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One God, Sixteen Houses




"Just nineteen years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, a small group of black people gathered in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Porter on Division Street, Jenkintown, for a Prayer Service. Some of these people had themselves known or knew people who had felt the sting of the days of slavery. Theirs had been lives filled with pain and suffering, followed by joy and happiness. There was a common desire for a place set aside for worship to Almighty God."


Enter the modern building of Salem Baptist and climb up a short flight of stairs to the sanctuary. At the rear of the church is the Martin Luther King Chapel. The doors of this chapel are usually closed unless additional seating is needed during the two Sunday services. However, the chapel is used for small prayer meetings, for weddings and for lectures. Two of Dr. King's famous quotations: "I have a dream," and "Free at last," hang on opposite walls. Three stained glass windows were recently installed into the west wall to depict the civil rights movement, including scenes from the bus boycott that was organized by Dr. King. Dr. King himself is the subject of the center window.


This martyred leader had close ties with Salem Baptist, officiating at many church services. In fact, the stained glass window that hangs in the east wall of the church, visible when the dossal curtain is opened before each service to reveal the Baptismal area, was made possible by the generosity of Dr King. Instead of taking an honorarium for lecturing at the church, he donated the money to the women of the congregation. This window, showing St. John baptizing Jesus, is the result of his gesture.


The long, narrow naive before you is really the original structure of the 1909 church which extends to the beginning of the transept. Even as the new church was being designed, the sense of history that surrounded the church remained. Members insisted that the original structure be incorporated into the new building. There was an awareness of time, an understanding that parents and grandparents and all the many generations had prayed there. This continuity was to be treasured.




"In 1983, Abington Friends Meeting, the oldest congregation in the area treated in this book, celebrated its 300th anniversary. The first religious services of the Religious Society of Friends in this vicinity were held December 3, 1683, in the house of Richard Wall. The present grounds of 120 acres were acquired in 1967, through the gift of John Barnes, a Quaker landowner with extensive holdings. The land grant was accompanied by a financial grant of fifty pounds to build a meeting house and 150 pounds to start a school."


It is difficult to forget history as you sit in the Meetinghouse, difficult not to realize how revolutionary George Fox's vision had been in the seventeenth century. It is difficult to imagine that Friends were imprisoned and even tortured in England and even here in the New World that had promised freedom. But Philadelphia had become a sanctuary, where William Penn was able to establish his community without conflict, and where the Religious society of Friends flourished.


In this simple room and in others similar to it, with its wooden wainscotting and wooden benches, with the large windows that allow sunlight to flood in, and with the angles of steps and galleries added to hold more of the congregation, Friends have gathered for more that three hundred years. They have entered in silence, "centering down," to reach into their own spiritual depths. They have listened to the words of God flowing through another Friend, and they have offered, from time to time, their own understanding of life as their faith has shaped it.


Listen to the silence. Hear the old clock ticking in unity with time and understanding. Feel the presence of faith here as did the Friends of the past, and as do the Friends of today.