Tindley Temple United Methodist Church: “Big in Membership and Love”
750 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19146
At 750 South Broad Street stands Tindley Temple United Methodist Church. The congregation went through a myriad of names before taking its current name in 1927 to honor their well-known pastor, Charles Albert Tindley. Members who had belonged to the Mother Zoar Methodist Church, founded in 1794, broke off and became the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church in 1837. Later, the name was changed to the Bainbridge Street Methodist Church. Although the church began long before Tindley preached there, his impact was unforgettable. The story of Tindley Temple cannot be told without first knowing the history of its most charismatic pastor.
Charles Albert Tindley was born in 1851 in Berlin, Maryland. His mother was a free woman of color, and his father was a slave. He grew up in a slave community, and taught himself how to read and write by collecting small bits of newspapers. At the age of 17, he traveled to Philadelphia, where he found work as a brick carrier and as a janitor at the Bainbridge Street Methodist Church. While working, he took correspondence courses at various colleges, having great respect for education. In 1885, he was admitted to the Delaware Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and was named the presiding elder in 1896. In 1902, Tindley returned to the Bainbridge Street Methodist Church to serve as a pastor. In 1905, the church purchased a new location on South Broad Street, and changed its name to the Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church. Due to another church already having this name, they changed it again in 1914 to the East Calvary Methodist Church.
As a result of Charles Tindley’s captivating sermons, the congregation grew dramatically. By the 1920s, church membership had grown from 130 to roughly 10,000 people. It was one of the largest Methodist congregations in the United States. To accommodate the influx of new members, Tindley commissioned a new church building in 1923. The structure was designed by Ballinger & Company and featured Beaux Arts Romanesque and Art Deco styles. In 1927, the congregation changed its name one final time to Tindley Temple Methodist Church. By this time, the congregation was a reported 12,500 members. The auditorium had 3,200 seats, and they held three Sunday services. Tindley also commissioned a 6,000 pipe organ resembling the one in the John Wanamaker building.
While Charles Tindley was an influential pastor, he was also an accomplished hymn composer. He wrote over 50 hymns, including “What are They Doing in Heaven” (1901), “The Storm is Passing Over” (1905), and “Stand by Me” (1905). He is heralded as one of the fathers of African American Gospel music and helped pave the way for the later popularity of the genre. The lyrics to his song, “I’ll Overcome Someday” (1901), inspired the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome (Some Day).” His hymns not only impacted his congregation, but were sung all over the country.
Since its beginnings, the church has served its community as a place of not only worship, but as a home. In the early 1900s, Tindley Temple offered temporary shelter for African Americans migrating from the Southern States. Not only did Tindley Temple and Charles Tindley serve the congregation, but they also served the Philadelphia community. During the Great Depression, the church opened a soup kitchen to serve the hungry. Also, Charles Tindley petitioned John Wanamaker to hire African American employees in his store.
In 1933, Charles Tindley died of gangrene from a foot injury. The loss was devastating for the congregation. Lillian Smith, the 13th reverend since Charles Tindley, said that an average of 83 people regularly attend services in 2018. The church is looking to increase membership by reaching out to its local community. Recently, it held a winter coat drive for the community, and it continues running its soup kitchen. The church is also looking to utilize the large 3,200 seat auditorium as a music venue. No matter how the congregation decides to use its space, Tindley Temple and Charles Tindley no doubt played an integral role in Philadelphia history.