It was in the winter of 1931 that a small group of fourteen men and women, believers in the teachings of Jesus Christ, joined forces and banded together to establish a place of worship, promote the teachings of Jesus Christ and nourish the needs of their brothers and sisters. Hardship, poverty, and hunger were no stranger to Black men, women and children. The depression of the early 1930’s only reduced the substance needed to nourish the person’s body and soul. In January of 1931, Rev. J. Williams, a well known preacher and a “Man of God,” held revival services in the City of Philadelphia. The revival inspired many to keep the faith and so impressed this small band of fourteen Christians, officially without a pastor so much that they decided then and there that this dynamic minister could provide them with the leadership needed so badly in their community to organize a church.
Those petitioning the Rev. J. H. Williams were as follows: Mr. Mrs. John Lakes, Mr. Mrs. Charles Carnegie, Mr. Mrs. Douglas Heard, Mr. Mrs. John Barber, Mr. Mrs. Clerksie Walker, Rev. Mrs. Hines, Mrs. Mary J. Bolden and Mr. John Lang. Rev. Phillips, who formerly pastored Little St. James Baptist Church in West Philadelphia, allowed the group led by Brother John Lakes to organize under his church’s name. Rev. Phillips also served as their interim pastor until April. Rev. M.R. Goodman, then pastoring his church at & Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia permitted the group to use his building until they were able to obtain their own. On April 28, 1931, this group increased by three members: Miss Eula Reid, Mrs. Annie Mae Walker, and Mrs. Keither Williams. The members relocated to the Old Haddington Place at 37 ll Warren Street. Having acquired their own place to worship, the group called Rev. Williams to serve as their pastor. In July, the need for a larger edifice led to the acquisition of a larger building at 38‘“ & Hamilton Streets in West Philadelphia, The membership by vote elected to name their church The Williams Chapel Baptist Church after its founding.
The membership grew to over three hundred under Rev. Williams. The church continued under his leadership until December 1936. Due to unforeseen circumstances however, he prompted the membership to relocate to Pinn Memorial Baptist Church, Powelton Avenue and Sloan Street, pastored by Rev. Jones. The church continued to grow spiritually and financially under Rev. Jones. Once financially secured again, the first purchase acquisition was made at a former laundry building located at 3728-30 Haverford Avenue. The church continued to grow and prosper and by December 6, I942, the members were able to burn the mortgage. The Williams Chapel Baptist Church prospered for the next six years. In 1948, Pastor Williams offered his resignation to the church. The church membership petitioned Rev. N. E. Holsey 0f the Bryant Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia to relocate to Philadelphia and serve as their leader. Rev‘ Holsey accepted the call, and in April of 1949, he officially became the second pastor of Williams Chapel Baptist Church. ReviHolsey’s first action was to change the name of the church to Metropolitan Baptist Church. Additional renovations and the installation of a balcony took place during Rev. Holsey‘s leadership. The growth of the membership continued until his resignation in 1952.
Again, without pastoral leadership, the membership of Metropolitan petitioned Rev. Miller Lee Gayton, Pastor of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Pottsville, Pennsylvania to serve as their third Pastor. Rev. Gayton accepted the offer and on the first Sunday of August, 1953, took official charge as the Pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church. He presented the church a fifteen point program, to be worked out over a period of years. The program was accepted by the church. First on the list was prayer. A worker’s Council was organized and a New Member’s Club was established for the induction of new members. An evangelistic program was started in the Education Department of the church and was very effective among the youth of the church. Under Rev. L. Gayton’s leadership and preaching of the gospel, thousands of members were added to the church as candidates for baptism, Christian experience, and restoration. In December of 1954, the mortgage of the church was burned, clearing the church of all debts. The edifice located at 3728 -30 Haverford Avenue soon became too small to accommodate the needs of its membership. Under the dynamic leadership of Metropolitan’s visionary Pastor Gayton, the task of securing a larger edifice was undertaken. In July of 1955, $10,000.00 was deposited with the Westminister Presbyterian Church as a negotiating fee toward the purchase of this historic edifice, a parsonage, and a Vacant lot at 35th and Baring Streets. The opening selling price was $250,000.00; however, after much prayer and inspired negotiating, a purchase price of 106,000.00 was agreed upon. The Metropolitan Baptist Church relocated from its old church on Haverford Avenue and the membership marched over to the new facilities at 3500 Baring Street on Sunday, March 25, 1956. Our present edifice was erected in 1875_76 and has been declared an historic site by the Philadelphia Historic Commission. The massive lower corner was completed in 1887 and the bell chimes still faithfully ring today. The building is an example of Victorian Gothic design and was originally created by architect Thomas W. Richards and is similar to his other artistic works at the University of Pennsylvania’s College Hall and St Mary’s Church in Hamilton Village Our stained glass windows, where well-known Christian symbols are incorporated into the wall decorations, have been appraised at several thousand dollars.
The gray “Chestnut Hill” stone of the exterior walls is of small quarry-faced random ashlar blocks, rimmed out in smooth dressed stone. Much of the interior redecoration was done in 1926 and is the work of the D’Ascenzo Studios of Philadelphia. Also notable are the decoration of the wood ceiling and the large central rosary wheel window and lancet tracery windows under Gothic arches. In 1958, the Metropolitan Baptist Church successfully hosted the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention , and in 1960 was headquarters for the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. held in Philadelphia . Dr. Gayton and Metropolitan participated in the boycotts held by Leon Sullivan and other ministers who protested against unfair hiring practices by major corporations in Philadelphia in the early sixties. Dr. Sullivan’s book , Build Brother Build gives testimony to the courageous leadership of Dr. Gayton and other leaders for the cause of justice and equality for all people establishing the first OIC (Opportunity Industrial Center).
The membership of Metropolitan grew from two hundred members to one thousand, two hundred active members. In four and a half years, August 28,1960, the mortgage was burned on the edifice we now occupy. In 1962 an air conditioning unit was installed at the cost of $14,770.00 and was paid off in two years. Also, a Steinway piano was purchased during these developing years. During the early 1970’s, renovations to the church and parsonage totaling $86,948.00 were also completed. For thirty-seven and one-half years, Dr‘ M. L. Gayton led the Metropolitan Baptist Church to great heights in National Baptist work. He served as President of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Philadelphia and Vicinity; Moderator of the Keystone Association of Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention; Chairman of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; Foreign Mission Board; and Board Member of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc, Dr. Gayton also organized the world renown Metropolitan Baptist Church Male Ensemble and several community programs for ecumenical outreach. He officially retired as Pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church on December 31st, 1990.
The retirement of Rev. M. L. Gayton left Metropolitan without pastoral leadership. The church body unanimously voted that Rev. Lonnie Harris would serve as the Interim Pastor until another Pastor was called to be the leader of the Metropolitan Baptist Church. Being a committed Christian who loved the Lord and his church, Rev. Lonnie Harris accepted and began leadership in January 1991. During the two years and six months of his leadership he served faithfully as the Interim Pastor. Souls were saved and lives were reclaimed. Rev. Lonnie Harris was a spiritual inspiration to all who knew him. He allowed himself to be used by God as a vessel from which the word of God flowed. After two years and seven months of being without a pastor, the Metropolitan Baptist Church voted on July 26,1993 to call the Rev. Gerald Lamont Thomas as the fourth pastor in the history of this church. He accepted the call and began on September 5,1993. During Pastor Thomas’ leadership the church was taken to even higher heights. A quarter of a million dollars was secured for capital improvements to the church; which included a new air-conditioning system, elevator, new carpet, new sound system, culminating in a flourishing tape ministry. A 21 passenger church bus was purchased; and in the advent of the baby/toddler room, and preschool room, a children’s ministry was established for parishioners between the ages of 0-4 years old. Vacation Bible School was also reactivated with attendance 175-200 students. Discussions and plans began to convert the attached lot into a parking lot. Under Pastor Thomas leadership Metropolitan also secured 501C-3 status and became an incorporated church. Through Pastor Thomas’ efforts, Metropolitan gained recognition through the Philadelphia Historical Society as an official historical site. This new partnership aided the church in actualizing social and health related programs. Pastor James began a program which recognized the Senior members by taking them to dinner to show the church’s appreciation for their wisdom and support.
One of his visions was to install a computer center and in the effort to do so the entire third floor of the Administration Building was rewired for the Computer Center and all administrative offices have computers. In cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania and University City High School computer classes were made available to all Metropolitan members. After four years and three months, Revis Bernard X. James left the Metropolitan Baptist Church on Sunday, June 9,2002 to obtain other Christian endeavors. From June 2002 through December 2003 various ministers were asked to fellowship and preach the Word of God on Sunday mornings. In January, 2003 the Church voted to make Elder Gregory Johnson officiating minister of the Metropolitan Baptist Church. Joining Elder Johnson to form a ministry team during this time were Rev Lee Edna Odom and Minister K‘ Rose Samuel-Evans. Church membership increased and the entire membership began to grow spiritually and the healing that was so much needed and desired began to take place. In January 2004, guided by the Holy Spirit, the church decided to move forward toward filling the pastorate and began to seek Candidates.
After the search committee processed many applications for the position, after meetings and much prayer, it became clear that God had placed our next pastor in our midst long before the vote was taken. The call was extended to Elder Gregory Johnson Sr. and on Sunday, March 21, 2004, Metropolitan Baptist Church voted and elected Elder Johnson to be our sixth pastor. He was officially installed on July 10, 2004. Under the leadership of Elder Johnson, the healing continues, lives have been turned around as Elder Johnson continues to emphasize that Jesus Christ and the Word of God must be the central focus of our lives. Pastor is leading us to become a “Matthew 6:33 church”; that is “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” In 2005, Pastor Johnson laid the foundation for community involvement and outreach by establishing such ministries as Operation Turn-Around (OTA); an adopt—a—school program and Special Weapon Assault Team (SWAT); an evangelistic ministry. Also established is the Three Point Community Development Corporation (CDC), designed to address the growing need for affordable housing and other social needs in the community served by Metropolitan. In 2006, Pastor Johnson and the leadership of the church developed and put forth an aggressive plan for renovating our church building. For the first time in many years, new lighting has been placed in the sanctuary. This renovation plan is only in its first phase and Metropolitan will continue to seek the Lord for its completion. In its eighty forth year, Metropolitan has seen faith restored, spiritual growth and spiritual healing under the leadership of Pastor Johnson. Metropolitan has been blessed abundantly and is experiencing the favor of God. As Metropolitan continues to seek God’s will, it is our prayer that our Church and all who are touched by its ministries will be blessed and will prosper in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!