Except the Lord Build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”- Psalm 127:1
Over one hundred years ago, in the latter part of the 1800’s, The First Baptist Church of Morton, PA was conceived in the hearts of God-fearing men and women. They believed in prayer and found their strength in God. Willis and Mary J. Hicks, who lived at 21 Broad Street, held cottage prayer meetings in many homes, which resulted in Willis Hicks becoming a lay-minister. J. Braxton Booker was the general overseer of the cottage prayer meetings started by a group of Christian people from Germantown, PA who settled in Morton, PA. As the congregation grew, Bro. Lewis Willis and Bro. McFay became licensed ministers. The prayer group grew and grew resulting in the group searching for a larger meeting place. The wooden church built at 23 Broad Street, was later named the First Baptist Church of Morton, PA. Rev. J. R. Willis served as pastor from 1890-1904. Rev. J. D. Brooks, a pastor of Enon Baptist Church, of Germantown, set the church apart. First Baptist Church of Morton became official. J. Braxton Booker was the first Sunday School Superintendent and Henrietta Festus was the first secretary. Other teachers were Jennie Strothers, Theresa Jordan, Laura Roberts and Nancy Booker. Before the baptismal pool was built some members were baptized in Silver Lake, a lake across the railroad tracks in Morton, PA. Some members that were baptized in the pool of the old church were Alice Fountain Scott, Helen Champ, and Naomi Scott. A pot belly stove was used to heat the church. The first deacons were J. B. Booker, Robert Champ, Marcellis Strothers, Rev. Jones, Lewis and Willis, H. Hall. The first Trustee was Edward Mayo. The first Organist was Theresa Jordan, who purchased the first organ with her money and played for many years. Isaac Festus was the first choirmaster and also taught Sunday school. Robert Champ was the first janitor. Choir rehearsals were always at the home of a member who had either an organ or piano. Some members lived a distance away and whenever there were Sunday services, they would pack a lunch basket and stay all day. The church at that time had strict rules. One such rule stated if a member went to a party or dance the Saturday before Sunday church, he or she was dismissed from the church. Before being allowed to return to the church he or she had to meet the deacons and beg pardon. Then they had to meet before church body on Sunday and beg pardon before being reinstated to serve in the church.
As the congregation continued to grow, the need for a larger church became evident. Several church groups banded- together with members of First Baptist to give financial assistance to help purchase the ground on which the present church stands. Many activities such as Christmas Bazaars, lawn parties, hayrides, bake sales, dinners, Annual May Day Festivals, Parlor Socials, Block Parties, Trips Around the World, Tom Thumb Weddings, Rainbow Weddings, Rallies, just to name a few were held.
Many affairs were sponsored by the Willing Workers, Missionary Circle and Swarthmore Circle. The first church building was sold to the Odd Fellows and was used for a school for the colored because of the question of segregation in Morton. Preston Thomas was the overseer at this time. Some members of the early church were Jonas and Susan Carey, Emily Walker, Nannie B. Johnson, Fannie Scott, Alice Miller, George and Josephine Dickerson, Robert and Martha Champ, Edward and Isabella Mayo, Granny Johnson, Granny Coleman, John and Nancy Freeman, Lewis and Annie Willis, Willie Polk, Amanda Polk and Priscilla Polk.
The ground for the new church was irregular in shape, according to the recording in the Office for Recording of Deeds in and for the County of Delaware entitled “Plan of the Town of Morton”, Springfield Township Delaware County, PA Lot # 301. The said William H. Eachus, for and in consideration of a sum of $650.00 truly paid by Trustees of The First Baptist Church of Morton, PA. Trustees at that time were Richard M. Booker, Samuel Claborne, Nathaniel Jordan, Jonas Carey, Isaac Festus, John B. Booker and Edward J. Mayo. Their heirs and assigns, sealed and delivered in presence of Garrett E. Smedley and Richard Young Justice of Peace January 11, 1909.
Finally, the dream of a church on a corner, a lighthouse to the weary traveler was realized in 1908. At the groundbreaking, many members formed a circle around the foundation for the church. Each member had a shovel and shoveled some dirt.
Oh, for a faith that will not shrink
Though pressed by every foe
That will not tremble on the brink of any earthly foe.
What a day of thanksgiving and joy for all those present on that historical day. History shows us that the greatest Christian advances have been made during trying times. The ground was acquired. The blueprints laid out. The foundation laid piece by piece as the edifice went up. Mr. Charles Long, a colored carpenter built the church. Many members made pledges to the building fund. Some pledged to pay for the doors, studs, joists, windows and other parts in order to reduce the mortgage for the church building. Bricks were used first, then later were covered with stone. Many women were active in carrying bricks in their aprons up the ladder. Some carried buckets of hodge. The Missionaries, Willing Workers and families bought beautiful stained glass windows. The windows over the entrance to the church were purchased by Jonas and Susan Carey. The window over the entrance to the church auditorium was purchased by Lewis and Annie Willis. The windows in the back of the church, on either side, were purchased by different members of the church family and church groups. The round window in the choir loft was purchased by the choir. Rev. Martin Winston set the church apart in 1908. Margaret Freeman was the first one baptized in the new church pool. John M. Freeman was the Sunday School Superintendent in 1907.
Encourage my soul and let us journey on
Tho’ the night is dark it won’t be very long
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, The storm is passing over
The church is growing. The Baptist Young Peoples Union (BYPU) was organized and met every Sunday evening. Many members lived in Swarthmore. Many worked in service. Sunday evening services were well attended. One sermon was preached which used Psalm 51:1 for the text. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Many heard the message. Edward E. Smith accepted Christ and was baptized Easter Sunday. Later he became Superintendent of the Sunday school, a Trustee, President of BYPU, and also served as Chairman of the Deacon Board for many years.
Hennretta Festus Taylor was baptized. Eugene Festus, now 95 years old was converted and baptized in 1921. He states that he gave his heart to God not his hand to the preacher. That is why God has so richly blessed him. Eugene Festus, a scoutmaster for 25 years, held meetings on Pennington Avenue, over a garage belonging to George O. Scott. He served in WW1, returned to the states in 1919, and he received the Purple Heart. The Rainbow Missionary Circle of young adults was organized by Lucy Jordan, Rev Jordan’s wife. The members joined the Suburban Missionary Circle. Many meetings were held at the home of Mrs. Parham, a member of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church of Lansdowne, PA. In 1922, Rev. Jordan answered a call to Salem Baptist Church, Jenkintown, PA.
The church was mortgaged to build a parsonage. Turner-Knight of Swarthmore was the builder. Rev. Sullivan was an educator. Many persons interested in music were taught to sight read. Every Friday night a Sunday school teachers’ training class met to prepare themselves to teach a class on Sunday. On the first Sunday in December 1925, Virginia Smith (Baughn) was baptized. Revival services were held the previous week and many joined the church.
1929 Lillian Freeman (Farrell) was baptized. “In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy path.”
The third Thursday in August was annual Sunday school picnic. Many members lived in Swarthmore, therefore a trolley was chartered, then a truck, later horses were used to transport people to picnics. Everyone would go. That was a great day for Morton. Shorter AME would often go the same day. Some of the picnic sites were Chester Park, Lenape Park, Willow Grove, Woodside Park and Lemon Hill. Swarthmore and First Baptist Morton would team up and off we would go. We have many fond memories of the picnics. At a certain place and time all members would gather for a treat prepared for the Sunday school, which would be ice cold watermelon, ice cream or some other treat. Everyone had a good time.
His stay was short, having received a call to pastor Provident Baptist Church, Chester, PA. “And the Church moved on.”
A God-fearing man, a pastor who loved to sing. He was everyone’s pastor. Whenever and wherever he walked the streets in Morton, he was highly respected by men in all walks of life. His wife, Josephine, loved to sing soprano solos. Their daughter Josephine played the piano and the organ. She served as church organist for a time, all to the Glory of God. The Holy Communion services were held at 3:30. One of the mothers of the church baked a round loaf of unleavened bread which was broken into small pieces and served. There were many lay ministers of local churches. When one was asked to give a sermon, some of the “Tribe of Israel” gave their spiritual support. Rev. Ralph Page was president and members were Rev. Roy Smith, Rev. J. T. Runner, Rev. Blackshire, Rev. Elijah Thompson, Rev. George Scott, Rev. S. L. Johnson, Rev. Wilson and Rev. Lathem. The mortgage burning and symposium along with 57th Church Anniversary took place from Monday, October 23, 1944 to Friday, October 27, 1944. Pastor and Deacons were in charge. Rosa Coleman was church clerk. The mortgage was paid off and the parsonage was cleared of debt. A week of revival began on November 5, 1944. Gloria Beckford, Betty J. Nelson and Racheal Holliday were baptized. “There is an All Seeing Eye Watching You” and “When They Ring Those Golden Bells for You and Me” were among Rev. Lewis’s favorite hymns.
The Church finally agreed to purchase a pipe organ. The Senior Choir was to finance the purchase of the pipe organ by making monthly payments to the church treasury to meet the payments when due. The choir set up a pledge system so that members could purchase a black or white key. Many members pledged and paid once a month. Pew rallies, dinners, concerts and other events were held to help pay for the organ. Members of the organ committee were Alice R. Scott, Mildred Tingle and Georgia Champ. Hildegarde Vaughters was Choir secretary and Virginia Baughn was President. Choir Day and dedication of the new Moller Artiste Pipe Organ was Sunday, October 17, 1954. A fundraising state rally was held on October 8-17, 1954. Rev. Lynwood Taylor of Glover Memorial Baptist Church, Brooklyn, New York gave the dedication sermon. Combined choirs of the Choir’s Union of Philadelphia and vicinity rendered the music. Joseph Smith, Hassie McNeal and Charles Watts unveiled the organ. Trustee Ralph Tresvant received the organ for the church. Mrs. Susie Chase was the church organist at that time. “The light shines in the darkness but darkness never overpowers the light”. The Mother’s Board became the Deaconess Board. The time for Holy Communion was changed to follow morning service. Unleavened bread was change to wafers. Evening services were curtailed. The Gospel Choir was formed. Susie Chase and Elsie Smith were the choir directors. Sister Gloria Beckford and Sister Elvira Hicks were appointed to the Deaconess Board. Rev. Randolph was called to Provident Baptist Church in Chester, PA.
Rev. Smalls was interested in the Youth. Many youth became active and the Youth Fellowship was started.
Rev. Allen Adams, the grandson of Willis and Mary J. Hicks, was a faithful member who served as Interim Pastor three times.
Rev. Gover, our eleventh pastor, baptized ten youth in June 1959. Also in 1959, Mrs. Ella Cauthorn and Rev. Gover stated the Cauthorn Children’s Choir from a youth Bible group. The members were Anita Hawkins, Alycee Nelson, Betti Jayne Nelson, Susie Johnson, Patsy McNeal, Michelle Rufus, Donna Rufus, Elinore Woodburn, Bro. Jones, Nelson Gilfillian, Levi Billops, Jack Johnson, Stephanie Bradley, Nadine Bradley and Evelyn Warfield. The Cauthorn Children bought the Christian Flag and contributed toward the purchase of the American Flag. Mrs. Ruth Bradley was the Pianist. In 1961, the Senior Choir purchased the Lester Piano. Rev. Gover, in his profile, stated: “Parents are delinquents because they allow their children to go and come as they please.” His philosophy was simple and sincere in that he would like to see people do good [sic], live for the Lord and be what they ought to be.
The John Mack Freeman Scholarship Fund “Education Committee” was established for the purpose of giving financial aid to students desiring to go to college. Deacon Charles Lee was its president for many years. Many students have been helped through the committee’s efforts. Family and Friends Day was organized for the purpose of financing the benevolent fund treasury, which aids the sick, poor, and bereaved families. The Junior Ushers was organized as an auxiliary. Trustee Betty J. Nelson, Trustee Lillian Farrell, Sister Cordelia Bean, Sister Minnie Cooper and Sister Christina Hill were elected sponsors. Deacon Elijah Landy asked them to take the Youth Ushers to the State Deacons’ Union Association. The Youth Choir, organized by Racheal Holliday, sings every second Sunday. The choir, under the leadership of the pianist, Robyn Francis, sings very well. Sisters Nelson and Holliday began taking the Youth Ushers and the Youth Choir to the National Deacons’ Union Association. The Nurses’ Unit and Harrison Vaughters’ Drama Guild were organized. The Church bus was purchased and has enabled numerous organizations to travel to many different places; some as far away as Richmond, VA. The trustee aid, now called the Willing Workers, is a reactivated group of the old church whose sole purpose is to raise funds for the expansion of the present church. Unity Day was organized and celebrated the fourth Sunday in November. Rev. Parson retired from service on December 31, 1992.
Rev. Battle served on the Trustee Board and was chairman of the Deacon Board. He was licensed by First Baptist and ordained into the ministry.
Adult Sunday school and Wednesday night Bible Study and Prayer Service were reinstituted. The Women’s Fellowship was organized by First Lady Henrietta Jefferies. Several building improvements were completed, such as the addition of pew cushions, sealing of the stain glass windows and carpet installation. In the Lower Sanctuary, the kitchen and bathrooms were renovated. In the Main Sanctuary, the air conditioning system and baptismal pool heater were installed. A handicap door was installed along with a spacious deck connecting to the Church Annex and a ramp to the driveway.
When I can read my title clear to mansions in the skies I’ll bid farewell to every fear and wipe my weeping eye.” -Historian, Virginia S. Baughn, September 23, 1990
To God be the glory!” – Historian, Betty J. Nelson, September 27, 2015