The Church and Its Founder
“UPON THIS ROCK. . .”
THE LIFE OF BISHOP SAMEL L. KELSEY LIFE AT THE BEGINNING
Samuel L. Kelsey was the founder of the Kelsey Temple Church of God In Christ. He was born April 27, 1898, in Sandersville, Georgia, to the late Samuel and Ella Swint Kelsey. The sixth of thirteen children, he was named after his father. So many people pronounced his name with emphasis on the phonetic sound of the last syllable (“Samuel”), that he eventually started using “L” as a middle initial. A very poor family, the Kelsey family lived on a small rented farm with very little, outside of one buggy and a mule. Eventually they acquired three mules. A mule enabled them to make frequent trips to the Baptist church in their neighborhood. “I was a country boy. I would just go to town when it was necessary,” said Samuel Kelsey. LIFE AS A YOUTH The Lord took control of Elder Kelsey’s life at a very early age. In 1915, he heard his first message regarding holiness preached by Reverend William Howard, a Baptist preacher, in Macon, Georgia. “The services were held in an old school house,” recalled Samuel Kelsey, “but the colored folks were so full of devilment, they burned it down.” After that happened, one of the more successful Black farmers, by the name of Robert Hooks, who had recently been saved, let Reverend Howard use his small double-room house for service. It was called the Pentecostal Firstborn Church, and was located about 5 miles from the Kelsey home. “The little place would be so over-crowded that folks couldn’t get in. I god saved on May 1, 1915, in that house. It was shortly after my mother did. I spoke in tongue on the same night. I went to the altar and got it all at one time. I completely surrendered and stayed there until the power of God knocked me out, lifted me and filled me,” he recalls.LIFE IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
There was a small Church of God In Christ (COGIC) located within the city. While it was pastured by Elder Durbin, he was not considered committed to the church because he wavered on several issues regarding the Church of God In Christ doctrine. In response, two women, Mother Rebecca Allen and Mother Crudup, had begun prayer meetings in their homes. They had urged overseer Thompson to conduct a tent revival in an effort to begin a solid Church of God In Christ work in this city. At the prayerful urging of Overseer Thompson, Elder Kelsey conducted his first revival in a ragged tent in Southwest Washington, D.C. Gasoline lanterns were used for the light and, at night, he and Overseer Thompson slept underneath the tent on army cots. When Overseer Thompson returned to Philadelphia, he left Elder Kelsey to continue the work of the Lord. “The tent was crowded and there were plenty of folk. Some were mad, but they didn’t start no ruckus” he remembered. On July 23, 1923, Elder Kelsey officially relocated to Washington, D.C., to fulfill the role which God had destined. He faced many difficulties in presenting Pentecostalism to the metropolitan area. However, today the District of Columbia honors him as the “Father of Pentecostalism.” He recalled of his sermon, “As a young evangelist, I preached that Sunday, July 4, 1923, on Hebrews 12:14 “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Several persons who were members of the Temple Church of God In Christ were also present at these tent services. Mother Elizabeth Hampton attended the first tent revival. Although she was a Baptist, she worked under the tent cooking and selling food. She says “He had on one of those old fancy tail coats and a guitar. He couldn’t play it very well, but he would do something and we all stood back and laughed. He always was a lively preacher and good singer. He used to sing “The Storm is Passing Over,” and “Little Boy, How Old Are You.” ORGANIZING THE CHURCH Towards the end of September 1923, the tent was closed and a small storefront at 331 C Street, S.W. became the home of the new converts. In October 1923, a great baptizing was held in the Potomac River near 7th and O Street, S.W. The church was organized with 20 members by Overseer Thompson in November 1923 with Elder Kelsey appointed Pastor. There was much excitement during the first year in the storefront. In 1924, they moved into another storefront which was located at 404-4 1/2 Street, S. W. A year later, in 1925, another move was made to a storefront at 2030 Georgia Avenue, N.W. The church flourished in 1925. Membership grew to approximately 35 members. As a result of Elder Kelsey’s ministry, other Pentecostal churches had begun to organize in the city. Four COGIC churches were established in Baltimore. FIRST EDIFICE PURCHASED During the summer of 1926 permission was again granted to hold tent services. Elder Kelsey recalled, “I went to New York and bought the tent out of my own pocket.” For 17 years until 1943, he ran tent services every summer. The summer months were spent in the tent and the winter months were spent in the storefront. The tent was usually pitched at Delaware and K Streets, S. W. Eventually, a larger tent was purchased (also out of his personal funds). Elder Kelsey purchased his first church which was located at 463 K Street, S.W. They bought it for $8,000 from a friend, Mr. Preston Dudley. By then they were growing by leaps and bounds. The church would hold 200 people; they would be standing around the walls. Several important events transpired during the years from 1936 to 1944 while on K Street. After worshipping in this church for eight years, it was sold in 1944 for $12,000. Elder Kelsey was appointed Superintendent while serving there. In 1940, he was appointed Overseer, with Washington and Delaware under his jurisdiction. At that time, there was only one church in Delaware located in Wilmington, with Elder C. W. Franklin serving as the pastor. There was one other church in Washington, Kirkland Memorial Church of God In Christ. As Elder Kelsey explained, “Before they let me be Overseer, there were others appointed over the District of Columbia. They thought I was too young to be Overseer. Our first Overseer was Elder Herron from Texas, and then Elder Range from Pennsylvania. Bishop Mason served as Overseer for one year. And then Elder O. T. Jones, Sr. was given his charge.” Not until 1950 did the Church of God In Christ recognize those serving in the office of Overseer by the title Bishop. THE CHURCH GETS ITS NAME On March 14, 1933, the Church was incorporated in the District of Columbia and given the name of “The First Church of God In Christ.” On March 14, 1967, the name was changed from the First Church of God In Christ to the Temple Church of God In Christ. On February 24, 1997, the Church name was changed from the Temple Church of God In Christ to the Kelsey Temple of God In Christ in honor of Bishop Kelsey who went home to be with the Lord on January 8, 1993. RADIO BROADCAST Overseer Kelsey began the church’s first radio broadcast over Radio Station WWDC in 1941. Bertha, his daughter, played the piano while the Senior Choir and Radio Gospel Chorus sang. Soon after, the broadcast was moved to Radio Station WOOK. Overseer Kelsey’s radio broadcast continued weekly for more than forty years. The last several church broadcasts were aired over Radio Station WYCB. Shortly after the radio broadcast started, he received his first invitation to preach at a Baptist church. Thereafter he received invitations to preach at many other churches. Yet, they had an ulterior motive. Such invitations weren’t extended because they accepted Pentecostal preaching, but because it had become well known that Overseer Kelsey would raise more money in a single service than any other minister in the city. “And I could raise more money,” he admitted. “One preacher asked me if I had kind of a special gifted hand, like Simeon, they wanted to know where did you get that gift? I told him the Lord gave me that. I didn’t have nothing but the Holy Ghost.” A NEW CHURCH There came a change in the 1940’s as a result of World War II.” Overseer Kelsey recalls, “My son, Leon, was in camp and people were coming to Washington to work for the government. That made things a little better for us.” In 1944, he purchased a new church building at 6th and H Streets, S.W. for $58,000. Finally, in June 1945, the court ordered the property at 6th and H Streets into the possession of the church. His popularity began to grow rapidly throughout the city. OVERSEER KELSEY BECOMES BISHOP In 1950, Overseer Kelsey became Bishop Kelsey. By this time, there were two COGIC churches in Delaware and three in the District of Columbia – Temple Church of God In Christ, Kirkland Memorial Church of God In Christ, and Refreshing Spring Church of God In Christ. Bishop Mason decided to divide the two areas into separate jurisdictions. He said, “I had enough churches in Washington to keep me busy.” Eventually, there would be more than 20 churches in the D.C. Jurisdiction which were all started by my “sons.” Five of these pastors were saved under his ministry and three of them became District Superintendents: Superintendent Warren G. Crudup, Sr., pastoring St. Paul Temple Church of God In Christ; Superintendent Sherman S. Howard, pastoring New Bethel Church of God In Christ; Superintendent Harvey Lewis, Sr., pastoring Star of Bethlehem Church of God In Christ; Elder Willis, pasturing Friendship Church of God In Christ; Elder Smith pasturing Emmanuel Church of God In Christ. The Lord blessed the first to move on to greater responsibility as Bishop Warren G. Crudup, jurisdictional prelate; while calling two others home, the late Elder Jessie Willis and the late Elder Emil Smith. A HOUSE FOR THE LORD – AT HOME AND ABROAD That same year, Bishop Kelsey took his first trip overseas to London, England and Paris, France. “I didn’t do any preaching on that trip because I called myself taking a vacation. I stayed about ten days in France. The man who was supposed to meet me in Paris missed me. I couldn’t understand the people‘s language, so there was nothing to do but go on to the hotel and write a letter to his address telling him where I was.” However, they did make contact a day later. During the 1950’s there was a need for a larger sanctuary because the crowds had become too large for the building in Southwest. In addition, that area of the city became the target for one of the largest urban renewal programs in the nation. By April 1954, more than 500 acres of land in Southwest Washington had begun to be cleared; the land on which the church was erected was targeted for clearance. In 1957, the city purchased the property for $160,000. Bishop Kelsey started a search for another church building. Another one was found at 1435 Park Road, N. W., - a massive structure that seats more than a thousand. After several negotiations, the new edifice was purchased for $275,000. The dedicatorial service was held on January 12, 1958, with a motorcade from Southwest to the new Park Road edifice. More than 700 people attended the morning service. During that same year, Bishop Kelsey was invited to preach at the Church of God In Christ International Holy Convocation in Memphis, Tennessee. When he told the more than 10,000 delegates that he had paid more than a quarter million dollars for a church building, the people started rejoicing. It was the first time any local congregation in the denomination had paid such a large amount for a building. “People stretched their eyes and looked,” recalled Bishop Kelsey. “Even O. T. Jones” said to me, “Kelsey have you lost your mind?” The answer proved to be “no”; for in 1961 Elder Jones selected this church as the site for the International Youth Congress. By 1965, many requests had come from Frankfurt, Germany, for Bishop Kelsey to come overseas again. “My records were all over there, they had “Little Boy,” “ Shine for Jesus,” “I’m a Soldier,” and “Tell Me How Long The Train Has Been Gone.” In 1965 and 1966, Bishop Kelsey led crusades in halls and tents in England, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. He took with him Elder John I. Little and five members of the Temple Church of God In Christ. Many souls were saved and healed during the crusade. Bishop Kelsey was blessed with many great accomplishments in bringing the Church of God In Christ to this area of the country. At present there are 31 churches divided into the five districts under the jurisdiction he led.