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Tindley Temple: A Highlight of Methodist History

The history of The United ;Methodist Church oftentimes overlaps the history of the United States. One church in Philadelphia is on the national historic register because of its architecture. But Tindley Temple was really made famous because of the dynamic pastor who drew huge crowds in the ‘20s and composed the lyrics of a very familiar song.

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Script:

(Video clip from the National Archives and Records Administration)

(Crowd sings) “We shall overcome.”

Methodist preacher Charles Albert Tindley is credited with writing lyrics in 1901 that are now part of one of the most famous songs in American history.

The Rev. Robert L. Johnson, Tindley Temple United Methodist Church: “Blacks and whites and Jews and Catholics all stood across this country in the ‘60s singing ‘We Shall Overcome,’ not even understanding that the universal language they were singing came from a man who built a church right here on Broad Street in Philadelphia. Wow! Now, you want to talk about being proud to be Methodist, that’s a reason to be proud to be Methodist.”

The Rev. Robert Johnson is the pastor of Philadelphia’s Tindley Temple United Methodist Church, named after the figure known as one of the founding fathers of gospel music.

(Rev. Johnson praying) “Let us be grateful for the gift of music you have given us.”

(Choir singing) “… Emmanuel.”

The Rev. Robert L. Johnson: “The most exciting thing about being a congregation member here at Tindley is that you’re actually connected to a piece of history--living, breathing history that still is alive today. The organ. The ‘Messiah.’ The whole mystique about the building. You’re coming to a place that we built as African Americans. In the balcony, a dollar was given by every single member to purchase a chair. There’s members here who still remember their mothers and fathers putting up a dollar to purchase one of the chairs in the balcony.”

Charles Tindley was self-educated and known for his powerful preaching. His congregation became one of the largest Methodist churches in the United States in the 1920s, with nearly 10,000 members. In 1927, the church took the name Tindley Temple.

The Rev Robert Johnson: “You’ll see a congregation who, through the struggles and the adversities, exemplified the best of United Methodist culture and did the best that they could with what they had. It’s place that if you want to have a connection to what United Methodism really is in an African-American context, you’ve gotta come to Tindley.”

Reba Smith Poole is a lifelong member who is proud of the many generations of preachers, doctors, and leaders from Tindley Temple.

Reba Smith Poole, Tindley Temple United Methodist Church: “We are known for three things—good music, good preaching and good food. We have some of the best preachers you ever want to hear.”

(Rev. Johnson in the pulpit) “Whatever you do, enjoy yourself.”

The Rev. Robert Johnson: “We lose so much of our history and so much of who we are. And our generations to come need to understand that this belongs to you. I heard a kid sing the other day, ‘By and By.’ He had no idea that ‘By and By’ was a Tindley hymn. When I told the young man, and I brought him in here, the first thing he said was, ‘Wow. I walk by it every day and I never knew it was here.’ And people who don’t understand the history really can’t respect it. But when you understand it, you respect it and you hold it a little bit closer to your heart.”

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Tindley Temple has served its community in many ways over the years, including offering a school and providing meals to those in need.

Pastor Robert Johnson grew up attending Tindley and is one of the 50 pastors who were nurtured by the congregation. 

A movie is in the works about the musical legacy of Charles Tindley also. 

For more information about this historic church, contact Tindley Temple United Methodist Church at 215-735-0442.  And watch a video about the congregation that "birthed" Tindley, Mother African Zoar United Methodist Church. 

“I’ll Understand it Better By and By” ℗ 2015 Abingdon Press.  All rights reserved. Used by Permission. From the Africana Hymnal

This story was originally posted January 29, 2015.

Media contact is Fran Walsh, at 615-742-5458.