Featured Church: Grace Temple Baptist Church -- Lawnside, NJ.
Journal Staff Report | 8/7/2013, 3:42 p.m.
In early nineteenth century Lawnside, nineteen eleven to be exact, a small band of believers committed to historical Baptist principals deemed it appropriate to form a Baptist mission. In their effort to remain true to their Faith, they followed the Old Testament practice of meeting in various homes and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. These trailblazing saints finally erected a tent to hold services, and on the site that houses the current Grace Temple structure, they began regular services. These events became the first public evidence of Grace Temple Baptist Church.
With the incorporation of the Borough of Lawnside in 1926 as the first African American municipality governed by freed slaves, eleven years into the future, June of 1915 was pivotal for this progressive group. These forward thinking saints, and mission supporters decided that the time had come for them to declare the inception of Grace Temple Baptist Church. By 1917, they embarked upon erecting the first edifice on the highest elevation in Lawnside. Today Grace Temple is fondly referred to as “The Church on the Hill”.
The first small frame church which replaced the Tent stood on property purchased from Mr. Leslie Watkins, a local farmer, and by 1921 under the leadership of the 1st recorded pastor Reverend Rafael Johnson, the church started to mark membership milestones, such as attendance, and length of service.
By 1928 under the leadership of Rev Luke Jones, the church started to see sustained progress in all areas, to include membership. However, in August of that year the membership had to initiate a building program to offset debt incurred by the loss of everything in a consuming fire.
Undaunted, the membership re-built, and by 1938 Reverend W.H. Watson led the church in its membership of organizations such as the National Baptist Convention, Bethany Baptist Association, and the New Light Union. They marked the 27th anniversary in 1942 with a banquet, and mortgage burning ceremony.
By July of 1943 under the leadership of Rev Woodson, and then subsequently Rev Ficklin, the church had started to increase its community involvement by permitting the Defense Council to equip the basement as a causality, and first aid station in the WW II effort. In addition, collections were taken within the congregation to help equip the rest rooms at Fort Dix. The congregation of this period is also credited with erecting the cross at the top of the building, assigning its first Assistant Pastor (Rev Lonnie Johnson, who later became the Pastor in 1960), installing the chime system that assisted the community with daily time, and instituting the annual community Good Friday Service.
In the decade of the eighties, under the leadership of the Rev Benny Smith and Rev Theodore Edmunds GTBC were experiencing the height of its greatest prosperity in the ninety-year history of the church from a numerical and financial standpoint. In April 1984, the current facility was constructed and occupied. In addition, the congregation of this period was also credited with the payment a three hundred thousand dollar mortgage, 18 years ahead of schedule.