Jones Tabernacle reflects on 90 years in the community

The church is planning a “year of celebration,” its pastor said.

Rev. Dr. Miriam Burnett delivers a sermon at the altar of Historic Jones Tabernacle AME Church on Diamond Street near Woodstock on Oct. 27. | JIDE YUSUF / THE TEMPLE NEWS

About 15 years ago, while many in Philadelphia were suffering from AIDS, some in the city still did not understand the condition and were afraid of interacting with those who were affected by it, said Joan Garrett, who lives on Mount Airy Avenue near Stenton.

But Historic Jones Tabernacle AME Church, an African Methodist Episcopal church near Temple University, decided to help their neighbors by offering counseling services for those with the condition, said Garrett, the church’s unofficial historian.

“The Jones Tabernacle has always reached out for the community needs and has always paid attention to what those needs were,” Garrett, 84, said.

Established on 20th Street near Susquehanna Avenue in 1930, the church, which now sits on Diamond Street near Woodstock, is preparing to celebrate its 90th anniversary with a “year of celebration,” said Miriam Burnett, its pastor.

The church will hold a series of workshops for community members, increase outreach for its existing programming and host a neighborhood block party next August, said Burnett, who has served as Jones Tabernacle’s first woman pastor for 15 months.

Rev. Richard Wright founded the church along with former members of Morris Brown African Methodist Episcopal Church on Montgomery Street near 25th, according to the church’s website. He named the church, whose mission was to “propagate the seeds of African Methodism,” after Joshua H. Jones, the church’s 38th bishop, the website read.

At one time, the church housed several Temple programs that served North Philadelphia residents, including a daycare center and an elementary student tutoring program, said Valorie Pearson, vice-chair of the church’s board of trustees.

Today, Jones Tabernacle still provides a variety of social services to community residents including a monthly food closet for seniors, block parties and a Thanksgiving food drive, Burnett said.

“When events were happening in Philadelphia, this was the site,” Burnett said.

But the church, which Burnett claims used to attract hundreds of people to its events, has not been able to run as many programs due to declining attendance and frequent theft of church property, she said.

“A lot of what we were doing stopped when the burglaries started because we were funneling money into replacing the stuff,” she added.

As the church reflects on its past, it is investing in its future by enlisting young people to help run the Sunday services and bolstering its youth group, Burnett said.

“We have been elevating our longevity by training our youth,” Burnett said. “They have a chance to interact with all aspects of the church. We are able to teach our youth how to take over. These programs have really increased the number of young adults in our church.”

Regular parishioners praised the work the church had done over the decades.

The Jones Tabernacle “has given food to those who need it, picnics for younger so they can begin to grow connections and they even taught seniors how to use the new voting machines for the upcoming elections,” said Linda Cubrena, 70, who lives near the intersection of Germantown and Hunting Park avenues.

“All my life, I have had wonderful times at Jones Tabernacle,” Cubrena added. 

“The Jones Tabernacle has become the center of our neighborhood,” said John Griswold, 90, who lives near the intersection of 19th and North streets. “I want to be sure that everyone that knows at Temple that they are welcome to join us.”

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