For the members of True Vine Baptist Church in Fairhill, it’s not enough to just come and hear the word of God every Sunday. They also believe in regularly giving back to the community through outreach programs. Through this mission, they aim not only to uplift the people of Fairhill but also to make sure that they know that the doors of their church are always open.
Founded in 1920 by a group of 12 people, True Vine originally settled at 1248 N. 12th St. as a venue for those who needed a place to worship God. However, due to urban renewal and development in the city, the church moved from North 12th Street to its present location on Fifth and Lehigh in 1962. It’s been there for nearly 50 years that True Vine has been a staple of the Fairhill community.
Under the leadership of Rev. James J. Christmas Sr., the church has seen the development of several new ministries. Christmas, who will be celebrating his 20th anniversary as pastor at True Vine next year, has tried to set an example for the way in which he said he expects his congregation to interact with the community.
“He’s a great teacher and one of the most compassionate men that I know,” said Tony Jamison, the associate minister. “He’s the kind of guy who would reach out of his pocket and give someone here in the church money if he found out that it was their birthday.”
Christmas has been the driving force behind True Vine’s outreach that includes shelters for those who need a place to stay, men’s and women’s fellowship, food drives for Thanksgiving, mission ministries to nursing homes, women’s ministries to women’s shelters and monthly food and clothing giveaways.
Members of the church said they hope they can have a positive impact on the Fairhill community through these programs as they aim to bring in people of all walks of life to the church and prepare them for ministry.
“We want to make the neighbors feel like we care about them,” said Jennie Pringle, who has been a member of True Vine for 61 years.
Whether it’s Sunday service or a Saturday food giveaway, members of True Vine help create a welcoming atmosphere at the church. Pam Ward, a member of hospitality, greets guests as they enter the sanctuary. Ward has seen firsthand the impact that the church’s community outreach has had.
“It gets people to feel better about themselves,” said Ward. “They come every time the doors are open.”
Every first Saturday of the month, the church hosts a men’s fellowship breakfast where people can enjoy good food, good music and good fellowship. This time of sharing is open to all men in the community, not just members of True Vine.
“We want the community to know about us and get involved,” said Jose Sanchez, the young adult Sunday school teacher. “They need to know that we’re here for support and help.”
Sanchez, who works alongside Jackie Jamison, also recognizes the importance of Sunday school for the church’s community outreach to be effective.
“It’s extremely important for our youth in today’s society,” said Sanchez. “What they come and get here they can teach to other youth.”
Both Sanchez and Jamison teach at True Vine’s Vacation Bible School, which is a month-long summer affair where the youth partake in various entertaining activities and are taught the word of God. At the end of the summer, the church hosts a Vacation Bible School Extravaganza, which is open to all the youth in the community.
“It help motivates them in the world,” said Jamison. “Our goal is to prepare for them for outreach.”
However, Christmas said he expects his entire congregation to be able to go out and spread the word to others in the community not just the youth.
“Pastor is about getting out these walls,” said Edna Dandy, a Sunday school teacher at True Vine. “But I would like to know what the community really thinks about us.”
Located in El Centro de Oro, there have been a few barriers between the black-majority congregation and the Latino-dominated neighborhood in which they reside.
“Some in neighborhood hasn’t fully embraced the church yet,” said Deacon Alphonso Jones. “There’s a language barrier that exists and a lot of the people were raised different denominations and don’t want to hear anything different from what they were taught.”
Despite some of these obstacles, most residents of the community appreciate True Vine’s efforts over the years.
“They offer a lot to the public,” said Jose Caraballo, a Fairhill resident. “Sometimes they have lunch for homeless. They do a good job.”
Members of True Vine said they hope they can continue to elevate the people of Fairhill as they strive to stay focused on their mission of spreading the word.
“We’re always busy in the Lord,” said Jamison. “But we’re busy in an effective way.”