Worshippers are excited that the work of rebuilding the Philadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church is underway. The majestic structure, located along the Weymouth Rhymer Highway on St. Thomas, had been a Virgin Island landmark since it was organized in 1973 under Pastor J. C. Shillingford.
When the sanctuary was decimated by Hurricane Irma in 2017, most of its members joined the fellowship at the Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church, which did not suffer significant damage. For eight months a strong relationship was forged between the two congregations and Shiloh grieved their departure when the members of Philadelphia prepared to host services in the lower-level fellowship hall of the ravaged structure. The leaders began to plan for rebuilding.
The First Elder, Gordon Williams, reminisced, “It was a wonderful edifice [dedicated] to God. It represented sacrifice, commitment and dedication of the membership who, at that time, were mainly immigrants but possessed the true spirit of Adventism. When the Category 5 [hurricane] hit, in September of 2017, many of them were devastated and saddened. It took a while getting the downstairs [fellowship hall] ready; we are grateful for those committed members who assisted in the preparation. We do have problems when it rains but we are coping. We are together. As part of their commitment to rebuilding, members are encouraged to make monthly contributions of $50 to the project. We know God is with us; many of them have made substantial contributions as they all rally together for completion, expected by the end of 2020.”
“Work started on the building three weeks ago,” said the leader of the congregation, Pastor Jerry Languedoc. “We are rejoicing today because God has been good. What you are witnessing today is not just my dream come true, but the effort and commitment of each member and I am thankful to God for the leadership who rallied together to commence the building. We are replacing the front which was damaged with solid concrete, rather than blocks. We are also putting a wall at the back of the building. The wall to the front should be about 40 feet at the highest point. Sections of the roof [are] being replaced; electrical fittings and tiles will be replaced as well as [a] new rostrum and church furniture.”
The North Caribbean Conference President, Pastor Desmond James, who previously served on St. Thomas, stated, “The pastor is happy and we are happy too. We are committed to assisting with rebuilding and will do what we can to assist and make it comfortable for the members. This church stood as a monument on the island of St. Thomas. Its destruction brought pain to the entire community. I am convinced that a church in any community is a powerful tool for change. It is a beacon of light where children will find hope, young ladies [will find] good husbands, young men [will find] good wives, but most importantly sinners [will find] the Savior, Jesus Christ. Its rebuilding is bringing hope not only to the members but to an entire community.”
One founding church member, Brother Percival James, expressed confidence that God’s Church will always go forward, “It took us a long time and understandably so but to God be the glory, we are more than happy to see it to completion.”
The Building Committee Chairperson, Brother Robert Quetel, visits the site frequently to assess progress. He is determined to complete the project to the honor of God and shared, “I am happy that we have started and the work is progressing well after the long delay, and optimistic that members will give their whole . . . support, financially, and pray for success.”
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Karis George, a member of the church and teacher at the St. Thomas/St. John Seventh-day Adventist School. “It’s a start over. We are not sure how we will end but we are hopeful and know that something good will work out for us.”
This structure was one of six SDA Church buildings, in the North Caribbean Conference, devastated by hurricanes in 2017. Two were repaired and rededicated for worship; they are the Christiansted SDA Temple on St. Croix and the Ephesus SDA Church on Sint Maarten. Members are anxiously awaiting the rededication of the Philadelphia SDA Church.