THE REV. Vaughn Wilson left his Chester church in 1988 because "the people did not want to follow the word of God" and came to Southwest Philadelphia with his family, one prospective member of his future congregation and no church.

He found a vacant building on Woodland Avenue near 71st Street that had last existed as a candy factory in the '70s.

"We rented one room," Wilson said. "We painted, hung curtains and found chairs. It was winter. There was no heat.

"So every Saturday, I rented an old construction heater at Front and Hunting Park, strapped it on the back of my car, carried it to Woodland Avenue, filled it with kerosene and heated up the room," Wilson said.

And that was the humble beginning of New Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.

When Wilson's small congregation outgrew the rented room, he moved a few doors down Woodland Avenue to rent space in SiloamUnited Methodist Church, a massive 1871 gothic stone building where a tiny congregation was struggling to survive.

Two years later, when the owners put the building up for sale, Wilson was afraid that the $25,000 a church member lent him for a down payment wouldn't be enough to compete with other bidders.

"I was sitting in the church office one day when the phone rang," Wilson said. "It was Mr. Bean, a man who used to come hear me preach in Chester and missed my preaching. I told him I was a little depressed because of what was happening. He said, 'I'll call back in 10 minutes.' "

Wilson's benefactor, who sat on a United Methodist board of directors, called back to say Wilson got the church and didn't need a $25,000 down payment.

"I thanked the Lord because He lifted that weight off of me," Wilson said. "I told Mr. Bean he was God sent. We paid the mortgage off in 2013. The Lord was on our side."

Wilson, 70, pastored the church for 26 years. He retired in January and asked Rev. Marlon Jones, a pastor he had trained and ordained as one of his "sons in the ministry," to take over.

Who we are: "This was primarily an older congregation," said Rev. Jones, who came from the church he had founded, Eternal Word Baptist Church in Wynnefield, to succeed Wilson.

"I had a younger congregation with young children in Wynnefield," he said. "When I came here, they came with me.

"Just to give you an idea," he said, smiling, "they didn't have changing tables here until I came over. I have a 10-month-old myself, so that's why it's imperative that a changing table be here."

The church now has 250 members, and 150 to 175 attending Sunday 10:30 a.m. services.

Where we worship: New Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church is on Woodland Avenue near 70th Street in Southwest Philadelphia.

How we worship: "We're a Baptist church, known for being quite conservative in our worship," Jones said. "I am extremely sensitive to the seniors that we have. Coming from a younger congregation, I'm used to more of a contemporary style of worship.

"Not wanting to rock the boat, I brought a tad of contemporary style. We now have praise and worship. I tried to leave everything else in place. Still, we had some seniors who left, saying I was too young. I'm 37, about to be 38!"

What we believe: "Our mantra," he said, "which is my whole view on Christianity, is: We meet people where they are and get them to where God intended for them to be.

"We create an environment here where God is elevating us to be where he would have us be."

God is . . . "A loving God," he said. "God is love. With love comes patience and forgiveness and a sense of waiting for us to get our act together."

What we're known for: Jones said that although New Fellowship has traditionally been known for helping out its community with food, clothing, day care and getting kids off the street and into the church gym, lack of funding has taken a toll on the building and its outreach programs.

"Our gymnasium is currently inoperable. I'm looking to renovate it. I want to have a health center," he said. "I want to get back to being involved in day care here because that is a pivotal point in a child's life."

In a capital campaign that's now underway, he hopes to raise $250,000 "and start doing major repairs."

Words of hope: "The Bible is saturated with hope from Genesis to Revelation," Jones said. "One of the things I constantly say to people is, 'Yes, there is hope, but we can't have hope without participating in the process.'

"If the community is going to become better, we can't just pray for hope. We have to lend a helping hand so that hope becomes a reality."

On Twitter: @DanGeringer