Leadership has always been an integral part of God’s plan. In the Old Testament we see men and women ordained by God to lead His people, Israel, and in the New Testament we see Jesus investing Himself in the Apostles to carry forward the task of building His church. The Apostles in turn invest themselves in growing leaders as can be seen in the relationship of Barnabas and Paul, Paul and Timothy, etc. These leaders would guide the church through its formative stages as new believers were added and discipled.
When the General Council of the Assemblies of God was formed in the first quarter of the twentieth century, regional councils were developed under the General Council umbrella. David McDowell was chosen as the General Presbyter for the Northeast region and was asked to form a District Council east of Ohio and north of the Mason-Dixon Line. A call was extended to Pentecostal believers throughout the Northeast to meet at Glad Tidings Tabernacle in New York City in June 1917 for this purpose. Fifteen spirit-filled ministers met and signed the roster. This meeting became the first District Council of the Eastern District, and from that meeting began an incredible legacy of leadership that would guide our fellowship through a century of effective growth and development.
Reflect with me for a moment how much change has occurred during the past 100 years! These leaders guided a movement through a century of modernization, two world wars (and several other significant military conflicts), a Great Depression, civil unrest and civil rights movements, and a technological expansion that is unrivaled in history. It is in this context that God has sovereignly poured out His Spirit, and entrusted that outpouring to believers and their leaders for the propagation of the Gospel. The Assemblies of God has been a key player in the Pentecostal movement, and the PennDel Ministry Network has contributed significantly to our region and to our national “General Council.” As you look at the photos and brief captions of each of our District Superintendents, you will see the legacy of 10 men who have been leaders and servants to our churches, ministers, and the Assemblies of God fellowship.
“Then Moses spoke to the Lord, saying: ‘Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out be fore them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.’” (Numbers 27:15 – 17; NKJV)
John Coxe (1917) – served as the first District Superintendent for the newly formed “Eastern District.” The District was comprised of Pennsylvania and Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and the New England states. Coxe would serve only one year due in part to evangelistic meetings that he was holding in the mid-west.
Robert Brown (1918-1922) – Pastor of Glad Tidings in New York, was elected as the next “chairman” of the Eastern District. He would continue to pastor during his tenure of leadership, and would assist the fellowship in navigating the Oneness issue, sanctification as a second definite work, and women in ministry.
Joseph Tunmore (1922-1930) – after one year as both pastor and Superintendent, Joseph Tunmore was asked to do this work on a full time basis. Thus, Tunmore became the first full-time superintendent. Tunmore led the way for a basic constitution & bylaws to be adopted (written by J. Roswell Flower, and implemented before the General Council had such an instrument available). District “Home Missions” would begin under Tunmore, with the Great Depression posing challenges to the endeavor. Nevertheless, new churches were opened, and the work of the gospel continued.
J. Roswell Flower (1930-1936) – having exceptional organizational abilities, would lead the District in establishing a campground and Bible school (Maranatha, 1931). Under his leadership, district departments for young people, Sunday School, and foreign missions were established. Additionally, six “zones” (sections) were defined, and Presbyters were appointed to lead in their respective areas. An assistant superintendent was elected to assist Flower in his duties (Flem Van Meter of Highway Tabernacle, Philadelphia). Flower was elected as Assistant General Superintendent at the 14th General Council, and would eventually move to Springfield to fulfill those responsibilities.
Fleming Van Meter (1936-1943) – under Van Meter’s leadership, the District Secretary and Treasurer roles were combined into one full-time position. Despite the hardships of WWII, new churches were opened, and foreign missions giving continued to increase. A parsonage was built to house the District Superintendent.
Wesley Steelberg (1943) – was elected as Superintendent to lead the process of dividing the Eastern District into multiple districts. Pennsylvania-Delaware retained the legal name, and Wesley Steelberg became the Superintendent for the New York-New Jersey District. Steelberg eventually became the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
A. Newton Chase (1944-1959) – saw the creation of a full time Sunday School/Christ’s Ambassador Director. Also during his leadership the Women’s and Men’s Ministry departments were created. A new office building was erected for the District, and parsonages for full-time staff were either built or purchased during this time.
Russell Williams (1959-1978) – wrestled with issues regarding having an accredited Bible college. Northeast Bible Institute became Northeast Bible College, and eventually moved to Phoenixville, presently the University of Valley Forge. Consolidating the camps, initiating a retirement home, and developing a district “building and loan fund” were hot button issues during William’s tenure of ministry. Property was purchased in Shippensburg to host a retirement home and central camp.
Philip Bongiorno (1978-2002) – initiated the “PennDel Loan Fund,” (now HIS Fund) which made financing church construction projects a much easier and friendly proposition. Bongiorno also led the way to consolidate the eastern and western camps into one central well-appointed conference center. A full time “assistant to the Superintendent” was added to the District staff to oversee Home Missions. Additionally, a new District Office was constructed under his leadership.
Stephen R. Tourville (2002-present) – initiated the motto “We’re Better Together,” as exemplified in the “C3” concept. Catalyst, Coaching, and Connect groups were formed, revitalizing fellowship and mutual encouragement for PennDel pastors. Although the term District is still functional, “Network” better describes the interrelationships and resourcing that are shared. Reproduction is another functional value that has driven a church planting movement throughout the Network. For the first time in our history, PennDel has crested the 400 mark, and presently lists 434 churches.