Samuel B. Adkins, Baptist pastor, bishop, veteran, and longtime SEPTA worker, has died at 86

Samuel B. Adkins, 86, of Philadelphia, pastor emeritus at First United Baptist Church, church bishop, teacher, longtime SEPTA worker, mentor, and veteran, died Thursday, Nov. 9, of complications after a stroke at his home in the Haddington section of West Philadelphia.

Bishop Adkins was ordained as a pastor in 1961 and served congregations in Philadelphia until his retirement in 2022. He pastored New Macedonia Baptist Church in North Philadelphia from 1968 to 1976, Star of Hope Baptist Church in Northeast Philadelphia from 1976 to 1985, and First United in West Philadelphia from 1985 until his retirement.

Commanding in the pulpit, affable and patient as a mentor, and an expert on the Bible’s book of Revelation, Bishop Adkins was adept at advising young pastors and congregants of all ages. He intervened in neighborhood crises and served for years as chaplain for the Masons’ Tuscan-Morning Star Lodge No. 48 and Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police.

First United was heavily damaged by fire in 1988, and Bishop Adkins refused to let the misfortune define his congregation. “The church is strong,” he told The Inquirer. “The building burned, but the church didn’t burn. And we still trust in Him.”

He was the son of a pastor and returned often to his home state of Virginia for revival meetings and family reunions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he stayed consistently connected online with people of his church and others in need of his counsel.

Ordained as a church bishop in 2009 by the Philadelphia Council of Clergy, he championed interdenominational activities and visited other churches often. He was especially active with the West Philadelphia Baptist Congress of Christian Education and Evening Baptist Ministers Conference of Philadelphia and Vicinity.

He graduated from the Manna Bible Institute and earned an honorary doctorate from Seashore Bible College in Lakewood, N.J. He received educational certifications from Community College of Philadelphia and Temple University, and taught classes at Bible Crusade School.

He won a 2020 Brighter Futures Spiritual Award from the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services for “always looking to recognize and improve the lives of those that others may overlook.”

Bishop Adkins started working at SEPTA, then the Philadelphia Transportation Co. as a bus driver in 1967 and retired in 2007 as a docket clerk for SEPTA’s legal department. His family said he was always trying to help somebody.

“He was outgoing,” said his wife, Lucy. His daughters said: “He never met a stranger.”

One of 19 children, Samuel B. Adkins was born July 22, 1937, in Farmville, Va. He left to join other family in Philadelphia after graduating from historic Robert Russa Moton High School in the mid-1950s and became a member of Holy Light Baptist Church in West Philadelphia. Moton High School, now a National Historic Landmark and museum, is known as the birthplace of America’s student-led civil rights movement.

He joined the Army in 1961 and served as a military nurse in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. After his discharge, he worked as a scrub nurse for a time at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

He married Lucy Davis in 1963, and they had daughters Jacqueline, Stephanie, Shawnae, and Samantha, and lived in West Philadelphia. He and his wife hosted foster children, and his daughters said he “taught us the right thing to do.” He was, they said, “a girl dad.”

He learned to sow and reap during his childhood in Virginia, and family marveled at the countless vegetables he grew in their backyard gardens. He flashed his sense of humor often in church and at home, and his house always had the brightest lights on Christmas Eve.

“God is knocking at your heart. … Join hands in love and go forward or we will always continue to walk in sorrow.”

Bishop Adkins valued tradition and education, and encouraged his daughters to be active in the community. He met Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and many city officials at civic and religious events, and drove neighbors to the polls on Election Day.

He was a diehard Phillies and Eagles fan, and he took his family to as many baseball games as he could. When he couldn’t go to games, he listened intently to the radio.

“We will always have fond memories of Bishop,” church colleagues said in an online tribute. His daughter Stephanie said: “He was charismatic and fiery, and he used his sense of humor with everyone.”

His daughter Shawnae said: “He was a leader and a teacher. He knew how to get things done. We are all better people because of him.”

In addition to his wife and daughters, Bishop Adkins is survived by 12 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, three sisters, and other relatives.

Services were Sunday, Nov. 26, and Monday, Nov. 27.

Donations in his name may be made to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, 13770 Noel Rd., Suite 801889, Dallas, Texas 75380.

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