History of
Manna Bible Institute

Teaching God's Timeless Truth Since 1944

The challenge of biblical education is to communicate the Bible creatively and relevantly in every generation.  And for more than 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 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.”
In the first century A.D. the Lord provided an open 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 19th and Catherine in South Philadelphia in the Fall of 1943.
Members of the group had been frustrated by the academic and financial requirements of other Bible schools that prevented some of them from attending.  Desiring to engage in formal Bible study 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.
The name “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 forty years of wandering in the Sinai 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:  “Thy  words were found, and I did eat them, and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart, for I am called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts.”
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.   Also, the YWCA informed the school that it could not accommodate the school’s plan of having classes on both 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 curriculum 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 he supervision, the curriculum was changed to a four-year course of study comparable to the evening Bible School programs in many Bible institutes.
The school moved to a rented building at 19th & Susquehanna in North Philadelphia for the 1946-47 school year, but with the majority of teachers and students living in the West Philadelphia area, it was decided to locate the school in a rented house at 1041 Belmont Ave.  This 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 name change to Manna Bible Institute.  Its purpose was defined in its Articles of Incorporation: “The objects and purposes are to teach and equip students, by means 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 ministry has always been defined in terms of its location in the inner-city.  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 as an urban ministry: 
“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 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 Bible education and graduate.  Enrollment increased to 64 students in September 1948 to 85 students two years later.
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 St.  Manna conducted classes in its own building for the first time 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 Training Association, and Manna established itself as a Christian institution deeply identified with evangelical ministries in Philadelphia.
With an enrollment in 1958 of 90 students, a larger facility at 866 N. 41st St. was purchased, only nine blocks from the 53rd Street home that served the school for eight years.
In June 1958, Rev. R. Clyde Smith, a faculty member, was appoined as Dean, and Mr. Vaughn Smith became Manna’s 4th President.  During their administration, and with the expanded facility at 41st St., Manna continued to grow in student enrollment.
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 an institution that could provide it for them.”
In 1962, President Vaughn 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 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 testimony concerning Manna’s uniqueness in providing educational ministry in the Class of 1962 Yearbook:

"To find a door that is open to the things of the Lord, where there are no financial barriers or educational qualifications to hinder your admittance, is almost asking too much.  Such are the advantages at Manna.  All that is needed is a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  The manifestation of Manna's godly character is evidenced through those who support, administer, and pray for its continuance."

When Vaughn Smith retired in 1964, Rev. William Banks became Manna’s 5th 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 almost 200 students.
The student body had grown to such an extent that it took five photographs in the 1970 yearbook to include all the freshmen students that 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 N. 4th Street near Lehigh Avenue.
The new facility enabled Manna to provide quality Christian education for an enrollment that continued to grow within the next three years to approximately 250 students with 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 oin 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 new from from 1974 to 1996.
In September 1978, Manna began its first extension campus in Mount Holly, New Jersey.  The campus will celebrate its 45th anniversary in 2023.
Two Academic Deans served during the eighteen years the Day School was in operation:  Dr. Stover from 1973 to 1977, and Paul Pathickal from 1977 to 1991.
With the opening of the Day School division, David Haas became Dean of Evening School, but with a new Academic Dean over both divisions, directors administered the Evening School division:  In turn, Evening School directors were Patrick Donlevy, Leonard Thompson, and Robert Figge.
Robert Figge resigned in 1987 to become director of another ministry.  Cleonia Jackson, the Evening School Assistant Director and Registrar, became Evening School Director.  When the Day School ended, she became Manna’s Director of Education for two years, and then was appointed as Academic Dean in 1993. 
Having married Pastor Lawrence Walker of Peniel Baptist Church and receiving an honorary doctoral degree, she is now Dr. Cleonia Walker, Manna’s present Academic Dean.  Dr. Walker has served in that role for twenty-nine years, the longest tenure as Academic 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, 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 A. 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, PA, extending Mana’s urban ministry into Delaware County to join with Manna’s extension campus in Mt. Holly, NJ.  Other campuses were added over the years that have since disbanded, but the Mt. Holly and Chester campuses remain strong to the present day.
A lack of funds led to the Board’s decision to close the Day School division at the end of the 1990-91 school year after eighteen years of operation.
Dr. Robert Shine became Chairman of the Board in 1995, and the following year, Dr. Arvelle Jones became Manna’s 9th President.  Together, the two men guided the school through the most difficult years of its existence.
The 1996-97 school year began at the Germantown campus, but as colder weather arrived, the old heating system would not work, and the cost of needed repairs was beyond the school’s financial ability.  The school moved first to Triumph Baptist Church, then to Berachah Baptist Church, and then to Christ Baptist Church.
Then in March 1999, arsonists set a five-alarm fire that completely destroyed the school’s education building at 700 E. Church Lane, leaving Manna without a permanent home.
After three years at Christ Baptist Church, Manna moved to Cornerstone Baptist Church in September 2000.  Though the school struggled without a permanent home, students and faculty persevered and Manna continued.  Enroy Brown, President of the Class of 2003 wrote this about Manna’s abiding faith 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 in northeast Philadelphia.
Since its beginning in 1944, Manna has had 15 locations in addition to the two locations of its extension campuses in Chester and Mount Holly.  To 14 previous main campus homes is added the newest campus, purchased in 2020,  located in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia.
After fifteen years in rented facilities, Manna again purchased their own building at 2309 N. Broad Street in North Philadelphia, the home for the Philadelphia campus for the next nine years.
Manna welcomed its 10th President, Dr. Charles L. McNeil, Sr., on January 24, 2015. Dr. McNeil served for three years.
Dr. Edward Sparkman, Esq. was installed as the 11th President of Manna Bible Institute on April 21, 2018.  Dr. Sparkman also serves as Senior Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church of Philadelphia.  He is a graduate of Howard University and Temple University School of Law, and Palmer Theological Seminary.  
The urgent need for repair of the heating system, the high cost of the mortgage, and other major expenses at the Broad Street location necessitated relocation of the Philadelphia campus to another part of the city.  Manna found an ideal location in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia.    
Manna purchased the former Woodbine Academy, a children’s elementary school, in September 2020, but the need to renovate the building and the outbreak of Covid-19 necessitated online classes for three semesters.  During this time, Lancaster Bible College allowed the use of their facilities at Deliverance Evangelistic Church, 22nd & Lehigh Aves., for Manna’s offices and meeting rooms.

Manna moved into its newly renovated Philadelphia campus at 5337 Wynnefield Avenue at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.  The new main campus building includes well-equipped classrooms and offices, a student lounge, dining room, the William L. Banks Memorial Library, the Robert P. Shine Memorial Chapel, and a spacious meeting room.

On January 4, 2022, Manna’s beloved Board Chairman, Dr. Robert P. Shine, Sr., went Home to be with the Lord.  On January 29, 2022, Dr. Michael W. Couch, who had served as a Board member for two years, was elected as Manna’s new Board Chairman.
As an educational institution dedicated to serving Christ and His church, Manna is indeed “an unfinished task with unlimited possibilities ahead.”

Manna moves into the future with the assurance that God's purpose for this school of biblical learning has been a work in progress with demonstrated results for 78 years, but a work that must continue until Jesus returns.