the pressures of foreign affairs • the beginning of a World War. The devastating appearance of the bollweevil that literally destroyed the economy in the South by dethroning ‘King Cotton’. Times were critical on both the local and national scenes.

In 1913, many men of the labor force in the South were becoming very restless and assertive. They had heard of the golden opportunities in the Northern industries. Jobs were for the asking. Men began to move. Chester became flooded with men looking for these jobs and with women and children who followed the husbands and fathers. The housing shortage did not stop the influx. There was no Department of Public Assistance as we know it today. Therefore, relatives tried to help. Churches also did their very best to meet the challenge. In spite of inconveniences, these were better times for the northern economy and for these working men who had never received so much money for a working day.

This was the Chester that greeted Reverend and Mrs. John R. Bennett on their arrival in 1913. Rev. Bennett had been called as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church. He had held pastorates in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Altoona, Pa. and Missouri. Rev. Bennett was active in the National Baptist Convention:

therefore, it was only natural that he would help the church become a part of this forward movement. Rev. Bennett’s pastorate at Calvary brought a new dimension to the church. Then, as now, the membership welcomed strong leadership and eagerly participated in progressive Christian organizations. The affiliation made with the National Baptist Convention, under his leadership, was to last for the next 60 years.

Another insight into the character of the man, was his staunch support of the work of his wife, Mrs. Ruth L. Bennett, who became an outstanding social worker in Chester. From History of Twenty-Five Years of Service, by Ruth L. Bennett, we learned that during the great migration, women and children were directed by City Hall to the Calvary Church parsonage for refuge. Because of the number of these women and children, Rev. and Mrs. Bennett actually slept on cots on the floor of the lounge of the church. That way, they were able to turn the parsonage over to give aid and shelter to these frightened and frustrated women who had no place to go. Rev. Bennett had to have a similar zeal as that of his wife to have borne these inconveniences in order to accomodate the unfortunate. This was truly living the Bible.

The above source also stated that Rev. Bennett advised his wife in the purchasing of the property on Second Street to provide a ‘home awayfrom home’ where working women and girls could live safely and respectably. That Home, bearing her name, still stands and carries out that purpose. It is a living monument to those farsighted, Christian-hearted persons

After ten action filled years at Calvary, Rev. Bennett moved on again and became founder of our sister church, Providence Baptist.

EXTENDING A HELPING HAND

It was during the pastorate of Rev. Bennett that a group of former neighbors came to Chester from Waycross, Georgia. Their aim was to get settled sn Chester and to organize a church. Therefore, these Georgians, with Rev. Bennett’s understanding, joined Calvary under Watchcare. As soon as they could, they organized a church of their own in April, 1917, the Bethany Baptist Church. The story of their beginning is much like our own, and from the beginning, Calvary and Bethany, the church these Georgians organized, have shared a special relationship with each other.

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THE MORRIS TENURE

Between 1921 and 1932, the pastor of Calvary was Rev. Ernest B. Morris. During his tenure, Calvary moved into prominence in the National Baptist Convention and continued to enjoy the position as a vanguard church in the community which former pastors had helped to establish.

Under the Pastorate of Rev. Morris, Calvary experienced one of its truly ‘Golden Eras’, for during this period, much of the consensus of Chester was that Calvary was blessed with ‘the’ outstanding preacher in the area. Among others, Dea. Henry Badie, who was the youngest member of the Deacolate in 1926, still refers to Rev. Morris as Calvary’s ‘Powerhouse Preacher.’ In addition to ministerial prowess, our church was renowned for its exceptionally talented choir. In the National Baptist Convention, we were very ably represented by Mrs. Nannie Banks and the leaders of our strong Missionary Society. Among them were Mrs. Rosella Woods, Mrs. Ida Ware, Miss Eva G. Smith and many, many others. Outstanding social activities and organizations made Calvary a hub for the community. How many recall the Sunday School Cradle Roll?

All year, the entire congregation rehearsed for some particular event which would be featured in the annual extravaganza called ‘The Mayfair’. All ages, all sizes, and both sexes participated. Each group wanted to outdo all the others in their performances. The Tom Thumb Wedding, the Womanless Wedding, the wrapping of the Maypole by costumed children, the drill sessions, the fashion show, the play or operetta, the crowning of the queen, and of course, the Slab-Town Convention – not to mention the delicious food that was sold in the old church basement during this week-long celebration, all are memories from the Morris days.

Rev. Morris’ tenure ended in 1932, and he left Calvary to become the founder of Shiloh Baptist Church.

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THE BARBOUR ERA

After Rev. Morris’ tenure ended, our pulpit was filled by a man who was to lead us for the next forty years. He was the Rev. Dr. J. Pius Barbour, a native son of Galveston, Texas. Born in 1894, he was the son of a minister and a pious mother. His brother, Russell Barbour, was also a prominent minister. Early in life he saw that for one to show marked and forward progress, he must be well-prepared educationally. His concentrated scholastic studies resulted in an A.B. Degree from Moorehouse College in Atlanta, Ga.. Dr. Barbour broadened his spiritual experiences by successfully serving as Pastor of churches in Galveston and Hempstead, Texas; Montgomery, Alabama, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was from the latter city that he was called to the pastorate of the Calvary Baptist Church in August, 1933. Some might recall that the topic of his first sermon was ‘Fading Popularity.’

To share in his ministry, Rev. Barbour was accompanied by his wife, the former Olee Littlejohn was blessed with a memorable voice and inordinate energy. Mrs. Barbour served the church in her own right throughout the years of their ministry. She devoted many years to the musical training of our youth and was the organizer and director of the Junior Choir. She gave a quarter of a century of leadership to the Rosella Woods Missionary Society, and was deeply interested in numerous civic and fraternal organizations. The Barbours had three children; Pius, Almanina, and Littlejohn.

Reverend Dr. J. Pius Barbour

In the ensuing years, Rev. Barbour continued to broaden his outlook with appropriate studies and made appreciable gains spiritually, educationally, socially and politically. He enrolled in the renowned Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pa., and at the termination of these studies held the distinct honor of being the first Negro graduate to earn a B.D. Degree in Religion from that school. After graduation, he continued to maintain strong contacts with Crozer and it was from this affiliation that he took the church body into the American Baptist Association. From further studies at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa. he earned the prestigious Th.M. Degree. Later the Doctor of Divinity Degree was conferred upon him by Shaw University.

Dr Barbour’s thoughts were never far from the religious programs at Crozer, and as young black men enrolled in the seminary, he invited them to become a part of Calvary. The parsonage became a haven where seminars were held and he taught these ‘Sons of Calvary’ the art of ‘Black Preaching and Ministry.

Calvary enthusiastically participated in this mission. Young men far from their own families found good food and comfort in the home of many of our members. Some of those who came with little more to support them than faith were aided when ‘Doc’ and the members would take up special collections to help pay tuitions or to meet other needs. Young men throughout the East coast learned that if they could reach Chester, they would find a champion for their cause in Dr. Barbour. He delighted in expounding upon the philosophical aspects of religious and secular thought. Serving as teacher, advisor and counselor, he guided them in plotting their course. After each sermon that they preached, he would give them a grade of A, B, or C, and they would go to the parsonage, better know as the ‘open air University’, where he would hold a private seminar on technique. Some of these young men came fondly, if irreverently, to refer to him as ‘De Lawd.’

THE SONS OF CALVARY

Because Dr. Barbour’s interest and dedication to Crozer and to the young seminarians continued, Calvary was drawn into the mainstream of Christian endeavor. Many who were to distinguish themselves carry in their hearts fond memories of the help and hospitality provided by Calvary’s members. One such young man, known simply as Mike while a student at Crozer, was the son of one of Dr. Barbour’s good friends. Later, he was to become known to the world as Dr. Martin Luther King. At Rev. Barbour’s funeral, Dr. Lawrence Reddick, Martin Luther King’s biographer, related that Dr. King credited J. Pius Barbour as being one of the single most influential forces in his life.

Calvary is proud of all of her ‘sons. ‘Aside from Dr. King, a few others included Dr. Samuel Proctor who succeeded Adam Clayton Powell as pastor of Abyssinia Baptist Church and Dr. William A. Jones who became president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Aside from all of his other accomplishments, most salient to his own congregation was the fact that Dr. Barbour was a truly gifted preacher. At Dr. Barbour’s funeral, his old friend, Dr. C.C. Adams, related that Dr. Barbour had once lamented that he had not been given the gift of ‘Whooping.’ Whereupon his friend assured him, ‘You have been given the gift of eloquence; you don’t have to whoop.’ And so it was. Who could forget having heard that eloquence expressed in such sermons as: ‘Rock Religion,’ ‘Rotten Rags,’ ‘Jesus Cooks Breakfast’, or ‘Is There any Word from the Lord?’

Another important instrument that Dr. Barbour held in high esteem was the National Baptist Voice, the official publication of the National Baptist Conference. He ‘inherited’ the editorship when his brother became incapacitated and served in this office for over sixteen years. His dedication to this cause projected him into the limelight of religious, laic, social, and political arenas and brought him national and international acclaim.

In 1947, he was selected by the Convention as a delegate to the Baptist World Alliance in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. During that time, he traveled widely in Scandanavia and the Holy Land.

His civic interests and memberships included, the N.A.A.C.P., the Ministerial Association, the Council of Churches, the American Academy of Political Science, the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He also served as a board member of the Chester Water Authority.

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