It was in the year 1898 that a small group of spiritually-minded men and women in West Philadelphia started holding prayer meetings in their homes. This small band, called the St. Paul Mission, grew and from its inception until 1909, was ministered to by a number of clergy.
In 1907 the "Mission" moved to The Old Blacksmith Shop in the 600 block of North Forty-sixth Street. Here, while the Reverend Smith conducted worship services inside, the shuffling of horses outside could be heard. Sometime during this period, 1907-1909, the "Mission's" name was changed to the White Rock Baptist Church and a new location at 707-709 North Forty-sixth Street was purchased.
In 1909 the Reverend Robert William Goff, a graduate of Lynchburg Theological Seminary was called to the pastorate of White Rock. Accompanied by his wife, Annie B., and his son. Eugene, The Reverend Goff assumed the leadership of the congregation and it immediately took on a new life.
Rev. Robert W. Goff. D.D.
Excellent preaching prevailed and White Rock became known as the spiritual powerhouse of West Philadelphia.
On December 14,1931, after several months of failing health, the White Rock Church family was deeply saddened by the death of its beloved pastor, Robert W. Goff.
The Reverend John Henderson officiated as supply minister until 1934 when White Rock chose as its pastor, Reverend Willie Carthur Williamson of Durham, North Carolina. Reverend Williamson came to White Rock with his wife, Carrie, and began his pastorate in November, 1934.
Reverend and Mrs. Willie C. Williamson
Reverend Williamson was a conscientious, dedicated leader, who was distinguished by his ability to set goals, and then see them through to successful achievement.
Blessed by God, the membership outgrew its building. Reverend Williamson recommended the purchase of a building at Fifty-second and Arch Streets. On March 20,1938, the membership joyfully marched into its new Church home.
The joy and growth of the 1940's continued into the mid 1950's until tragedy struck. On April 1,1955, the Church building was gutted by fire. The structure was a total loss.
Pastor and people valiantly sought to respond to this seeming disaster. Worship services were held on the afternoon of April 3,1955 at the Vine Memorial Baptist Church. Pastor Williamson called upon Reverend William J. Shaw, a Church member and first-year student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, to lift the hearts of the congregation by bringing the sermon. The first task facing the Church was to secure a place for worship. On April 12,1955, the pastor and officers agreed to hold services in the Fans Theatre, a cinema house located at Fortieth and Market Streets. On the third Sunday, April 17, the motion picture theater became the Church's first temporary home. All activities had to be concluded and the building vacated by 12:30 p.m. Rent was free. The two costs were a $5 weekly janitorial services fee and an unrecorded amount for the rental of a piano.
In January, 1956, Rev. Williamson died. Following his demise, the congregation asked Reverend Shaw to serve as Acting Pastor while a Pulpit Committee sought a suitable person to recommend as Pastor.
On June 26, 1956, after prayerful deliberation, it was recommended to the Church that a call be extended to the Reverend William J. Shaw to serve as pastor.
Reverend William J. Shaw
Reverend Shaw officially became pastor of the Church. His first sermon delivered as pastor was from I Kings 3:5-14. The sermon subject was "Lord. For a Hearing Heart." This sermon was delivered on the first Sunday in August, 1956.
In 1957, a beautiful young lady was presented to the congregation as the intended bride of the pastor. On the afternoon of July 14, Miss Camellia Lottie McCullough and William J. Shaw were united in the sacred bonds of marriage. Officiating were the Reverends M.C. Williams of Denver, Colorado and the Reverend L.G. Carr, pastor of the Vine Memorial Church. After a two-week honeymoon. the couple settled in a well-appointed parsonage at 6222 Carpenter Street.
On the Third Sunday in July, 1958, after more than three years of "wandering," White Rock Church entered into its "new" home, the former Saint Matthews Methodist Church located at Fifty-third and Chestnut Streets, amidst much rejoicing. A relocation cornerstone was laid in October, 1958.
Time and space fail us in our efforts to tell all of "Our Story." Suffice it to say the growth has been constant across the years. We persevere in our efforts both symbolically and substantively to lift the name of Christ and to live in real recognition of His Lordship. Each year we dramatize this determination by the public, continuous reading of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation from the pulpit of the Church.