by Ken Sanford
St. John’s and Charlotte moved forward together during the turbulent times of the 1960s. For the church this was well expressed in the name, “The Dream Program,” a plan to remodel the sanctuary, enlarge the choir area, and complete the basic organ. In remodeling the sanctuary the church created a lighter and brighter color scheme. The total cost was set at $93,800, and that was oversubscribed. Construction began in February 1964, and worship services were temporarily crowded into Lasater Hall. The church returned to a renewed sanctuary in July 1964. Meanwhile, Charlotte was stepping forward to meet the challenges of desegregation under the leadership of Mayor Stan Brookshire and ministers like Claude Broach of St. John’s. Toward the end of the decade, Judge James B. McMillan ruled that busing could be used to complete desegregation. The leadership of the city and churches, including St. John’s, helped calm the community and move it forward. St. John’s, in order to make membership more relevant, created new-member conferences to familiarize candidates with the church’s heritage and ministries. At the same time, it made clear to prospective new members that the church was open to all people.
Claude Broach made a dramatic step toward ecumenism when in 1965 he attended sessions of the Ecumenical Council in Rome, responding to the openness of Pope John XXIII at Vatican II. Broach was the only Baptist to do so. That experience led to his affiliation with Belmont Abbey College and Wake Forest University in the establishment of the Ecumenical Institute.
St. John’s was one of four churches selected by the Southern Baptist Convention for a pilot program in missions in 1966. That led to the creation of Mission Action as a way to express community missions and for the church to expand its vision of this work beyond its affiliation with the SBC.
The church showed courage and exercised its autonomy by studying its position on baptism. In 1967 it concluded that members with believers baptism in another Christian tradition did not need to be re-baptized to join St. John’s. That action led the Mecklenburg Baptist Association to abandon its tradition of local autonomy and oust St. John’s.
Dr. Broach expanded upon the Mission Action concept when he preached a sermon on July 23, 1967 in which he called upon St. John’s to become a “Servant Church.” “Go into the world around you, at your doors,” Broach said. “How can you love God and ignore the poverty and the injustice with which your neighbor lives?” The church then joined a new organization called “Baptist Metropolitan Ministries” for cooperative mission action. Eleven churches, white and black, joined.
St. John’s celebrated the 25th anniversary of Dr. Broach as pastor on July 19, 1969 with a dinner at Park Center and a contribution to the Claude U. Broach Foundation. Meanwhile the church studied its needs and launched “The St. John’s Advance Program,” pledging by fall of 1969, $514,323 to build a youth ministries facility, including classrooms for children, offices for the ministerial staff, space for the music program, and a gymnasium.