On July 18, 1917, a group of like-minded Christian people, led by the Spirit, met in the home of Mrs. Ella Jones (known to all as Mother Jones) at 320 Summit Street, in the North Camden section of the city. During this meeting it was decided that they would organize a new church. At the time of this organization there were only six (6) members. The Rev. W.P. Moore was the organizer and first pastor who set this new branch Zion on its way.
Mrs. Stella Mincey, the daughter of Mother Jones and now deceased, was among that early group of organizers and was the first candidate. In 1919, the church was officially chartered at Camden City Hall and therefore incorporated. Soon after this, under the leadership of Rev. Mr. Moore, the church moved to 960 Federal Street where the accommodations for carrying out the work of The Master were more adequate.
Like all organizations and movements that persist through the years, First Nazarene has had her toils and torments, but the sustaining power of God has been ever present to sustain and keep her to allow her to weather the storm. As The Lord continued to add to the church, the building on Federal Street was no longer sufficient to accommodate the burgeoning congregation. A committee headed by Deacon Lonnie C. Mincey, the first to be ordained by the church, was sent forth to secure larger quarters. Deacon Mincey was also the second preacher to be ordained by the church. Deacon Mincey proclaimed that Divine Guidance had led him to an edifice at 410 Line Street. First Nazarene worshiped for many years in that building.
During the years that the church was located on Line Street, it continued to be pastured by Rev. W. P. Moore until his passing. The church was then pastured by the Rev. C.D. Armstrong, followed by the Rev. N.G. Greene, Rev. Dudley, Rev. Wimberly, Rev. H.W. Watson and the Rev. Mark O. Thompson.
Reverend Thompson’s pastorate of First Nazarene is indeed a great page in the history of this church. There was a tremendous increase in the membership of the church during his ministry, and soon the building on Line Street was no longer sufficient for its many members. The Sheppard’s Hall at 438–40 Stevens Street was purchased and on the third Sunday in April of 1937, it became the new house of worship for our congregation. Thus for twenty-seven (27) years it was our home of spiritual training, guidance and fulfillment for our many parishioners.
In the latter years of Rev. Thompson’s ministry, the church suffered a split. The courageous efforts of the remaining officers and members kept the church moving forward. In July of that same year, a young man, The Rev. R.F. Devereaux, then pastor of the Evergreen Baptist Church of Palmyra, New Jersey, was called to fill the pulpit here at First Nazarene. Rev. Devereaux, a powerful and energetic preacher, was one of Camden’s greatest Gospel preachers. Those who were there and can remember are witnesses that First Nazarene has been pastured by some of Camden’s most soul-stirring preachers.
Many accomplishments were achieved during Rev.Devereaux’s tenure. Among them were the burning of the mortgage on the church property in 1942, thereby clearing the church of all of its indebtedness, the complete renovation of the building, the purchase of a pipe organ which cost more than $2,000.00, and new pews costing nearly $1,400.00. Also, during this period, more than 200 new members were added to the church.
In September of 1949, Rev. Devereaux was called to pastor the New Thankful Baptist Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Again, the pulpit at First Nazarene was vacant, but not for long. On the first Sunday in November of 1949, the Rev. Ethridge Williamson, Sr. preached his first sermon as the new pastor of the First Nazarene Baptist Church.
Calling Rev. Williamson as pastor was unique in many ways. First, he was a young and inexperienced minister and he had never served as a pastor prior to this calling. Besides this, he was a member of First Nazarene and had been since the early days of his youth. Rev. Williamson had been baptized by the Rev. Mark O. Thompson in May 1931. He received all of his early religious training and inspiration here, although during that period he had no thoughts of entering into the ministry. His father, Mr. Benjamin Williamson was a deacon at First Nazarene for forty (40) years. His mother, Mrs. Sarah Williamson was President of the Deaconess Club in its formation in 1956.
The youth and relative lack of experience of Rev. Williamson were no serious obstacles to him. He was natural and God gifted leader. The growth and progress of the church again necessitated the congregation to seek another larger building. The stamina and faith of the members working with Pastor Williamson led the church to take on the noble adventure to, for the first time, start the construction of the first brand new church home for First Nazarene.
In 1964, the Lord allowed First Nazarene to march into our new edifice located at 1476 South Eighth Street. One needed only to observe this beautiful new House of Worship erected at the corner of Eighth and Fairmont Streets that materialized during Reverend Williamson’s ministry to realize his leadership qualities and ability.
Under the pastorate of Rev. Dr. Williamson, many souls were brought to Christ. During his ministry several groups were formed, including the Scholarship Club, the Young Adult Usher Board, Welcome Committee and the Deaconess Club. In 1974 we had the Burning of the Church Mortgage. The church purchased an electrically powered printing press, began our duplex offering system and purchased a Life Membership in the NAACP. Later in 1974, the Lord called home His servant, The Rev. E. Williamson, Sr. For two and one half years, Deacon Henry Sommerville, Chairman of the Fellowship of Deacons and other officers cared for this flock.
In November of 1976, The Rev. John A. Jones of Washington, D.C. was called as Pastor. Under the leadership of Pastor Jones First Nazarene operates its Spiritual Hospital. Under his Pastorate the First Nazarene Baptist Church has had continual spiritual growth and Christian Fellowship. We consider Nazarene not a church, but an experience, where the Word of God comes alive.
There were many improvements made to the physical structure of our House of Worship under the leadership of Pastor Jones. A new ceiling was installed and the Pulpit area and choir loft were enlarged. A new air conditioning system as well as a new audio and computer rooms were installed. The church also purchased the garages adjacent to the church and land across the street in hopes of providing additional parking facilities. First Nazarene provides services to the community through Sunday School, Wednesday night Prayer Meeting and Bible classes, Sunday worship services and Vacation Bible School.
For the advancement of our Outreach Program, Pastor Jones can be heard preaching the Word of God on Sunday morning radio during the Nazarene Hour which airs on WTMR Radio 800 on the AM dial, in order to spread the Word to those who are sick, shut-in or incarcerated. This program runs from 9:00 am to 10:00 am. Cassette tapes, CD’s andDVD’s of all services are available for purchase.
Pastor Jones has led First Nazarene to reach out to the youth of our community by “adopting” and supporting our communities schools, including Camden High School, Woodrow Wilson High School, The Medical Arts High School, The Creative Arts High School, The Riletta T. Cream Family School and Sumner Elementary School. Pastor Jones also believes in supporting our community’s protectors, the Camden City Police and Fire Departments and EMT Services. He has also been named an honorary chaplain to the New Jersey State Police.
As First Nazarene continued to grow under the dynamic and prophetic leadership of Pastor Jones, the need to expand our facilities again became evident to the church and an ambitious building fund project was initiated. A conscious decision was made by the enthusiastic congregation to stay rooted within the community in order to continue to uplift the community of Camden spiritually, as well as materially. In August of 2005 a ground breaking ceremony was held to start construction of a new church building.
Then on February 2007, after much prayer and supplication, The Lord allowed First Nazarene Baptist Church to march from our old home at 1476 South Eighth Street into a beautiful new edifice and sanctuary located a block and a half away at 1500 South Eighth Street.
Giving, missions and community outreach continue to be hallmarks of First Nazarene under the leadership of Rev. J.A. Jones. Believing in the scriptures that says “faith without works is dead” the church initiated the Community Bread Basket Ministry which provides food and grocery items to local families in need, the Prison Ministry for those who are incarcerated, and Community Evangelism ministry to spread the Word of God and hope to those without hope.
As our 100th anniversary becomes visible on the horizon, First Nazarene continues to be a growing, vibrant and spiritually directed community of believers “Where the Word of God Comes Alive”, looking to make a significant and lasting impact in our community and our world through the advancement of the Gospel or Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!