IVAN BERNARD HEWITT knew something about the Gospel. After all, he had been preaching it since the age of 14.
He also knew something about generosity and compassion, because he had been practicing those traits all his life.
As the pastor of Thankful Baptist Church in North Philadelphia for 25 years, the Rev. Ivan Hewitt was always there for his parishioners, no matter their needs.
He had a listening ear for people's problems, always ready with advice and hope, and he was there on a more practical level, when he would not only dip into the church's coffers if need be, but his own pocket as well.
If a member needed money for a funeral, for instance, the reverend would be there with the necessary funds, even if he had to provide it himself. He could not bear the thought that someone wouldn't receive the proper sendoff, steeped in the divine spirit.
If a family lost its home through some disaster, the pastor was there for them.
The Rev. Ivan Bernard Hewitt, a Baptist minister for 42 years and a pastor who took Thankful Baptist through many changes, renovations and improvements, died one minute past midnight on Christmas Day. He was 84 and lived in Mount Airy.
Ivan Hewitt actually started out as a Pentecostal preacher. His mother, the Rev. Linda Hewitt, was a Pentecostal minister. As a boy, Ivan talked mostly to church youth groups about the Gospel.
At the age of 19, he was ordained a preacher in both the Pentecostal and Baptist faiths.
"He was a gentle giant," said his wife of 49 years, the former Angie Estelle Hambright. "He was loving and giving. He was generous and always concerned about the welfare of the people. He was a good leader and a loving pastor."
As first lady of the church, his wife was always an active participant in its programs.
One of the highlights of their association with Thankful was the yearlong observance in 1993 of the 70th anniversary of its founding.
The church cornerstone was re-laid with appropriate ceremony on May 4, 1996.
Ivan Hewitt was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Linda Hewitt and Ivan Shockness. After the family moved to Philadelphia, Ivan graduated from John Bartram High School. He went on to study theology at La Salle University and the Manna Bible Institute as well as a former seminary in Mount Airy, from which he received a degree.
He served as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Wilmington, Del., for 17 years before returning to Philadelphia to become pastor of Thankful Baptist Church on March 5, 1989.
He and his wife were married on Aug. 1, 1965.
Ivan adopted the word "Unity" as the church's motto. It symbolized the "oneness of Christian faith and the collective strength of an undivided congregation," the church wrote in a tribute. "To further formalize unity, pastor unified the communion services and established a church logo."
Under his leaderhip, the Trustee Board, Board of Deacons and Deaconess Board were expanded with new appointments.
He instituted an advanced Bible study class and establshed training classes for deaconesses. He also started a Man-to-Man Fellowship for male members to help them become more effective Christian husbands, fathers and leaders.
Ivan also had a two-level paved parking lot built, among other improvements, such as creation of a scholarship fund, an audio and video ministry, an annual women's retreat and a dance ministry.
Besides his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Laura Hewitt-Winston; a sister, Beverly Shockness; and two granddaughters. He was predeceased by another daughter, Nellie Crystal Hewitt.
Services: 10 a.m. Saturday at Thankful Baptist Church, 1608 W. Allegheny Ave. Friends may call at 7 p.m. Friday and at 9 a.m. Saturday at the church. Burial will be at Northwood Cemetery, 15th and Haines streets.