'Praying Tailback' answers N. Philly congregation's prayers

Posted: February 03, 2014

DECADES before Tim Tebow came onto the scene, the Eagles had Herb "The Praying Tailback" Lusk, who on Oct. 9, 1977, after his second touchdown of the day in Giants Stadium, made history as the first NFL player to kneel and pray during a televised game. (The Eagles won, 28-10.)

Since 1982, the former player, now the Rev. Lusk, has done his praying from the pulpit at North Philly's Greater Exodus Baptist Church, where he's pastor.

Greater Exodus was in a sorry state when he arrived - nearly bankrupt and with only a handful of members. Membership now stands at roughly 2,000. Its Sunday services are so joyous that ushers dance to the altar carrying collection baskets as the choir sways in step to rollicking music.

Lusk's other big score in North Philly is the nonprofit organization that he founded. Called People for People, it's an economic development engine that has revived the neighborhood near the church with projects that include a charter school, a popular catering facility, a crisis pregnancy center and a $17 million transitional housing complex for the homeless.

Where we worship: Greater Exodus is at 704 N. Broad St. Its Sunday services are at 7:30, 9:30 and 11:30 a.m.

Friendly ushers with big smiles welcome visitors to the sanctuary, where there's a come-as-you-are-baby vibe. Some worshippers dress up in traditional church clothes. Others wear hoodies and jeans. Large video screens flank the pulpit on both sides.

What we're known for: Spirit-filled sermons that have churchgoers leaping to their feet - plus a wealth of community services.

Through People for People, the church trains welfare recipients in a back-to-work program and teaches children at both an early-childhood center and a K-8 charter school. A night college affiliated with Eastern University offers associate's and bachelor's degrees.

People for People's banquet center and catering facility, called the View (for its great view of Center City), has become a go-to place for affordable weddings and baby showers.

What's next: One of the nonprofit's latest projects - in partnership with Project Home, Jon Bon Jovi's charitable foundation and some other investors - is the transitional housing development JBJ Soul Homes, at Fairmount and Ridge avenues.

Greater Exodus provided land for the project. People for People will lease the 12,500 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

Big moral issue we're grappling with: Abortion. As a congregation, Greater Exodus opposes it.

The Hope Pregnancy Center at 716 N. Broad St. offers free pregnancy testing, ultrasound imaging and support, hoping to persuade women not to terminate their pregnancies.

"We give mothers an alternative," Lusk said. "Our ministry is so expansive in so many areas, to the point that we can say to a young lady that if you want to keep your child, we'll help you."

Words of hope: "As bad as things may appear to be, God always has the answers," Lusk said. "It's just a matter of trusting Him."

God is: Love, Lusk said.

Lusk is: After all these years, still "an Eagles man through and through," he said. "I bleed green.

"I'm still involved with the team. I'm the chaplain," he said. "When they played Dallas [late in December], I flew to Dallas myself to do the chapel service.

"I did not want anybody else to do that service but me. I certainly didn't want a Cowboys fan to be standing up there doing the Eagles' chapel service."

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