Second Mennonite Church: A soul-saving station where people begin in Christ
As one of a handful of Black Mennonite churches in Philadelphia, Second Mennonite Church is a novelty just because of its denomination. Even so, they keep it simple to accomplish their mission, using love, acceptance and God’s Word as the formula to fulfill the intricate Christian business of salvation.
“We’ve been a church that has been a place where people begin in Christ,” said Senior Pastor Darryl Wallace. “A number of people have come off the street and the Lord has helped them get their lives together and many of them have come through and gone on to other congregations throughout the city and beyond. We’ve truly been a soul-saving station.”
Wallace added that the Mennonite denomination does not believe in war and has historically been “a peace church with conscientious objectives.” Second Mennonite was founded more than 100 years ago with a congregation of mostly white Germans. But as the Fairhill community changed, Second Mennonite transitioned, by the 1970s, into a Black church with the installation of its first Black pastor — the late Carlton Minnis.
“In 1971, the neighborhood was changing and many of the Mennonite churches were moving out of the city,” said Deaconess Hattie Minnis, widow of Carlton Minnis. “Second Mennonite didn’t want to move out the city, so they decided to get an African-American pastor. We had a few African-American members but the leaders were white.”
Minnis continued that Minnis brought in some changes with his leadership that the “Mennonite church was not used to,” including “family prayer call [and] testimony time on Communion Sundays.”
As time passed, Fairhill changes continued to impact the church. As some of Second Mennonite’s families moved away, the membership declined.
Now, on any given Sunday, upward of 40 to 50 people may attend service. Even so, Second Mennonite is very much alive and fruitful. Wallace preaches a clear Word based out the Bible with spurts of high energy and personality — a delivery described by member Jorge Gonzalez as “fresh and anew.” The praise and worship team, which includes Wallace and his wife, provides the music, singing traditional gospel. The altar call prayer is led by two members — a man to pray for male members and men in the community; and a woman to pray for the women in the church and in the community.
“Even though we are not a real big church, the Lord has done awesome things and you can feel the Spirit that overflows,” said Arthur Berry, a member since 1975. “I feel blessed I’ve been allowed to be a part of this church. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Berry added that Second Mennonite has been an important support in his life, especially during and following a 27-year stint in prison.
“I grew up in this church. [But] as I got older, I went into doing my own thing. I became involved with drugs and stuff,” said Berry. “I was incarcerated from 1989 to 2016. [Second Mennonite] never left me. They stuck behind me. Ms. Darlene Mumbauer — she’s been an integral part of my life. It was through her love that allowed me to come back home. I was received with open arms. The church was very supportive of me.”
Berry said that Second Mennonite has also welcomed him into contributing to the service, showing him a spirit of inclusiveness despite his past.
“I’m incorporated into the services. I lead men’s prayer. [And] under Pastor Wallace’s tutelage, I pray one day I’m in the pulpit preaching.”
Nichole Holmes, 27, a member for 17 years, also spoke of Second Mennonite as a rock that’s helped her grow her spirituality.
“It’s like a family tree — rooted in the Word of God and the branches are the people who open their arms and teach. I feel spiritual growth and definitely family love,” she said. “Each message pastor brings, or a conversation with the elders, helps solidify and encourage my faith in God. I know God can do everything but it’s that flesh thing. Being here has helped me realize my weakness [and] to pray through it no matter how frustrated I get.”
Second Mennonite enhances their soul-saving culture with different ministries in addition to the regular service. The women’s fellowship, led by Deaconess Brenda Holmes for the past 10 years, hosts teas, luncheons and community walks for fellowship; and prayer support, visitations and meal preparations as part of their outreach. This ministry also helps students through college with a scholarship fund.
The church also ministers to the nearby Crossroads Community Center with clothing and food donations and connects with at-risk youth through Sister Darlene Mumbauer, a Second Mennonite member and a community activist. Wallace serves as chaplain for the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. And the children’s church and the vacation Bible school, which is held outside, are open to community youth.
First Lady Barbara Wallace shared that the church’s most recent ministry is the Forever Beautiful Charm Class — a Christian mentoring program for girls ages 12-18 that covers subject areas of inner and outer beauty and is an effort to “help young girls to see themselves from God’s perspective and to blossom into the beautiful women that God created them to be.” She added that Second Mennonite plans to increase community outreach as they identify “areas we can specifically deal with.”
Pastor Wallace said such growth, in addition to its usual methods, are a part of Second Mennonite’s vision.
“The mindset is ministry to the whole person. The whole idea is sharing with them about Christ Jesus but likewise demonstrating love for the person themselves,” he said. “That’s the way to get the greatest spiritual growth in the person’s heart.”