1899: Thomas M. Thomas Memorial Presbyterian Church, Chester, PA
In 1899, a freshly minted theologian from the Lincoln University School of Theology arrived in Chester, Pennsylvania. A sense of purpose accompanied his presence. Enlightened by his studies and armed with a dream, this young theologian set out to establish the first Negro Presbyterian Church in Delaware County. This entrepreneurial spirit lived within Reverend Thomas Merton Thomas. He spared no effort in his quest and wasted no time in making his purpose known. Through perseverance and hard work he was able to convene his first church meeting. From this humble beginning would later arise the Thomas M. Thomas Memorial Presbyterian Church.
The first meeting had nine people in attendance and was held in the home of Mrs. Hanna Purnsley on Welsh Street, but within a relatively short period of time these accommodations were quickly outgrown. As a result, Rev. Thomas set out to secure alternative arrangements for their weekly meetings; the new meeting place would be in the Old City Hall Annex in Chester. On the six month anniversary of moving to these new quarters, an organizational meeting was held to formally and legally establish the areas of the first Negro Presbyterian Church in Delaware County, Fifth Presbyterian Church.
Having realized the fruits of his labor in establishing his first church, Rev. Thomas set his sights on locating a permanent structure that would be a reminder and a legacy for generations to come of the struggles and joys that the original founders overcame in establishing the Fifth Presbyterian Church. The search for a permanent residence became a reality when in 1905, the physical church building was erected. It still stands today at 1408 West 3rd Street, Chester, PA.
In 1974, the church’s name was changed from the Fifth Presbyterian Church to Thomas M. Thomas Memorial Presbyterian Church to honor the founder.
The church remains a vibrant ministry in the Chester community and continues to provide, among other programs, Sunday School, Bible Study, a Learning Tree Preschool, Vacation Bible School, Clothing Drive and Hot Lunch Program.
This brief history was recently updated as a part of the Presbytery of Philadelphia’s 300th Anniversary Year of Celebration and Witness. The story of the congregations throughout the Presbytery were revised to remind us of our past even as we live into the present and move towards God’s promised future. Read more about the 300th Anniversary: www.presbyphl.org/300th-Anniversary.