About a dozen years ago the 1727 Society of Old First Reformed Church discussed the idea of preparing a booklet the church’s vibrant years in West Philadelphia. The book never materialized, however in 2002 we held a reunion of members from 50th and Locust. At that time, we visited the Old First’s former church building, now Monumental Baptist Church, and were welcomed by the members.
At last, Jerry Rensch has lovingly prepared the photographic history of the 50th and Locust Street era of Old First. He spent his formative years with his family in the church in West Philadelphia. The Rensch family was among those who participated in the move to Fourth and Race Street in 1967.
Dr. Robert A. Schneider’s 2002 essay, The Story of Old First Reformed Church UCC, called the years 1882-1967 “The Neighborhood Family Church.” When the church was at 10th and Wallace Streets, many Reformed people from up state settled in Philadelphia and united with the church. Many of those people married, had families, and remained with the church through the succeeding decades. Through the years, three-generation families were not unusual, and many young people found their spouses within the congregation.
The pictures also indicate the quality of the church facilities. The sanctuary accommodated 500 people. I am told that one had to go early to get a seat. In 1936 the membership was 689. The peak year for Sunday School enrollment was 1929 with 344 members.
Robert Schneider wrote in his essay, “Church special events of all kinds are less visible in the written records but well recorded in photographs. Some or all of the congregation came together regularly for dinners sponsored by various groups, and for pageants and dramatic (often comic) presentations of various sorts by both children and adults.”
There were many groups that enriched the life of the members and strengthened the church, including the Men’s and Women’s Bible classes, Women’s guild, the Women’s Missionary Society, the Choir, the Men of Old First, Youth Fellowship and the Crusaders, Good Samaritans, the Serve Regis Classes. The church had a ministry to Evangelical and Reformed college students in the city, and kept in touch with phone call reminders about communion and other special services.
We hope that as you study this booklet you will get a sense of what people loved about the West Philadelphia era. And we give thanks that as the neighborhood changed the congregation has a vision of a new ministry at another location.
At this time, 2012, the following persons who participated in the restoration are still members: John and Elizabeth Bethune, Marie Caster, Bruce Conley, Richard and Robert Knowles, John and Sylvia Langan, Gerald and Wayne Rensch, John Rex and Jacqulin Williams.
Rev. Robert Calvert, Editor of the The 1727 Society