Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: July 1999 Volume 37 Number 3, Pages 97–104

Paoli Gets a Baptist Church: A History of Paoli Baptist Church, Paoli, Pennsylvania

Dr. Fred Boehike Jr.

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The founding of Paoii Baptist Church in Paoli, Pennsylvania, in 1962 was part of an expansion of the work of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant organization in the United States, into the West and North in the years following World War II. The Southern Baptist Conven­tion was organized in 1845 in the former slave states of the U. S. as a result of the slavery controversy. Up to 1942, the Southern Baptist Convention was active in only eighteen states, mostly in the South and Southwest, and in the District of Columbia. In 1942, Southern Baptists accepted a small group of Baptists in California into their convention. That action was the beginning of an expansion that led to the establishment of Southern Baptist churches in all fifty states. Previously, Baptist churches in the North were generally affiliated with the body known as the American Baptist churches, which has its national offices in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

The Southern Baptist expansion, known as the Pioneer Missions Movement, began in the Pacific and Rocky Mountain states and then spread to the Midwest and finally to the Northeast. A Southern Baptist church was constituted in New York City early in 1958, and by the middle of 1962 there were three Southern Baptist churches and one mission in the Philadelphia area. The Southern Baptist expansion was generally initiated by laymen, who desired churches like those in the South. There is no significant doctrinal difference between most Southern Baptist churches and

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most other Baptist churches, but there are subtle differences. The Southern Baptist expansion was supported by the Home Mission Board through the appointment of pastoral missionaries in new areas and subsidies given to pastors of new churches.

On January 15, 1962, Dr. Bertsil B. Baker, a chemist who had come to live in West Chester, wrote to the Home Mission Board and asked if the Southern Baptist Convention had any plans to work in this area. He drew attention to the fact that the Paoli Presbyterian Church was about to move into a new building, so that their existing church building would be available. Dr. A. B. Cash of the Home Mission Board, who led the expan­sion program, introduced him to members of the Windsor Baptist Chapel, a new work in Brookhaven, PA, and to Padgett Cope, the area missionary in the Delaware Valley. Padgett Cope introduced Dr. Baker to another Baptist family in the area, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Martin of Malvern. As a result, a home fellowship was formed in February of 1962. It met until early June at the Martin's home, 6 Birch Road, in Malvern.

On June 1, 1962, several members of that fellowship, and the area missionary, met with a committee of the Paoli Presbyterian Church and arranged for the use of the church building and parsonage which they were vacating on Lancaster Avenue in Paoli. On June 17, 1962, Paoli Baptist Church began with an evening program of Training Union and worship with 22 present. Sunday School and Morning Worship began on July 15, with 30 present.

A new Southern Baptist work usually begins as a mission of a constituted church. Paoli Baptist Church was officially a mission or chapel of Haines Road Baptist Church in Levittown, PA, for most of its first year and a half, but it always operated as a self-governing body, managing its own finances. The first mission pastor was Donald Daniel, a Southern Baptist from Texas who was studying at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Overbrook. He served as pastor until June of 1963, when he resigned to continue his training at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. By that time, the membership increased from an original eight members to 30 members.

In the summer of 1963, the first Daily Vacation Bible School was held, with Jeanne Speight as principal and with workers from the Home Mission Board. Vacation Bible School has continued to be a significant part of the summer program of the church ever since. It was not long before the church did not need help from outside the membership.

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On July 21,1963, Rev. Robert A. Couch came from Florence, Kentucky to serve as pastor of the mission. Under his leadership, the church grew in strength and, on January 31,1964, it was constituted as a Southern Baptist church affiliated with the Delaware Valley Baptist Association and the Baptist Convention of Maryland. There were 63 charter members. On January 15, 1965, the church purchased the building where it still meets from the Paoli Presbyterian Church at the favorable sum of $118,000. A short time later, the Martin family moved from the area and gave the equity in their home to Paoli Baptist Church, and it became the parsonage. The old Presbyterian parsonage has since been used as a church annex, especially for the nursery. Robert A. Couch served as pastor for almost three years until June 5, 1966.

In its early days, Paoli Baptist Church had members that came from a considerable distance. Some of those members came from the Willow Grove area and established a mission there. It was constituted as the Bux-Mont Baptist Church on June 12, 1966. It is located in Hatboro and is one of the strongest Southern Baptist churches in the Philadelphia area.

On October 10, 1966, Rev. Vernon S. Lee began a pastorate that lasted for eleven years. The church had 164 members at the time when he arrived on the field. Pastor Lee was a native Pennsylvanian who received his college and seminary education in Texas and came to Paoli after two pastorates in Illinois. Under his leadership some new ministries were be­gun. In March, 1 970, a ministry was begun at Devon Manor Nursing Home which has continued up to this time. In October, 1975, weekly fellowship suppers were begun on Wednesday nights and have continued for most of the time since then. In June, 1976, Bill Vaughn became assis­tant to the pastor on a part-time basis and served for the remainder of this pastorate. During this time, annual Bible Study weekends were held in May, 1970-1977, led by a noted Bible scholar, Dr. Clyde Francisco of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.


ng Vernon Lee's pastorate, some important improvements were made to the physical plant of the church. The most important was installation of a baptistery for baptism by immersion. It was dedicated and used for the first time on February 9, 1975. Previously baptisms were held in the First Baptist Church of Malvern and in the Immanuel Church of the Brethren on Route 252 south of Paoli, which is now a Jewish synagogue. On a few occasions, baptisms were held in a swimming pool at the home of one of the members. In 1975, the pipe organ was thoroughly renovated. It is recognized to be a very fine instrument.

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As has been noted, when it was first constituted as a church, Paoli Bap­tist Church was affiliated with the Baptist Convention of Maryland, as were all Southern Baptist churches in eastern and central Pennsylvania at the time. Beginning in 1964, steps were begun to establish a Southern Baptist state organization for Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. For several years, state-wide fellowship meetings were held. Paoli Baptist Church was the host to the third of these meetings on September 30 to October 1, 1966. In 1970 the Paoli church became a founding member of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey. This State Baptist Convention met at Paoli Baptist Church three times, in 1980, 1983, and 1991.

In this period, Paoli Baptist Church continued to promote the development of Southern Baptist work in the area. On March 7, 1971, the church sponsored a mission in Phoenixville, which developed into the Schuylkill Valley Baptist Church which meets in a former Lutheran church in Spring City. It was constituted on November 19, 1972. Paoli Baptist Church sponsored the Upper Darby Baptist Church in July of 1968. It became an independent Baptist church. The church voted in June, 1970 to sponsor the Center City Preaching Station at the Y. M. C. A. in central Philadelphia. That work continued as long as the Y. M. C. A. continued as a residential establishment. In 1970-1972 the church sponsored the Rev. and Mrs. David Daniel in a student work at the University of Pennsylvania under a Home Mission Board program. In 1974 a work was begun in the Honey Brook, PA, area that developed into the Indian Run Baptist Chapel from 1976-1979. For a time that mission looked promising, but ultimately it had to be closed because of lack of support.

After an illness of about two months, Pastor Vernon Lee died on October 5, 1977. He was very much appreciated for his gentle, effective leadership. At his death, the church membership stood at 230, 66 more than when he came. Members were frequently transferred from the area, so that church growth was difficult. For six months, the Rev. Jack Kelly served as interim pastor of Paoli Baptist Church. He was a member of the church, who lived at the east end of Paoli. He was in the insurance business. He served many Southern Baptist churches in the Delaware Valley in times of need.

The Rev. Calvin M. Bailey began a 13-year pastorate on Sunday April 2, 1978. He came to Paoli from the Southern Baptist church in Pittsburgh. He had earlier been pastor of a large church in Bristol, Virginia. Pastor Bailey strongly emphasized the Sunday School program, and new classes

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and departments were organized. A weekly visitation program to reach prospective members was established in September of 1979. On October 1, 1981, a second Adult Department was established in the Sunday School. Pastor Bailey believed strongly in the value of a radio ministry. For many years, from September, 1978, the church had a 15-minute radio program five days a week to reach the community with a Christian message. Because Pastor Bailey desired to own his home, the church sold him the parsonage in January of 1979 and adjusted his salary accordingly.

There were a number of improvements to the church property during this pastorate. In July of 1978 the church was able to purchase the lot west of the church where a small house had formerly been located.It became a parking lot, which was paved in 1983. This lot solved a parking problem, and also removed the danger that an undesirable business might have been located very close to the church. In March, 1987, the church voted to cushion the pews with funds designated for the purpose. The stained glass windows were repaired in the summer of 1988.

During Calvin Bailey's pastorate, Paoli Baptist Church continued to be active in sponsoring missions that became Southern Baptist churches.In October of 1980 the church became the sponsor of the Trinity Baptist work in the heart of the city of Philadelphia, near the Art Museum. An American Baptist church had been forced to disband because of declining membership, and American Baptists did not have the resources to try to revive it. With the aid of home missionary and other support from Southem Baptists, Trinity Baptist Church gradually grew and was organized as a Southern Baptist church on May 15, 1983. In July of 1981, Paoli Baptist Church agreed to sponsor the work of church planter John McJilton in the Coatesville area. This work was also aided by a church in the area of Washington, D. C. It developed into the Thorndale Baptist Church, which was constituted on March 15, 1987.

in May of 1985 a new Southern Baptist mission was established in the West Chester area by a group of members of Paoli Baptist Church had been leaders at the Paoli Church. A clash had developed between them and Pastor Bailey, and at the regular church business meeting on May 8, they introduced a motion that a meeting be called to terminate his pastorate. The motion failed, but 47% of the members of Paoli Baptist Church voted for it. A few days later, the group who were dissatisfied at Paoli Baptist Church organized a fellowship which was sponsored as a Southern Baptist mission by the Trinity Church in Philadelphia. A significant number of members and leaders joined the new work, which was

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constituted as Emmanuel Baptist Church of West Chester on May 25, 1986. For many years this church met at the New Century Club on High Street until they were able to buy the old Westminster Presbyterian building in West Chester about 1994.

The establishment of the Emmanuel Baptist organization was a setback for Paoli Baptist Church. The total Paoli Baptist Church membership was 406 in the fall of 1984, 312 of whom were listed as resident members. After the people left to establish Emmanuel Baptist Church, the resident membership was reduced to 261, a loss of 51, and the total membership was 365. At that time it was necessary to give up the radio ministry. However, Paoli Church was still strong and, by 1987, had 292 resident members, only 20 less than before the split.

Calvin Bailey served as pastor of Paoli Baptist Church until June 30, 1991. After four months, in which services were conducted by supply preachers, the church called Brian Horton to be their pastor. He had been pastor of a church in a town in Mississippi before he came to Paoli. He began his pastorate on November 17, 1991. During his pastorate, for a few years the church held an Easter Sunrise service in the area of the Wayne equestrian statue in Valley Forge National Historical Park. Other ministries carried on were a Senior Adult Program, a food closet for needy people, and periodic participation in the Blood Bank. Most or all of these activities are still being carried on by the church. During this pastorate the church celebrated its 30th anniversary in 1994, with former pastor Calvin Bailey as the preacher. Brian Horton served as pastor until June 25, 1995.

There was a further loss of members in Brian Horton's pastorate. When he came to Paoli in the fall of 1991, there were 214 resident members. Four years later there were only 175 resident members. In these years, it is reported that many people were transferred to jobs in other parts of the country. Also, since the church tended to draw people of Southern origins, older members often returned to the South to retire.

For six months in the second half of 1995, Dr. Frank Miller, Director of Missions of the Greater Philadelphia Baptist Association, served as interim pastor at Paoli Baptist Church. Then, for several months, the church had various supply preachers.

On September 1, 1996, the Rev. Leon Runner came to Paoli from the Crusade Baptist Church of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Under his leadership the church continues to carry on a full program, with Sunday School,

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morning and evening worship services, and Wednesday fellowship suppers and prayer meeting, together with various organizations and activities. A new visitation program has been organized within the last year. Paoli Baptist Church offers a place of worship on Sunday afternoons to the Chinese Salvation Church, which is affiliated with Southern Baptists.

From the beginning of the church's history, there has usually been a strong Woman's Missionary Union to promote missionary work in the U. S. and abroad, with a missionary program for girls of the church. The Brotherhood has been organized for work with men and boys with varying degrees of activity.

Youth activities at Paoli Baptist Church have varied with the number of youth in the church of various age groups at various times. The church has sometimes employed a part-time youth director. More often the work has been led by dedicated laypersons. In the summer of 1974 the youth first took a trip outside the area; they went to the Southern Baptist Assembly at Ridgecrest, North Carolina. Since then the youth have often gone to various summer programs at locations in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.

A significant characteristic of Paoli Baptist Church for most of its history has been the racial diversity of its membership. While most of the members could be characterized as white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, African-Americans were freely accepted into the membership from the early 1970s and were elected to leadership positions according to their abilities and interests. The membership has at times also included Chinese and Indian people from Asia. For some years Nick Huacani was a member and sometimes a deacon. He is a full-blooded native American from Bolivia, from the Aymara tribe that were once subjects of the Inca Empire. In some periods, the old children's song, "Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight," has been literally demonstrated in the membership of Paoli Baptist Church.

In the spring of 1999, Leon Runner continues to lead Paoli Baptist Church. The most recent available membership statistics show 160 resident members and a total of 228 members. Sunday School enrollment is 98. The membership tends to be relatively young. The church continues to carry on a full program of activities, but it is clearly not as strong as it was ten to twenty years ago. It is the author's conviction that its smaller size is partly due to the growth of several large independent evangelical churches in the area, which have a strong drawing power for people who

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come from large Baptist churches in the South. The church has always been aware that some Southern Baptists were so accustomed to large churches that they found Paoli Baptist Church too small, even at its highest peak of membership. It also appears that denominational loyalty is not now as strong as it was some thirty years ago when this church was getting started.



The information about the founding of Paoli Baptist Church is based on a short history that was published at the time when the church was consti­tuted in 1964. The remainder of the history is based on records or publications of the church or on personal records of the author. The author was a member of the church from 1967 to 1983 and has visited the church regularly since 1983. He was a witness to many of the events of the history of this church, and of the missions that developed out of it. His memory of these events is aided by a personal journal that he has kept.

The Southern Baptist expansion is discussed in Frederick J. Boehlke, jr., From Generation to Generation : A History of Southern Baptists in Pennsylvania/South Jersey. (Franklin, Tennessee : Providence House Publishers, 1996), pp. 13-38.

Paoli Baptist Church began worshipping in this building in Paoli on June 17, 1962
soon after it was vacated by the Paoli Presbyterian Church


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