By Bob Allen
A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church in Baltimore has voted to disband and donate facilities valued at $2 million to a Southern Baptist church plant launched nearby five years ago.
Patterson Park Baptist Church was constituted in 1913 in a neighborhood then bustling with row houses built to accommodate immigrant workers who flocked into the city seeking jobs in waterfront factories, rail yards and wharves in the 1900s. Once thriving, the church had dwindled to 20 members, according to the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware newspaper Baptist Life.
With limited resources, the remaining members knew they could not afford to pay for a new pastor. So they voted to give the church building to Gallery Church, a nearby church started in 2008 as part of the North American Mission Board’s “Send North America” strategy of planting Southern Baptist churches in 32 major metropolitan areas across the United States and Canada.
“For the past 100 years, the Patterson Park Baptist Church has been one of a few evangelical churches on Eastern Avenue in Baltimore,” says an announcement on the church website.
“Now the time has come for us to pass on our heritage, as well as the property God has allowed us to use for a century, to a new generation of Christians with much the same philosophy and purpose as ours: to show God to the world by caring for others and making everyone matter,” the statement continued.
Patterson Park is one of 37 CBF churches in Maryland. Along with seven others in Washington, two in West Virginia and one in northern Virginia, they comprise the 47-church Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Patterson Park started out as a mission of Eutaw Place Baptist Church, whose founding pastor, Richard Fuller, preached at the first Southern Baptist Convention meeting in 1845 and was SBC president 1859–1863.
During pastorates in Maryland and South Carolina, Fuller baptized Southern Baptist luminaries including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary founder James Petigru Boyce and Annie Armstrong, first corresponding secretary of Woman’s Missionary Union.
Eutaw Place Baptist Church today is named Woodbrook Baptist Church. Like Patterson Park, Woodbrook resisted reforms that trickled down to the state level from the “conservative resurgence” which divided the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and 1990s. Woodbrook supports both CBF and the older and more progressive Alliance of Baptists.
NAMB officials say new churches are needed even in places like Maryland, where a Baptist presence dates to 1742, because statistically new churches baptize more converts per capita than established ones, and that while the gospel message doesn’t change, new methods are needed to reach people in the 21st century.
Gallery Church is described on the congregation’s website as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-economic church plant built on the conviction “that the church should be fresh, exciting and relevant to today’s generation.”
Gallery Church will continue to meet at its downtown location near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Sunday mornings at 9:00, followed by services at the Patterson Park “gathering community” at 11 a.m.
“These buildings, which have been very well maintained, will allow us space to worship and grow, expand our opportunities to love and teach children and offer permanent office space for our staff,” Derek Miller, executive pastor at Gallery Church, said in a YouTube video announcing the acquisition in August.
Critics of the NAMB church-planting strategy say the denomination should give equal attention to revitalizing declining but deeply rooted congregations. Some fear those new pulpits will predominantly attract recent seminary graduates who embrace a strict Calvinism, a growing trend that some traditionalist Southern Baptists view with alarm.
Ellis Prince, founding and lead pastor of Gallery Church, advised fellow church planters on how to “support and champion existing churches in my community” in a video on the NAMB website.
“There’s a lot of tension, usually, between church planters and existing churches in a community,” Prince said. “When I first moved to Baltimore, a sweet old lady grabbed me by the ear, found out where I lived and said to me: ‘Why in the world are you planting? They already have a church in that community.’”
“First, you have to avoid sarcasm,” Prince said. “It’s always going to be misunderstood. So avoid the banter back and forth — whether it’s playful — people will always assume there is truth in your jesting. And I usually live by the premise to keep your words sweet, because you’re ultimately going to have to eat them at some point in time.
“The other side of that is when as a church planter you move into a community, you’re wanting to gain reputation. You’re wanting to gain support, but you really have to be willing to let other churches get the credit. Even if it’s something that you’ve done and somebody associates with another church in your community, the worst thing that you can do is to try to claim it or to say: ‘No that wasn’t really them. It was me.’”
“So [what] I’ve learned, much like Jesus has modeled for us, is to lay down our lives for others,” he said. “One way you can do that is to make sure that you don’t fight for credit. Just let credit fall where credit falls.”
Patterson Park also owns two row houses behind the church building. They will be sold with proceeds divided among the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, Baptist Family & Children’s Services, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Gilchrist Hospice Care, according to Baptist Life.
Patterson Park worshipped for the last time as a congregation Oct. 20. The following Sunday there was a joint worship service with both Patterson Park and Gallery Church, which coincided with the 100th anniversary of Patterson Park’s first recorded meeting on Oct. 29, 1913.