This story originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.
Thankful Baptist Church celebrated its 96th anniversary last month, marking a journey that members described as being centered on taking care of each other and the community as family.
Organized in 1923 by the late Rev. Owen J. McPherson, Thankful is working to continue its legacy of care and mission as it grows into a full century.
“We’ve been sustained by the Lord,” said Pastor Gregory Ross. “[Thankful] is a loving church, it’s a committed church, it’s a family church. It’s also a place where people care about one another and that care transcends to the community.”
Pastor of Thankful for three years, Ross pointed to several efforts Thankful takes on to serve the community. They include a clothing giveaway, Thanksgiving food basket distribution, Christmas caroling and an outdoor service designed to bring the church to people who might not be ready to come inside. The church used to offer regular free meals to the community but that has been suspended since the cook for the ministry fell ill.
The mission ministry and the youth ministry both regularly visit nursing homes.
Thankful also participates in international mission efforts. One of the most recent acts of charity was collecting and sending money to the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian.
“This is a mission-minded church. The mind is to share the Gospel with others,” said Brenda Syrkett, a member for 54 years. Syrkett said one of the male members who has undergone several transplants and has been dealing with a bout of health issues was heavily supported by the church, especially the men.
“I thought he was almost gone. [But] two Sundays ago, he walked back in this church,” she said. “We prayed for him. We visited him. The men have been [supporting] him the whole time, him and his family. They pray for him, keep up with him.”
Syrkett said she has seen the same care firsthand while dealing with the sickness and subsequent deaths of her mother, father and sister.
“I’ve had my mother, father and sister sick, all at the same time. I was running back and forth from the hospital, for my mother and sister, and home, taking care of my father. [Members] came on Sunday to visit my family. Deacon and deaconess Beard came to my house and brought a whole complete dinner. I just cried. They knew I didn’t have time,” said Syrkett. “In 1999, my mother died, in 2000 my father died and my sister died four months later. That was a hard time for me. [Members] came to visit me and support me. They were there. They helped me get through it.”
For Leah Williams, a member for six years and president of the Unity Choir, Thankful’s culture of care brought her back to the church. Williams said she grew up in the church as a youth but stopped attending as she got older. She was introduced to Thankful through a neighbor who would pick up her children for Sunday school.
“For the first three years, she would bring them and they would come home, and say, ‘Mama, you should go, we did this.’ I was going to [church] when I moved here [but] I faded away and was doing my own thing,” Williams said. “I attended the vacation Bible school and liked it. The people were so nice, engaging and pleasant — all the things people think church members are not.”
Williams said that from the time she joined, she has been “serving ever since” and has grown.
“I knew this was the place I could grow and get back to where I needed to be spiritually,” she said. “I have grown so much just by coming to Bible study. I’ve learned more in six years than I have my entire life going to church.”
Williams said she owes such a gain to Ross’ teaching style and the Thankful members, who she described as “open.”
Deacon Robert Williams, chairman of the deacon board and a member for 44 years, said he hopes Thankful continues to grow in this way, bringing people closer to God.
“I want us to grow in grace, helping people to grow by bringing people to Christ, let them know about Jesus — that they can have a better life with Jesus,” he said.
During Bible study on the fourth Wednesday of September, Ross touched on centering Jesus as he taught out of the book, “The Irresistible Church.” He encouraged the members to think about how they move and plan in the church and compelled them to do it with Jesus in mind.
“We got to get Christ-focused,” he said. “We want to become an irresistible church by raising folk up.”