Shortly after the meetings, Bro. Ernest Williams, a member of Ebenezer, relocated to Glenside, PA and joined company with Bros. Richard Chapman, George Dennis and Benjamin Dennis. It was suggested and decided that this small body of believers would hold weekly meetings in Bro. Chapman’s home. Continued evidence of the Holy Spirit was manifested when Bro. George Dennis went to New York and moved Charles Rollins to the Willow Grove area where he became involved in the meetings and was later baptized.
With a burning desire to move forward, another tent effort was launched under the leadership of Pastor Wilmot Fordham. Assisting him once again was hid brother, Henry Fordham, and some of the local elders of the Ebenezer SDA Church. These meetings wer held approximately three nights a week for three weeks. The first elder of Ebenezer SDA Church, Elder George Johnson, did most of the preaching. Soon after this tent effort, the group met on a weekly basis to worship in the basement of Bro. George Dennis’ home located at 1555 Rothley Ave. in Willow Grove. There, they became organized into a branch Sabbath School of the Ebenezer SDA Church, and they elected officers. Some of those officers were: Elder Henry Fordham, First Elder; Bro. George Dennis, Local Elder; Bro. Richard Chapman, Treasurer; and Bro. Charles Rollins, Sabbath School Superintendent. Later, an addition to the group was the first female member; Sis. Lois Miller, with her four small children-Leon, Patricia, Sandra and Barbara. Sis. Miller had been recently baptized in Camden, NJ before relocating to the Crestmont area. The group was delighted tol have her,k and she immediately started to work in the roles of Church Clerk and Sabbath School Superintendent. The basement church was by no means dull. The small company was on fire. Testimony of their first love was always eminent -the Holy Spirit was truly at work.
These devoted Christians were never alone, thanks to the officers of Ebenezer SDA Church who visited them constantly, such as: Elder George Johnson and his wife, who served as secretary; Elder A.B. Humphrey, principal of Larchwood School, who preached on a regular basis, and his wife, who taught Sabbath School; and Elder Melvin Warfield, a faithful local elder of Ebenezer who came very Sabbath for a number of years to preach and assist in all activities. Added blessings came to the basement church in the person of Elder George Braxton, a local elder of the Camden SDA Church. Elder W.A. Thompson, President of Allegheny East Conference of Seventh-day Adventists at that time, asked Elder Braxton to consider working with the small company of believers in Willow Grove. President Thompson asked Elder Braxton to visit the basement church one Wednesday night and then make his decision. Elder Braxton visited the Willow Grove believers and was enthused with what he found. He then called President Thompson and agreed to accept the challenge.
Elder Braxton was a born leader-a man of great experience. As President of the Laborers’ Local Union in Camden, he knew how to motivate and deal with people of all levels. His service as a First Sergeant in the Philippines during World War II gave him added ability to lead, but more importantly, his spiritual vision became clear while serving as a volunteer Pastor at the Mt. Olivet SDA Church in Camden, NJ.
For nine years, commencing from 1958, this small congregation worshipped in Bro. George Dennis’ basement. The situation in the basement was not the best, but no other suitable site was affordable as the congregation had very little money. The situation that seemed unsolvable invited suggestions from city officials-suggestions that seemed unacceptable for God-fearing people. The city officials felt that the congregation was too small, and that they had no youthful members to insure their future. They suggested that the Adventist join some other church and disband their group. What the city officials did not know was that God’s Church can never die, no matter how many of them voted for it’s abandonment.
Three members of this body of believers were in construction work: Bro. George Dennis, a builder and designer; Bro. Benjamin Dennis, an electrician; and Bro. Douglas Dennis, a stone mason. Under the leadership of Elder Braxton, the members corralled to envisage what should be done. After much prayer and planning, a decision was reached. These skilled construction workers would use their God-given talents to build a new church home.
Bro. Douglas and Sis. Lucille Dennis owned land on the most beautiful site in the heart of Crestmont-land that was ear-marked for their dream house. But, because of their love for God’s work, they decided to donate the land for the building of God’s Church. This ;piece of land is located on the corner of Fairview and Hamilton Avenues. That generous gift of love bespoke in no uncertain manner the way Bro. and Sis. Douglas Dennis felt about building the church.
Bro. George Dennis immediately began designing the building, which was not an easy task. He had to take into consideration the best architectural design suitable for the corner, bearing in mind that the congregation needed ample parking space. When the design was complete, their problems began-they had no money to implement it’s construction. Disheartened, but not hopeless, they continued to pray and pursue avenues whereby money could be accumulated, knowing full well that God was in control and would see them through.
God blessed the handful of dedicated workers as the entire congregation joined together in the construction of their new church home. The Dennis brothers led in the skilled work, while the other members faithfully assisted wherever they were needed to achieve the ultimate goal-the completion of their new church. Elder George Braxton labored long hours right along with them. When it cam time for the brick work, Bro;. William Mooring, Mr. George Melton, and eight students from Mr. Melton’s Bricklayer School contributed the brick work. The women were not left out, either. Under the direction of Sis. Lois Miller, they made sure the men had hearty lunches every day. Stone by stone, brick by brick, the church building was finally completed. On Saturday, September 14, 1968, a beautiful grand opening was held.
This magnificent edifice now graces the corner of Fairview and Hamilton Avenues. It is a lighthouse to the community of Crestmont-made possible by God, and a few dedicated workers, under the leadership of Elder George L. Braxton.
Continuing throughout the history of the Willow Grove SDA Church, many wonderful pastors have graced it’s doors-pastors who contributed many unique qualities encouraging Willow Grove to be all that God intended.
Succeeding Pastor George Braxton, Pastor and Mrs. Milton Nebblett joined this vibrant body of believers in 1976. Among their many contributions, the congregation was elevated toward a greater appreciation for health reform and proper nutrition.
In 1980, the torch of leadership was passed on to Pastor and Mrs. George Jackson, and they effectively reorganized the children’s sabbath school department, in addition to many other contributions.
In 1984, God’s continued blessings poured out once again when the torch was passed on to Pastor and Mrs. Kirk Thompson. Under the leadership of this musical pair, the musical instruments were beautifully upgraded and the treasury department became computerized.
Pastor Rodney Malcolm, who picked up the torch in 1990, was a great inspiration to the congregation. His vibrant smile and winning personality were like a magnet to all who came in contact with him.
Pastor St. Clare Phipps served as interim pastor for one year. His depth of experience and warm personality uplifted the congregation and aroused many to make a decision to accept God as their personal Savior.
In 1992, Pastor Ronald Reeves graced the doors of Willow Grove with his youthful and prayerful spirit. His flair for creativity, and zeal for all to grow spiritually, preserved the convictions of the ‘basement church’.
In 1999, Pastor and Mrs. Pete Palmer came to the Willow Grove church and brought us up-to-date with the latest technologies, such as, powerpoint presentations and other computerized gadgets.
In 2005, Pastor and Mrs. William Hall came to the Willow Grove church and brought us his “can do” attitude. Under his current leadership, the Willow Grove SDA church has reached new heights in evangelism and stewardship…and the Lord hasn’t finished with Pastor Hall and his work with His church yet. Pastor Hall and his family are a blessing to the congregation.