Baptists Return To Old Ties
by Jerry Sharpe (Press Religion
Southern Baptists, often thought of as
fundamentalists from the Old Confederacy states, split from a denomination once
headquartered in Pennsylvania.
That's only one of the lesser-known facts
about the 13.8 million-member denomination which will hold its convention in
Pittsburgh for the first time beginning with pre-conference church music sessions
Other facts likely to surprise
- Although it is believed the denomination
is basically composed of Anglo-Saxons, it is one of the most ethnic in existence
with members in this country speaking 80 different languages. Its missions reach
into 96 foreign countries
- The term "Southern" tends to regionalize the church, but it has members in all
50 states, Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. And in Pennsylvania,
most of the 18,000 members in 160 congregations have no Southern roots.
- Pittsburgh is one of the nation's most receptive cities to churches, yet
Southern Baptists didn't come here until 1958.
A Greentree man, Clyde W. Standard,
of 160 Arla Drive, well remembers the church's pioneer days.
Now, director of traffic in Westinghouse
Corp's Industry Products Company, his company tranferred him here from South
Carolina, where he had been transplanted from his hometown of Atlanta,
"Soon after my wife, Margaret, and I came
here in 1958 we realized we couldn't find a Southern Baptist church anywhere in
Pennsylvania. We were sad. We missed our church. Why, we met and got married in
the Southern Baptist church back home in Atlanta."
"We were living here in the old Roosevelt
Hotel, Downtown, and got acquainted with a few other Southern families who missed
their church. First thing you know we began to get together for meetings. Then we
contacted the Home Mission board and got the go-ahead to rent Soldiers and
Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland for Sunday meetings."
But the small group wanted a permanent
home and a search led them to a former Lutheran Church on a Brookline street
which Mrs. Standard joked was "appropriately named Pioneer Avenue."
And services started in April 1959 at
Pittsburgh Baptist Church, 3100 Pioneer Avenue.
It was the denomination's first church in
Pennsylvania - the root state of the 1800s congregation that eventually became
the Southern Baptists.
The Rev. Dwight Moody, pastor of North
Park Baptist Church, McCandless, gives this history and information:
Today's Southern Baptists stem from
left-wing reformers who began clashing with the established churches in England
in 1607. As a result, Roger Williams founded the first Baptist church in America
in Providence, RI, in 1639.
The church branched out, and the first
Baptist Association was formed in Philadelphia in 1707. Later in 1814, the first
Baptist Convention was held there.
But in 1845, disagreements over slavery
led to southern members withdrawing and forming their own convention which grew
into today's Southern Baptists.
The remaining Baptists were the nucleus
of what is today several Baptist denominations including American Baptist
Churches in the USA which where organized in 1907 as the Northern
Later, numerous blacks organized the
National Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. and the
Progressive National Baptist Convention.
But more than 300,000 blacks are Southern
Baptists, state conventions in Alaska and Illinois have elected black presidents,
and more than 100 black professionals are employed by Southern Baptist
Former President Harry S. Truman was a
Southern Baptist, as was Hugo Black, the U.S. Supreme Court justice from Alabama
whose opinion helped form the legal basis for the civil rights
Although 74 percent, or 10.2 million
members still live in the Old Confederacy states, the denomination has continually
surged our of Dixie since the 1940s. And at a time when major denominations report
dwindling numbers, Southern Baptists are baptizing an average of 7700 new
converts weekly and organizing new churches at the rate of one-a-day. If the
present rate of growth continues, the membership will reach 16 million by
Western Pennsylvania now has three Southern
Baptist associations with a total of 53 congregations and dozens of missions in
homes, fire halls and other community buildings.
Basicaly a Bible-believing, teetotaling
fundamentalistic denomination, Southern Baptist churches are absolutely autonomous
and children cannot become members by birth - initial membership is only by
Standard said, "We're the only family left
from the original forming families. We just happen to be southerners, but we are
a little sensitive about that because our churches here in Pennsylvania are not
by any means just homes for people from the south. We don't ever want them to
"What the church stands for is what's
important - the region you come from isn't. The vast majority of our 18,000
members in Pennsylvania have no southern roots."
The Pittsburgh Baptist Church
3100 Pioneer Avenue, Brookline
Note: The church on Pioneer Avenue is
an old Lutheran (the Missouri Synods) church, built in 1908. The inside of the
building features intricate woodwork and the stained glass windows are
one-of-a-kind, with images depicting items of old Lutheran symbolism. The
delicate wood carvings on the church fixtures are also steeped in tradition.
The sanctuary of the small church is a relatively unknown treasure here
For more information on
the Pittsburgh Baptist Church, visit their website at www.pittsburghbaptist.org.