Greater Exodus Baptist Church

History of Our Church

In the Beginning with Pastor Jack Kelly. Greater Exodus Baptist Church was born out of the New Thankful Baptist Church in Philadelphia. During the second half of 1971, the congregation of New Thankful Baptist had a disagreement over leadership. The disagreement led to factions within the church. For some time, Pastor Jack Kelly was not allowed to preach from the pulpit during worship services. Consequently, some members of New Thankful decided to begin having separate prayer meetings at Greater St. Luke Baptist Church at 21st and Oxford Streets. This new location would enable him to preach to those who wanted to hear him. The group later began meeting at the Twilight Center for the Blind at 17th Street and Girard Avenue. During morning worship service on September 26, 1971, the group (92 members) voted to sever the relationship with New Thankful Baptist Church. Reverend Kelly was informed of the decision and was offered the pastorate position by the break away congregation. Reverend Jack Kelly, the husband of Vinetta Moss and the father of Carroll and Jack Kelly, Jr., became their official pastor. Pastor Kelly was born in Florence, South Carolina. In 1954 he received his Juris Doctor degree from Benedict College. He received his Bachelors of Divinity in 1957 from Starks Theological Seminary.

The new congregation needed a place of worship -- and a name. They secured the second floor of Christ Temple Baptist Church as their temporary worship center. Two hundred and two individuals began regular worship at the new worship center. On October 3, 1971, the new church elected Mathew Smith as the church clerk. During a called business meeting on the following Sunday, Greater Exodus Baptist Church – suggested by Mrs. Kelly, was voted upon as the name for the new church. Deacon William Gilmore was elected Chairman of the Deacon Board, and Trustee James Price was appointed by Pastor Kelly to serve as interim Chairman of the Trustee Board. On November 21, 1971 the church was officially organized. On the same date, the Christian Baptist Association, moderated by Reverend James Hamlin, recognized the new church. By this time, the church had grown to 325 members, all of whom were former members of New Thankful Baptist Church. Mrs. Eliza Lewis was the first new comer to join Greater Exodus in 1972.

In 1974 Greater Exodus moved to its present location at 704-714 North Broad Street. This location was dedicated to God during a special dedication ceremony conducted by Reverend Hill Norris, Jr. Over the years, the new location on Broad Street, first seen as a blessing, became a burden to many of the members. Maintenance and upkeep of the building was overwhelming and many of the members left. An illness made it difficult for Pastor Kelly to continue. He resigned from the Pastorate in 1980. For the next two years, the pastoral office of Greater Exodus was vacant.

A New Beginning with Pastor Herbert H. Lusk, II. In 1982 Reverend Herbert H. Lusk, II accepted the call to pastor Greater Exodus Baptist Church and committed to build on the foundation established by Reverend Kelly. Before coming to Greater Exodus, Pastor Lusk played professional football for the Philadelphia Eagles during the 1976, 1977 and 1978 seasons. Being called by the Holy Spirit, Pastor Lusk took early retirement from the Eagles and went to seminary. Even though he was a celebrity professional football player, the Holy Spirit chose Pastor Lusk to work among the poor. When he accepted the pastorate at Greater Exodus, the church had eroded in its finances and its membership. By 1982, Greater Exodus had about seventeen members, infrastructure damage of over $400,000, utility bills of over $32,000, and was on the brink of bankruptcy. The immediate neighborhood of the church was drug and crime infested, and the poverty rate was one of the highest in the country. Many in pastoral circles, including Pastor Lusk's father, thought he should think twice about abandoning stardom and fortune in professional football to accept leadership in such a challenging environment.

Pastor Lusk yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit rather than to the advice of men! and as a result Pastor Lusk led Greater Exodus to spiritual, physical, and membership growth. Between 1982 and 1989, the church recovered from near bankruptcy, paid all its outstanding debts, repaired all its structural damages, and made infrastructure improvements in excess of $1,000,000! By the end of the 1980's, the church had successfully added a number of ministries including the popular Youth Church, which is regularly attended by some 300 young people. This growth and renewal was interrupted in December 1992 when the sanctuary was destroyed by fire. Nonetheless, by the grace of God and with the vision of Pastor Lusk, the sanctuary was restored by May 1993 with added beauty. A mural had been added to the vestibule that depicts African American Baptist history, the fellowship hall was air conditioned, a 4,500 square foot game room was completed and equipped with billiard tables, pinball machines, ping-pong tables, state-of-the-art stereo equipment, computers, a large screen TV and VCR, and modern rest rooms had been created.

In 1990, an even greater vision began to take shape when Pastor Lusk created People for People, Inc. (PFP), a separate community economic development arm of the church. This nonprofit organization was created to bring socio-economic hope and education to church members and to the community at large. Since its inception, PFP has trained thousands of individuals in various skills and placed most of them in moderate income paying jobs throughout the Delaware Valley. PFP collaborates with public and private sectors, corporations, foundations and private partners and various initiatives in order to bring renewed hope to individuals and families in the Philadelphia area. In 1994 PFP created a modern computer lab designed to train unemployed and underemployed individuals in computerized office skills. In 1997 the organization created an apparel-manufacturing factory (Independence Apparel) in concert with Mothers' Work, Inc. and the City of Philadelphia. In September 2001, People for People Charter School opened to more than 300 students. The school is housed in the newly modernized eight-story former Traffic Court Building. PFP acquired the building from the City of Philadelphia and renovated it with an investment of $6.5 million. The People for People main offices and a banquet hall were also moved into the building.

In 2005, the PFP Early Childhood Development Center opened its doors on the first floor and lower level. In 2006, PFP began operations of an EARN Center where TANF recipients can attend to gain job skills training and counseling in finding and retaining sustainable jobs. In 2008 Greater Exodus and People for People opened the HOPE Pregnancy Center. In 2011 Greater Exodus completed payments on a large plot of property adjacent to PFP and the church where, in partnership with Philadelphia's Project HOME and entertainment figure Bon Jovi, construction has begun on an enormous structure which will bring new entrepreneurial life to the otherwise economically depressed area through new stores, restaurants and business offices, as well as transitional housing for those moving from homelessness into jobs and self-sustainability.

Due to the tireless work and leadership of Pastor Lusk, the President of the United States visited Greater Exodus Baptist Church in July 2001 as part of the promotion of the President's faith-based initiatives, and again in 2004 when the President chose People for People as the site where he would announce new funds being released for the battle against HIV/AIDS around the world. The 2000 Republican National Convention featured Pastor Lusk and Greater Exodus Baptist Church. Greater Exodus is blessed and highly visible locally, nationally and internationally because of the spiritual leadership of Pastor Lusk. During his tenure at Greater Exodus, the church has grown from 17 to more than 2,000 members, while thousands of others in need have benefited from the work the Lord is doing through the ministries of Greater Exodus. In addition, because of the tremendous growth that has taken place under Pastor Lusk's leadership, Greater Exodus is currently preparing for expansion of its present sanctuary to accommodate an ever-increasing membership.