History of Manna Bible Institute
Founded 1944 – Now in its 73rd Year of Service
(70th Anniversary Presentation, Dr. Robert J. Figge)
The challenge of biblical education is to communicate the Bible creatively and relevantly in every generation, and for seven decades, Manna Bible Institute has accepted that challenge.
It’s an unfinished task, and always one with limitless possibilities ahead. It’s a challenge that takes seriously the tremendous value of God’s Word: That the inspired Scriptures are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
In the first century the Lord opened a door of opportunity in the ancient city of Philadelphia for the proclamation of the Gospel.
In 1943, in this city of Philadelphia, the Lord provided an open door for many people to receive the education they were looking for in the timeless truth of God’s Word.
What became Manna Bible Institute began with a group of Christian young people who met together to study the Bible at the YWCA building at 16th and Catharine in the fall of 1943.
Desiring to engage in formal Bible study to enhance their Christian service, the group obtained the services of Bible teacher and author, Dr. E. Schuyler English, to instruct them one evening a week.
That year of Bible study was so successful that it led to a request by several students to begin a Bible school with a structured curriculum and graded instruction. Classes would continue to meet at the “Y” with Dr. English and other instructors that would join him in teaching the courses.
Christian leaders and laymen who endorsed the idea met together from March to June, 1944 to pray for and plan the organization of a permanent school. These twenty-four men and women became the founders of what would be called Manna Bible School for the next five years.
“Manna” was chosen from among several names suggested for the new school. The word celebrates God’s gracious provision of food for the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
In the following year, the students and teachers adopted Jeremiah 15:16 as the school verse to celebrate the manna from heaven that sustains spiritual life:
Manna Bible School held its first class on September 19, 1944 with thirty-one students and six teachers.
Two of the founders were chosen to lead the school: Dr. English as president and Dr. Philip Austin as dean.
But in the school’s second year, a number of problems occurred that put in doubt the feasibility of continuing.
Dr. English resigned at the end of the first year to complete the notes of the Pilgrim Bible and Dr. Austin left to begin a pastoral ministry in Reading.
Also during that summer of 1945, a problem developed regarding location. The YWCA couldn’t accommodate the school’s plan of having classes twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
But the Lord provided.
Dr. James Palmer, one of the original teachers, became academic dean and Mr. A. J. Stewart, President of Sunday Breakfast Association, was elected as the school’s president.
The Lord provided in regard to location also. Mr. Stewart obtained the use of the Galilee Mission at 8th & Vine for classes on both evenings, so Manna was able to open in September, 1945, though with only twelve students enrolled in that second year.
At the time, Manna intended to be a two-year program, but the students’ desire to study more of the Scriptures led to their request for more subjects to be added. Everyone agreed that the school should be expanded to a four-year program.
Miss Emily Smith, an editor of the Sunday School Times and experienced in curriculum design was added to the faculty.
Under her supervision, the curriculum was changed to a four-year course of study comparable to the evening Bible School program in many Bible institutes.
Having moved at the end of its 1st school year from the YWCA to the Galilee Mission, the school once again moved its location for the 1946-47 school year to 19th & Susquehanna, but with a majority of teachers and students living in West Philadelphia or the western suburbs, it was decided to locate the school somewhere in West Philadelphia.
A rented house at 1041 Belmont Avenue was obtained and became Manna’s home for the next four years beginning in September, 1947.
On November 1, 1948, in its fifth year, the school was incorporated with a change in the name to Manna Bible Institute. The school’s purpose was defined in its articles of incorporation:
“The objects and purposes are to teach and equip students, by means of the study of the Bible and related subjects, to proclaim the Gospel and instruct others in the Word of God, and to be prepared as missionaries, pastors, and the like.”
The school’s task has always been identified as an inner city ministry. Its mission is to provide a well-rounded biblical education “to all who have a desire to learn.” In 1985, the school restated its responsibility to the inner city:
“The Institute was formed to teach the Bible in an environment in which people from the inner-city and other neglected areas would feel welcome and comfortable regardless of their financial or social background.”
Students and graduates have affirmed over and over again, by their words and by the quality of their service for Christ, that Manna provided an educational experience that contributed to their confidence, Christian maturity, and spiritual development.
On June 10, 1948, Manna held its first Commencement exercises at New Bethlehem Baptist Church in West Philadelphia.
The faithful graduates of the Class of 1948 had studied in four different locations in order to complete their education and graduate.
Enrollment increased to 64 students in September, 1948 and to 85 students two years later. For the first eight years of Manna’s existence classes were held in rented facilities. But in 1951, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Moore, a Christian couple who were members of the Board of Directors, donated their home at 611 N. 53rd Street.
Manna conducted classes in its own building for the first time beginning in March 1952.
When Mr. Stewart in 1952 resigned as President, Dr. James Palmer took over his duties, acting as President and Dean for the next six years.
Under his direction, membership was granted in the Evangelical Teacher Training Association, and Manna established itself as a Christian institution deeply identified with evangelical ministries in and around Philadelphia.
With an enrollment in 1958 of 90 students, a larger facility at 866 N. 41st Street was purchased, only nine blocks from the 53rd St. home that served the school for eight years.
In June, 1958, Rev. R. Clyde Smith, a faculty member, was appointed as Dean and Mr. Vaughn Smith became Manna’s 4th President.
During their administration, and with the expanded facility at 41st Street, Manna continued to grow in student enrollment and extended its influence in the Christian community.
In the 1960 student handbook, the school’s purpose was expressed in these words:
“Manna Bible Institute was founded for the many people in the great city of Philadelphia who had a deep longing for Bible education, but who had not known of an institution that could provide it for them.”
In 1962, President Smith said this about the school’s mission: “This is still the basic objective of Manna Bible Institute – to provide a well-rounded, Bible-based course of study for many people who haven’t been able to obtain it elsewhere.”
“There are hundreds of individuals,” he said, unable to get into Bible schools because of incomplete academic training, who have a deep longing for a more effective service for the Lord, and who want to be trained to become choice servants in His vineyard. This is the chief objective of our school – to provide that training.”
Edgar Holmes, Class of 1962, wrote this about the school in the class yearbook:
“To find a door that is opened to the things of the Lord, where there are no financial barriers, racial bigotry, denominationalism, or educational qualifications to hinder your admittance, is almost asking too much. Such are the conditions at Manna Bible Institute. All that is needed is a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. The manifestation of its Godly character is evidenced through those who support, administer, teach, and pray for its continuance.”
When Vaughn Smith retired in 1964, Rev. William Banks became Manna’s fifth President, serving for two years in that office.
After serving for nine years as Dean, Rev. R. Clyde Smith died suddenly in May, 1967. Dr. Banks became Dean at that time and served until December, 1969 when he left Manna to serve on the faculty of Moody Bible Institute.
In June, 1967, Rev. Harvey P. Davis was elected as the 6th President of the school, serving for twelve years in that capacity.
Rev. David Haas succeeded Dr. Banks as Academic Dean beginning in January 1970 and served in that position for the next eight years.
After thirteen years of steady growth throughout the 1960’s and early 70’s at the school’s 41st Street home, it was evident that a larger building was needed to accommodate the student body which numbered nearly 200. The student body had grown to such an extent that it took five photographs in the 1970 yearbook to include all of the freshmen students that had entered Manna in September 1969.
Many months of praying and seeking the Lord’s guidance resulted in the purchase of an old school building at 2637 North Fourth Street near Lehigh Avenue.
This new facility enabled the Institute to provide effective Christian education for an enrollment that continued to grow within the next three years to approximately 250 students and over 35 volunteer teachers.
From 1944 to 1973, Manna conducted only an evening school program, but the board and administration saw the need for a four-year post-high school program for inner-city students to train for Christian ministries. The decision was made to start a Day School program beginning in September 1973.
In January of that year the Board extended a call to Dr. Gerald Stover to become the Day School’s first dean.
Manna’s Day School offered majors in Pastoral Studies, Christian Education, and Missions. In 1978, after a two-year self-study, the American Association of Bible Colleges granted Manna’s application for Applicant Status in the Association.
With the new Day School and with an enrollment in the Evening School of 275 students in September, 1974, Manna purchased a campus of five buildings at 700 E. Church Lane in the historic Germantown section of the city, Manna’s home from 1974 to 1996.
In September 1978, Manna began its first extension campus in Mount Holly, New Jersey. The Mt. Holly campus celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2013.
Two Academic Deans served during the 18 years the Day School was in operation: Dr. Stover from 1973 to 1977, and Dr. Paul Pathickal from 1977 to 1991.
During that time, Manna appointed Directors that administered the Evening School division. With the opening of the Day School, Rev. David Haas became Dean of the Evening School.
Directors from that point on were Patrick Donlevy, Leonard Thompson, Robert Figge,
and Mrs. Cleonia Jackson.
Prior to becoming Director of Evening School, Mrs. Jackson served as the Evening School’s Assistant Director and Registrar during the years that Manna conducted both day and evening programs.
When the Day School was discontinued, Mrs. Jackson became Director of Education for two years and then was appointed Academic Dean in 1993. Married now to Pastor Lawrence Walker and having received her doctorate, she is now Dr. Cleonia Walker, Manna’s present Dean. She has served in that role for twenty-five years, the longest tenure as Dean in the school’s history.
After 12-1/2 years of service as Manna’s 6th President, Dr. Harvey Davis resigned in 1980.
As he left the school, he reminded faculty and students of the product of Manna’s education: the school’s graduates who serve in churches, Christian ministries, and missions.
“If we evaluate the success of Manna Bible Institute,” he said, “we must do it on the work of its graduates. The fact that Manna teaches the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, that we examine the doctrinal position of each instructor, and that all that is done by the Board, faculty and staff is bathed in prayer would be to no avail if those who complete the course of study do not go out to serve.”
On Dr. Davis’ resignation, Board chairman, Dr. Leonard Mollenkof, was elected as Manna’s 7th President, serving until 1986.
Following his departure, Dr. Raymond Thomas was installed as Manna’s 8th President in 1988, serving in that role until 1991 when he resigned due to his pastoral responsibilities.
In September, 1989, Manna opened a second extension campus in Chester, Pennsylvania, extending Manna’s urban ministry into Delaware County to join with Manna’s first extension campus in Mt. Holly, NJ. Meeting at Community Baptist Church, the Chester campus has been in operation for 28 years.
A critical lack of funds led to the Board’s decision to close the Day School program at the end of the 1990-91 school year after 18 years of operation.
Though the school regretfully had to close the Day School, Manna advanced with the opening of two new extension campuses in September, 1993.
Manna’s Glassboro, New Jersey campus meets at Mount Olive Christian Community Church, pastored by Manna’s alumnus, Rev. Ron Tucker. Rev. Oscar Moore is director of the Glassboro campus.
Manna’s Atco campus also opened in September, 1993. The campus is located at Greater Calvary Baptist Church.
Dr. Rudolph Johnson is Director of the campus, Vice Chairman of Manna’s Board of Directors, and chairman of the Education and Library Committee.
Dr. Robert Shine became Chairman of the Board in 1995 and the following year Rev. Arvelle Jones became Manna’s 9th President. Both men have taken the school through the most difficult years of its existence, and largely by their guidance and encouragement, Manna has weathered very serious difficulties so that today we can celebrate 70 years of continuous Bible education.
The 1996-97 school year began at 700 E. Church Lane, but as colder weather arrived, the old heating system would not work and the cost of needed repairs was beyond the financial ability of the school.
Triumph Baptist Church graciously opened their education building so that classes could continue during that semester. For the second semester, during a very cold winter, the school met at Berachah Baptist Church, pastored by Dr. Robert Shine, Manna’s Board chairman.
In 1997, Manna moved to Christ Baptist Church pastored by one of the school’s long-time professors, Rev. John Green.
Tragically, in March 1999, a five-alarm fire destroyed the school’s education building at 700 E. Church Lane and left Manna without a permanent home.
After three years at Christ Baptist Church, Manna moved on in September, 2000 to Cornerstone Baptist Church, where Rev. Clifford Cutter, another Manna alumnus, is pastor. Though the school struggled without a permanent home, students and faculty persevered, and Manna continued.
Eroy Brown, President of the Class of 2003, wrote this about Manna’s students during those difficult days:
“Truly God has been good to us of the household of faith. We walked by faith and not by sight, leaning on and trusting in the Lord. As we look back over the last several years we attended Manna, we know that God had His hands upon us.”
After four previous moves since leaving the Germantown campus, the school moved again in January, 2006, this time to Burholme Baptist Church pastored by another Manna faculty member, Rev. Charles App.
Since its beginning in 1944, Manna has had 14 homes, besides the locations of its extension campuses, but on March 25, 2011, the school entered a permanent home, it’s newly purchased building located at 2309 N. Broad Street.
For the first time in Manna’s history, the school is centrally located to all areas of Philadelphia.
The question that people ask today is this: Does Manna have a future beyond its 70th year?
The answer is a resounding YES. Though the years when Manna experienced rapid growth and expansion are over — at least for now — there are things that keep the school going in spite of the difficulties.
These realities remain the same today as they did in the former years of the school’s existence, and as long as they do not change, Manna Bible Institute has a promising future.
Of great importance for the school’s continuation is the dedication and commitment of its teachers. Since 1944, the unique strength of the Institute has been its Christ-centered faculty.
The men and women who volunteer night after night to teach students who earnestly desire to know God’s Word are deeply committed to the school’s mission:
“To train the student in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures in order that he be intellectually and spiritually equipped to teach others …”
“To equip the student for the defense of the Gospel in a day of apostasy, and to earnestly contend both in beliefs and behavior for the faith once for all delivered to the saints …”
“To nurture the student in God’s Word for the purpose of guiding him toward Christian maturity and ability to evaluate the gifts and skills bestowed on him by the Holy Spirit …”
“To teach the student the value of a life of personal separation unto God, the privilege and potential of prayer, and the necessity for proper motives in all of life and labor …”
The faculty’s commitment to the growth and well-being of inner-city residents, and each professor’s personal attention to the needs of the students, is highly valued by those who enroll to study God’s Word.
Manna’s teachers have always desired the best for the students they teach and unselfishly give of their time, knowledge, and skill to the volunteer work that each considers a ministry for the sake of the Gospel.
Another resource that keeps Manna going is its graduates, men and women who have studied long and hard, received their diplomas, and now have gone on to serve Christ and the church in their personal ministries.
Hundreds of those graduates who now form a strong and supportive Alumni Association have testified of the educational opportunity Manna provided them for the ministries to which they were called by the Lord.
Another resource that never seems to change are the deeply motivated students who, over the years, come out night after night with a thirst for God’s Word and a desire to fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, learning and sharing the Word of God together.
Something else that never changes at Manna: faithful leadership deeply committed to the mission and vision for the inner-city that God gave to the school’s founders seventy years ago.
Since Manna’s incorporation, the Board of Directors has been comprised of spiritually mature men and women whose faith, wisdom and commitment have made them effective leaders to guide Manna in fulfilling its purpose.
Manna’s administrators — the presidents, deans, and directors — have served sacrificially, and often in spite of limited funds and meager resources with which to work.
Together with a faithful volunteer staff of workers on six campuses, Manna’s administration and staff perform a labor of love for the cause of Christ in the ministry of Christian education.
Above all, there has been no greater provision afforded to Manna than the faithfulness of the Lord who brought this work of faith into being in 1944 and continues to sustain it and to bless the fruit of its labors. GREAT has been His faithfulness.
And then there’s the resource that forms the basis of Manna’s education ministry:
In the words of the school song, the Bible stands like a rock undaunted, ‘mid the raging storms of time. Its pages burn with the truth eternal, and they glow with a light sublime.”
And because the Holy Spirit draws believers to its pages, there will always be students, like that Bible study group in 1943, who desire to learn and know its timeless truth, students who “by grace alone” expect to live it, to prove it, and to make it theirs for life and service.
Manna Bible Institute is indeed “an unfinished task with unlimited possibilities ahead.”
Manna moves into the future with the assurance that God’s purpose for this school has been a work in progress with demonstrated results for 70 years, but a work that must continue until Jesus returns.
Addendum to the 70th Anniversary Presentation
In 2014, Dr. Charles L. McNeil, Sr. became Manna Bible Institute’s 11th President. Dr. McNeil is working tirelessly to advance the school’s ministry of biblical education. Pray for our school’s new president as he works with the Board of Directors and the school’s Administration to provide educational opportunities and resources that will enable a new generation of committed Christian men and women to receive the quality training that Manna Bible Institute has provided since 1944.