Our story began in the year 1883 when Mrs. Frances Fields and Mrs. Mary Henryhand, both residing in North Philadelphia and worshipping in South Philadelphia, at the Shiloh Baptist Church, concluded that the travel distance was too far and difficult. They therefore sought a more convenient and safe arrangement for worshipping. Mr. Burton Rodgers joined them.
By 1889, thirteen others joined the group, and a mission was formed. The mission was called the Morning Star Baptist Mission. The Rev. Henry Thompson was invited to assume pastoral duties. A house at 1424 North Marvine Street became their first church home, and after several more moves, they relocated to 1222 North Eleventh Street.
in 1890, the Rev. Henry Thompson resigned as the leader of the Mission and the Rev. Edward William Johnson, organizer of the first Colored Church of Morristown, New Jersey, was called as pastor. The Mission then became the St. Paul’s Baptist Church.
Rev. Edward William Johnson
Rev. Edward William Johnson was retained as St. Paul’s first pastor. He was ordained in 1892. By 1894, under the leadership of Rev. Johnson, the membership increased so rapidly that it became necessary to find a larger facility. Thus, the Christ Evangelical Church building, located at 948-952 North Eight Street, was purchased and an application for a charter was made. On January 21, 1895, a charter was granted to the church. Shortly thereafter, extensive renovations began, and in December of 1901 the mortgage was burned.
Due to an overheated flue, our church caught on fire in 1906, and seventeen precious lives were lost and several people were injured. Yet, during this period of almost unbearable sadness, our members raised sufficient funds to repair the damaged edifice, and St. Paul’s continued to press on. After recovering from a tremendous tragedy, our church grew rapidly and became well established. We outgrew the enlarged and frequently renovated facility on Eighth Street below Girard Avenue. A more spacious church building was available on the southwest corner of Tenth and Wallace Streets. After a number of alterations, the congregation marched into our new church home on Sunday, August 27, 1916.
In preparation for things to come, prior to our second great celebration, a nineteen-year-old divinity student from Lincoln University, by the name of Edwin Luther Cunningham, joined our church in 1928. In 1935, after graduating from Lincoln University Seminary, Edwin Luther Cunningham was licensed and ordained by Pastor Johnson.
Rev. Edwin Luther Cunningham
As God would ordain it to be, after forty-six years of dynamic preaching and spirit-filled sacrificial service, the founding pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church, the Reverend Edward William Johnson, was called to rest on Sunday, February 2, 1936. Reverend Edwin Luther Cunningham was then called as Acting Pastor. On February 25, 1937, the Reverend Edwin Luther Cunningham became the second pastor of our church, thus ending one spirited era and beginning another.
The forties and early fifties witnessed a great increase in our community services and Home and Foreign Mission activities. At home, social action became a vital part of our church’s ministry. During the early sixties, our church was faced with several important decisions. Should we remain at Tenth and Wallace Streets? Should we follow the pattern set by some of the other churches and move to greener pastures, or hold the line at our present location, maintaining our evangelistic mission where it was most needed? The latter choice was the obvious decision.
In 1960, a gift of one hundred thirty-five thousand dollars from an anonymous donor was given to Reverend Cunningham for the building of a community house adjacent to our church. Several properties had to be purchased and twenty-five thousand dollars were needed for this purpose. Money pledges were organized and the church responded. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on September 10, 1961, and the St. Paul’s Baptist Church Community Center was officially opened on February 7, 1963. Financed primarily by the church for its operations, the Community House was dedicated “to the Glory of God, and Service to Community.
After twenty-seven years of dedicated, distinguished service as our Pastor, Reverend Cunningham became fatally ill, and shortly thereafter, on Sunday, November 1, 1964, he departed this life.
Rev. Arthur Lee Johnson
Early in 1961, Reverend Cunningham ordained a graduate from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Arthur Lee Johnson, to serve in the ministry. In 1964, following the death of Reverend Cunningham, the Official Board voted to appoint Reverend Johnson Acting Pastor. On November 18, 1965, Reverend Johnson became St. Paul’s third pastor. Formal installation services were held on January 30, 1966.
Under the leadership of Pastor Johnson and the Official Board, a number of things were accomplished: the purchasing of Bibles and hymnals, installation of a modern 25 passenger elevator, a new organ, new church pews, new carpeting in the Sanctuary, complete painting and renovation of the church interior, roof replacement and exterior masonry work.
Like his two predecessors, Reverend Johnson extended his services and that of our church beyond the building. He served as President of the Baptist Pastors Conference of Philadelphia and Vicinity, served on the Board of Downingtown Industrial and Agricultural School, and served on the Boards of OIC and Columbia North Branch YMCA. He chaired the Good Shepherd Ministry of the Philadelphia Baptist Association and served as Treasurer of Tucker House, a nursing home across from our church.
After serving for thirty-three years as the third Pastor of our church, Reverend Arthur Lee Johnson was honored upon his retirement in 1998.
Rev. C. Matthew Hudson, Jr.
After much deliberation by a pastoral search committee, the Reverend C. Matthew Hudson, Jr. was approved and elected by the congregation. Installation services were held on March 10, 2002, thus commencing the Fourth Era of the St. Paul’s Baptist Church. During Pastor Hudson’s tenure, renovations and repairs were completed and upgraded. Selected building areas were cleared and cleaned, refurbished and refurnished, re-defined and re-designed. The Pastor’s study, private bathroom and several other rooms on the second floor were remodeled, and the Johnson Building was improved. The Sanctuary, the Pastor’s offices, and, the staff offices were air-conditioned, and a church van was purchased primarily to accommodate seniors and others who may have difficulty with transportation to and from the church. The Church Constitution was written and presented by Pastor Hudson and accepted by the church. Members working in various ministries wrote their own ministry’s purpose, and method of operation, which appeared in the church’s Policy and Procedures Handbook.
Pastor Hudson actively recruited and welcomed seminarians, youth ministers, returning servants, and, “not yet members of the community.” Leadership classes, retreats and Bible Study groups were instituted to further strengthen the spiritual gifts, abilities and attitudes of our members.
On January 15, 2006, Dr. Hudson resigned as Senior Pastor, as he was called to another place of worship.
In addition to our installed pastors, St. Paul’s has been blessed by the gifts of several ministers, particularly during our interim periods. Special mention must be made of Rev. Gordon G. Glenn, who served faithfully following Pastor Arthur Lee Johnson’s tenure as the coordinating minister. We also give thanks for Rev. Darryl Washington who ministered to St. Paul’s as the interim pastor from 2006 – 2009 and for Rev. Dr. Lowell McCown who was our transitional pastor from February to June 2009.
Dr. Leslie D. Callahan
On May 31, 2009, our new pastor preached her first sermon in the St. Paul’s pulpit. This was a spiritual, long awaited, and joyous moment for the St. Paul’s family, and the over 300 family and friends worshipping with us. The 11:00 am Worship service was not only a historical moment for our church family, but also for the city of Philadephia and the Baptist community. The Philadelphia media was on hand to capture the moment to share with the world. This history making day was recorded by the local newspapers, television stations, internet blogs, and many world wide web sites. Installation services for the fifth Pastor was held on September 27, 2009, thus commencing the Fifth Era of the St. Paul’s Baptist Church.