by Ken Sanford
The 1950’s opened at St. John’s with a burst of activity, and the congregation knew they had chosen wisely in calling Dr. Claude U. Broach to the pulpit. Although a young man, he was known widely across the South. A graduate of the University of Georgia, he earned the Th.M. and Th.D. degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and served briefly as pastor of a church in Covington VA before becoming Associate Secretary of the Department of Student Work for the Southern Baptist Convention. In that position he became a popular speaker on college and university campuses and a writer for publications addressed to college students. As the 1940s ended and the 1950s began, Dr. Broach led a rapid expansion of programs and facilities at St. John’s.
By the end of the 1940s the church had raised funds for expansion, including the purchase of a red brick apartment building, which was renovated, first for a children’s building and later for a youth building when the children were relocated to a white brick building.
The church set its sights on a new educational building and raised the needed funds. The congregation broke ground in 1951 and dedicated the building in 1953. The new space provided for educational rooms for adults and youth, a chapel, and a meeting space with a kitchen.
Expanding Sunday School and worship attendance required action. Sunday School attendance was more than 900 and worshippers overflowed the sanctuary. The church adopted double worship services in 1952, along with extended two-hour periods of Sunday School for children. Ruth Rogers was appointed to work with children on a part-time basis which became full-time in 1956. She remained in that position until 1982 as a beloved children’s minister.
St. John’s almost lost the services of Dr. Broach in 1951 when he was offered a faculty position at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At an emotional session with deacons, he told them he had changed his mind. A deacon said, “Well, Parson, I’m glad you’re going to stay with us, and I think you’ve made a wise decision. Those that were mad with you have left the church and there ain’t nobody left but your friends—now where else could you be sure of that?”
A significant event in the music ministry occurred when the church called a talented musician, Paul T. Langston, to head the program. Also, a new Moller organ was purchased in 1956.
St. John’s made a courageous stand after the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. The way had been paved in the 1940s when Dr. Broach headed the Baptist Interracial Commission. He followed up that position with sermons and statements supporting the court decision of 1954 and later became a community leader on the issue.
A disappointing experience with a failed budget campaign led the church to adopt a new way of pledging as an act of worship, which proved to be successful. The church in 1958 made the decision to install air-conditioning throughout the campus.
The calling of the Rev. Robert Lasater as Associate Minister helped St. John’s strengthen its educational and missions programs.