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The Post Conwell Years 1926-1948

Dr. Alonzo Ray Petty  1926-1929

          Dr. Petty entered the field as noted above, only a few months following the death of Dr. Conwell.  Mourning had not passed.  The new minister was judged by “what would Dr. Conwell think or do?”  It might have been best for the church to have had a longer period of interim.  But this was not to be and the minister understood the difficulty he faced. 

          With great enthusiasm, Dr. Petty entered Temple’s pastorate.  He worked diligently with the Men’s Brotherhood to enlarge and strengthen the camping program.  Hundreds of children and youth became campers. 

          With such a large group of young people, Dr. Petty led the church to purchase a home nearby as a Community House.  This took children’s activities as well as the Christian Endeavor groups out of the large church building.  One of Dr. Petty’s dreams for the future was this community center, but if he envisioned it as a center of the community, it was never realized.  The house was purchased in 1927 but after two years it was sold. 

          Miss Allene Bryan, Dr. Petty’s secretary, established the Romany Club of young business women for social and travel events.  This organization planned the first Mother and Daughter Dinner. 

          Under the previous pastor the deacons attempted to make a transition from a common communion cup to individual glasses, but did not succeed.  Dr. Petty made the change. 

          Dr. Petty proved theologically liberal and controversial.  This was the time of the beginning of a serious theological debate.  Possibly because of this apparent liberalism or his strong individualism, there were other controversies.  The Board of Ushers exerted a strong influence in the church because its members included both deacons and trustees.  In his short stay of three years, the pastor came into frequent conflicts with the ushers. 

          All seemed to be forgotten and forgiven, however, when he was called to another church, for the Temple sent high recommendations and best wishes to his new pastorate. 

Dr. Michael Joseph Twomey  1930-1935 

          Temple found in Dr. M. Joseph Twomey a large Irishman with a twinkle in his eye.  Members thought that he reminded them of Dr. Conwell.  He used his Irish brogue and sense of humor to good effect.  Over five hundred members had been removed from the church rolls during the previous pastorate and as many again during this pastorate.  Apparently the membership list had not been brought up to date for some time.  Members died or moved to other addresses without the church’s notice.  Many who had been attracted to Dr. Conwell as a preacher lost interest and failed to attend.  The membership became more realistic as it was reduced by over one thousand members. 

          One of the finest memories of Dr. Twomey’s ministry was the founding of the Ella Stanton Twomey Sunday School Class taught by Mrs. Twomey.  This was a class of approximately 100 young women.  As these young women married they formed the Married Girls Club, which met for lunch and then later in the evening.  In 1981 at the fiftieth anniversary luncheon at the Baptist Temple in Blue Bell, there were about fifty or more women of the Married Girls Club present who had been members at one time or another.

          The Temple choir had been a joy for years, but may have reached its peak during this pastorate with one hundred members.  The organ itself was a masterpiece built by Hope-Jones.  Over the years the organists and/or directors included D. D. Wood, Frederick Starke, J. Marvin Hanna, Kenneth Hallett, Maxwell Noack, Robert T. Smith, William Miller, Robert Gerson, Ruth Timbrook, and presently Barbara Green. 

          Temple Camp provided a wonderful Christian experience.  Initiated in 1922, and situated at that time at Yerkes Farm just outside of Collegeville, Pa., the camp youngsters included many from the church, children from the neighborhood, friends of campers and those who just happened to hear of the camp.  It was a popular place, serving about fifty boys and fifty girls at various periods of ten days.  Later this period was changed to two weeks.  The fee was a bare minimum necessary to feed and otherwise provide for the children.  The director was paid, undoubtedly, but the rest of the staff were volunteers.  Young men and women from the church were only too happy to be assistant directors and counselors, judging from the number of years they served, most until they finished school or married. 

          Many good, sometimes hilarious, times were experienced at the camp from the days of the open mess tent, pushing away the flies as campers ate their cereal, to the days of the fine rustic lodge built in memory of one of their favorite counselors, Walter Maillardet.  Many were the camp songs sung, and sometimes improved upon, as the happy campers sat around the table after meals. 

          The food was always delicious.  Milk, eggs and vegetables came from the nearby farm, and the cook did wonderful things with all of the food. 

          By this time, the camp was in a permanent site on the Perkiomen Creek in Collegeville, Pa.  After two disastrous floods, the last of which took most cabins downriver, the camp was rebuilt (with wood retrieved from the bridge where it lodged) up on the hill rather than down close to the creek.  Fortunately, no one was drowned or hurt during these tragic times, although several people from the surrounding countryside were in danger, and some had to be rescued by our counselors. 

          As the years brought many changes to the camp situation (more young people were going to college and working during the summer to pay their way, more sophisticated places of vacation were available, etc.), the camp gradually diminished in numbers of campers and the availability of counselors.  The last straw was the necessity of building a swimming pool as the creek was becoming polluted, so the camp was sold. 

          The Temple Brotherhood should be given much credit for the camp and its longevity.  These men, old and young, came every Saturday to build cabins and do wiring, plumbing and carpentry! 

Dr. Daniel A. Poling  1936-1948 

          If Baptist Temple were ever to regain the status that it had in previous years, the Pulpit committee felt the need of a world-known figure.  The church found such a person in Dr. Daniel A. Poling.  He was editor of the “Christian Herald” and had a radio program in New York City.  The problem was that he was the pastor of a church of another denomination, the Marble Collegiate Church.  This did not dissuade the committee.  A letter stating the interest of the committee was sent to Dr. Poling as he was on a world-wide trip, and was at that moment in Hong Kong.  The letter not only asked if he were interested, but was he theologically conservative.  Would he accept the Baptist principle?  Would he accept the church covenant?  Would he be immersed?  His reply satisfied the Pulpit Committee and he began his ministry with an ecumenical flair.

          Dr. Poling was elected President of the International Society of Christian Endeavor and upon the death of Dr. Francis E. Clark, founder of Christian Endeavor, became the President of the World Christian Endeavor Union as well in 1927. 

          In the area of journalism, Dr. Poling was the author of twenty-two books and three hundred annual book reviews.  In later years, he was in the Chaplains Reserve and filled special missions in the various theaters of World War II.  Public honors included the War Department’s citation for work as a war correspondent in the European theater, and citations and plaques from B’nai B’reth, the American Legion and the American Federation of Labor.  He wore the Silver Buffalo, the national award of the Boy Scouts and the Cross of the Huguenot Society. 

          In six overseas missions he visited all active theaters, traveling by air more than 150,000 miles.  President Roosevelt referred to him as “America’s Spiritual Ambassador for good will”.  He served as one of the nine members of the President’s Civilian Advisory Commission on universal military training. 

          Dr. Poling urged the congregation to consider establishing new churches in the Philadelphia area.  The idea was enthusiastically endorsed.  Because of this emphasis, work was begun which ultimately led to the formation of two new churches:  Conwell Memorial of Mayfair and Conwell Memorial of West Oak Lane, both of which were dedicated in 1941. 

          In 1942 the Overbrook Baptist Church, which was having increased difficulty in a loss of membership and finances, asked the Temple to take the church under its guidance and accept a thirty thousand dollar mortgage.  After much discussion and planning, the Temple was ready to assume this new responsibility but at the last hour, the Overbrook church voted to withdraw its request. 

          During the tragic days of World War II nearly two hundred men of the congregation became involved in the conflict.  Often Dr. Poling would meet one of these men abroad and upon occasions would visit the home of families to bring greetings from a son.  Betty Greenawalt administered a correspondence with every serviceman.

          One of the most lasting accomplishments of Dr. Poling’s ministry began in the mind of the pastor in the early days of World War II as a memorial to Dr. Conwell.  Before such a memorial became a church project, however, came the news of the untimely death of Dr. Poling’s son, Clark Vandersall Poling.  Clark was one of four chaplains, one Catholic, one Jewish, and two Protestants, who drowned when the USAT Dorchester was sunk by the Germans in the North Atlantic on February 3, 1943.  The heroic action by the four chaplains of giving their lifejackets to others changed the direction of the memorial. 

          Dr. Poling then conceived the plan of an ecumenical Chapel with a revolving altar of three sides—one representing the Jewish faith containing the Torah, another the Catholic faith, and the third the Protestant faith--similar to that used in the Armed Forces. 

          Although Dr. Poling was not pastor of the church when the Chapel was completed, he remained a member of the church staff and Chaplain of the Chapel.  He used his influence to complete the Chapel.  The administration of the funds was no longer in the hands of the trustees of the Temple.  The Chapel had its own trustees. 

          Work was begun, but the completion and dedication of the Chapel of Four Chaplains did not occur until a new pastorate.Next - 1948 - 1983


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