Where We’ve Been
A Brief History
On March 26, 1922 some 200 worshipers met to organize St. John’s Baptist Church. This meeting was the culmination of a series of gatherings, prayer groups and conferences of Baptists concerned with the progress of their denomination in the growing eastern suburbs of Charlotte.
The church had begun primarily as an outreach of First Baptist Church of Charlotte, but in an action that was perhaps symbolic of future events, the small group of pioneers determined to accept full responsibility for establishing the new church without help from existing congregations. Just four years later, they dedicated the main sanctuary building in 1926. Dr. Joseph A. Gaines and Dr. C. W. Durden served as the first two pastors, leading the church through financial crises and establishing firm footing for years to come.
Dr. Claude U. Broach became senior minister in 1944, and under his leadership St. John’s realized her most significant growth in missions and community ministry. Dr. Broach led the church to develop and nurture the “servant church” concept. His tenure is noted for his belief in ecumenism and an emphasis on racial harmony in Charlotte and its faith communities, notably in the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and later Swann v. Mecklenburg Board of Education decision, and continuing throughout the next decades. He was the only Baptist minister to attend Vatican II with Pope John XXIII and was the first director of the Ecumenical Institute after retiring from St. John’s as senior minister. Under Dr. Broach church policy was changed to allow Believer’s Baptism rather than Baptism by immersion for candidates for membership from non-Baptist denominations.
Dr. Julian Cave, senior minister from 1978 to 1986, broadened the church’s social ministry. St. John’s expanded her emphasis on community and regional missions projects, building a church in Pinch, West Virginia, and constructing homes in Charlotte in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
Dr. Thomas H. Graves became senior minister in October 1987. He helped initiate a revitalization of the St. John’s spirit before leaving to become the first president of the new Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond. Two events from his tenure highlight the independence of St. John’s: the membership policy was officially changed so that rebaptism would no longer be required for Christians from non-Baptist denominations, and the United Baptist Association was formed with other moderate Baptist churches. Dr. Wm. Richard Kremer became St. John’s sixth pastor in November 1991 and served until 2009. A graduate of Southern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Kremer came to St. John’s after pastorates in Kentucky and South Carolina. Dr. Kremer led the church in navigating a period that was marked by distress with the policies of the current Southern Baptist Convention and the North Carolina Baptist Convention. During this time St. John’s emphasized connections within the Elizabeth neighborhood and throughout the city, continuing her focus on justice, social issues and hands-on community service. Dr. Kremer was recognized for his intellectually and spiritually challenging messages delivered from the St. John’s pulpit.
St. John’s has made her mark on Charlotte. Rather than adopting the more conservative policies of the current Southern Baptist Convention, St. John’s adheres openly to historic Baptist principles of Soul Freedom, Church Freedom, Bible Freedom and Religious Freedom.
The Elizabeth Neighborhood and Charlotte, NC
Located at the corner of Hawthorne Lane and Fifth Street, St. John’s Baptist Church is 1.9 miles from the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets, in the Charlotte Center City. The Charlotte, North Carolina metropolitan area has a population of 1.8 million people which continues to grow. Identified as one of our nation’s most livable communities, it ranks high regarding quality of life.
Factors such as affordability, ease of commute, ability to connect with other parts of the world, a thriving arts and science community, professional sports and a talented diverse labor force encourage financial investment in the region, new businesses, quality employees and employment opportunities. Despite economic downturns, Charlotte is the second largest banking center in the U.S. Charlotte has changed during the last half century. No longer do workers turn out the lights and leave the city center when the workday ends. Charlotteans, metro neighbors and tourists flood the streets each evening and on weekends to enjoy world-class events, entertainment and restaurants which are readily available.
When St. John’s was founded in 1922, she was considered an outreach ministry to the developing suburbs of the Elizabeth and Myers Park neighborhoods. According to historian Dr. Dan Morrill, both were among the most fashionable of Charlotte’s residential areas. During the past 88 years, the city has experienced widespread growth. The metropolitan area extends in almost every direction to the Mecklenburg County line. St. John’s remains in her original location, a landmark in the currently rejuvenating Elizabeth Community. Her neighbors include Presbyterian Hospital, a large medical complex, Kings College, businesses, fine dining and neighborhood pubs. There are wide, tree lined streets with single-family and multi-family dwellings and one of the nation’s oldest and most beautiful city parks.
Throughout St. John’s history, members have come from both the immediate neighborhood and the surrounding metro area. Her reach extends from the heart of Elizabeth to communities in Lake Norman and Union County. The congregation is committed to reaching out to neighbors in the Elizabeth neighborhood and beyond. St. John’s strives to identify and address the physical and spiritual needs of her community.
In the first decade of the 21st century, St. John’s has recognized a new local community which has rapidly grown up within a three-mile radius of the church. It not only includes the Elizabeth neighborhood, but newly built Center City residences housing large numbers of urban dwellers. Currently there are 99,459 people residing in 44,241 households in the defined area and that number is projected to consistently increase over the next five years. According to a 2010 report by Percepts, a leading provider of demographic data to faith institutions, individuals 49 and younger make up 75% of the population. “Diversity” best characterizes this community. Racial/ethnic diversity is evident: the white and African-American populations are almost equally represented at approximately 43% and 41%, respectively. Hispanics and other minorities comprise the remaining 16%. The Percepts (2010) demographic study found the lifestyle group of Ethnic and Urban Diversity to be the largest at 38.8%, the Young and Coming follows closely with 35.8% of the total population. Affluent Families (11%) and Middle American Families (9.8%) round out the four largest lifestyle groups within St. John’s local community. The variety of lifestyles, wide range of income levels, high numbers of nontraditional families, above average number of rental dwellings, and the above average number of economically struggling households present special opportunities and challenges. The nearby neighbors provide St. John’s a source of new and unique talents.
In the document defining core values, St. John’s declared a continuing commitment to local service with the following:
“We are a servant Church with a primary focus on local community outreach and missions. While we will serve God’s children as God leads us, we recognize that as a center-city community of faith, we have a special responsibility to seek opportunities that will address the unmet social and spiritual needs of communities and individuals within central Charlotte.”
In addition, St. John’s embraces the wide range of diversity in her newly identified local community, as stated in the following:
“We are committed to the principals of inclusion and openness to all who seek to be a Child of God. We will not allow discrimination in our membership policy against anyone because of race, gender, sexual orientation, station in life or previous religious affiliation. We have settled this position as policy and embrace it fully.”
Throughout her history, St. John’s has maintained a commitment to strengthening relationships with her neighbors in Charlotte and the larger community of faith. The congregation and staff have examined and take seriously these relationships.
Who We Are
Our Structure and Leadership
St. John’s is a Baptist community of faith. Our congregation treasures the distinctive qualities that have characterized Baptists throughout history, including the sanctity of each individual’s personal relationship with God, the autonomy of the local church and the separation of church and state. St. John’s takes pride in its affiliations with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists. Nonetheless, loyalty to denomination is secondary to the higher authority of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
St. John’s has never depended upon denominational formalities to form connections with the outside world. Partnerships that shape the St. John’s identity in the community have traditionally begun with the passions of a few inspired members and grown into church-wide priorities. This person-by-person approach to connections has led to an eclectic mix of missions and partnerships for St. John’s, but the unique passion behind each relationship provides depth and meaning. Examples of connections at St. John’s include:
Active involvement in local missions, including Crisis Assistance Ministry, Mecklenburg Ministries, Hope Chapel and the UBA Bible School.
Nonprofit and charitable organizations which make use of our facilities, including Church World Services (CROP Walk), Urban Ministry Center’s “Room in the Inn”, Salvation Army Women’s shelter, Right Moves for Youth, the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections, St. John’s Weekday School, and various support groups and Bible study groups.
Community and neighborhood groups like Head Start, Presbyterian Hospital, King’s College, and other arts, education, and neighborhood groups that use the facility on a regular basis.
Partnership in The Elizabeth Communities of Faith, a cross-denominational group of Elizabeth neighborhood churches plus the chaplaincy groups of the local hospitals.
Where We’re Going
As of January, 2011, St. John’s is engaged in a search of her next senior minister. The Pastor Search Committee seeks a candidate who desires to be part of a community of faith that embraces the Baptist distinctives of soul freedom, church freedom, Bible freedom, and religious freedom as articulated by Walter Shurden in The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms. These fundamental distinctives are taken seriously at St John’s, as are the importance of intellectual and spiritual growth and the partnership between a strong and free pulpit and strong and dynamic pew.
During the Intentional Interim process the congregation determined the qualities that are most important in a senior minister. While acknowledging that no candidate will be highly gifted in all areas, the ideal candidate has substantial professional and life experiences, possesses a Master’s degree or higher, and has managed a staff. He or she should preach in a captivating and inspiring style and have a warm, inviting personality with a good sense of humor.
The most important tasks that the new minister will take on include: preparing and preaching inspiring sermons; church growth; managing the staff as a cohesive team; and planning and leading meaningful worship.
As a congregation, St. John’s has gone through the Intentional Interim process with Dr. Layne Smith and support from the Center for Congregational Health, articulating identity (Mission, Vision and Values statements) and what is important to us. The next senior minister of St. John’s will have a deep faith in God, revealed through the person of Jesus Christ and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.
From the Covenant, foundational statements, surveys and discussions with the congregation, St. John’s has determined her Future Focus areas: Church Growth, including Children & Young Families, Financial Sustainability, and Local Missions. The senior minister will possess the ability to help St. John’s realize these goals, in partnership with staff and laity, striving to be the church that is a beacon for Christ at 5th and Hawthorne.