By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
BALTIMORE, Md.—The cloud of witnesses referenced in the book of Hebrews probably includes many saints who passed through the doors of Second and Fourth Church in its 212 years of ministry in Baltimore or who were led to Christ by its members. Now called East Baltimore Church, for the second time in its history, the church has an amazing background and a bright new future.
Second Church was constituted in Fells Point on June 11, 1797, the same year John Adams became president of the United States and the same year the city of Baltimore was incorporated.
It merged with Fourth Church in 1916 and the name was changed to East Baltimore Church. Later, the name became Second and Fourth. Now it’s back to its original name but with a brand new start under the leadership of one of its own.
Tally Wilgis, a church planter saved at Second and Fourth Church as a youth, has returned home to the city with a ministry team and partnerships with Embrace Baltimore, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) Initiative and the support of large churches throughout the United States, and with a bold plan to merge the Baltimore church with a Timonium-based start, making it one church in two locations, under the umbrella “Captivate Church.” The suburban/urban connection will give new life to the grand, historic church, enabling it to reach its neighbors as it did in years gone by. The new project launched on Sept. 13.
Calvin Hudson, long-time pastor of Second and Fourth Church writes extensively about the history of Second and Fourth Church. The following history is taken from Hudson’s book.
“Over at the Harvey Lane Church in Leicester, its pastor, William Carey, burdened down for a world without Christ, was instrumental in the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792 and went out as their first missionary to India.
Meanwhile, in the same town, John Healey, a member at Friar Lane, had become much concerned for the people of Baltimore. He had read in Morse’s Geography that the people of Baltimore were ‘Nothingarians,’ which suggested that they had no particular beliefs. John Healey decided to leave Leicester and to go to America to preach ‘glad tidings’ to the people in Baltimore…On July 4, 1794 John Healey and his party of nineteen boarded the sailing ship ‘Independence’ bound for New York. After a brief stay in New York, the group embarked for Baltimore in February 1795, arriving at Fells Point at the foot of Broadway. John Healey never returned to Old England.”
Through the years the church struggled with epidemics and wartime. They saw the arrival of the railroad and the automobiles. They mourned over the split of the Baptist Convention during the Civil War. Two confederate soldiers served as pastors. They supported the troops through World War I and II. They heard D.L Moody preach a five-week revival. They saw and their members were victims of the riots in the 60’s after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The church also struggled with some of the same issues today’s churches do—doctrine, music (they banned the fiddle, but had to reconsider later), church discipline and finances. They stayed together through the Great Depression.
With God’s protection and help, they weathered the storms and stayed together celebrating the great moments and seeking comfort from each other in sadness.
Hudson writes, “On May 21, 1997, Youth Night was held at the church with our splendid young people conducting the entire service… The message was given by Tally Wilgis, who later served as a Sojourner Summer Missionary to Houston, Texas, under the sponsorship of the Home Mission Board. Following the sermon, Pastor Hudson led in a Commissioning Service in which those present were invited to lay hands on Tally and whisper to him their prayer of support for his summer mission in Houston.”
Shortly after Wilgis’ commissioning, the church began to falter.
Mark Hudson, Second and Fourth Church trustee and son of Calvin Hudson, described the situation, “As a congregation we had struggled with typical inner-city church problems. Most of our members and their families used to live in the neighborhood, but had relocated to surrounding counties for housing and school issues.”
Hudson said the church tried outreaches such as back to school give-aways, Christmas parties, etc., they felt their style of worship did not appeal to the community.
For over ten years the church explored relocating, merging with another congregation, hiring a new pastor or closing the doors.
In the summer of 2008, Hudson met with Tally, who shared his vision for reaching the city with Hudson.
“Tally was known to the congregation, and gave an emotional presentation,” Hudson said. The church was growing weary of the situation. Hudson said he encouraged members to embrace the new opportunity.
“The end result after much prayer was the decision to stop worshiping together as of Dec. 31 and transition the church and all its assets to a new church ministry that Tally would rebuild.
“While this transition had been difficult, most if not all of our members have found new homes in SBC churches. I know that I speak for all the members of the Second & Fourth Church in saying that we look forward to witnessing the work that God can do through Tally in East Baltimore, and our prayers are with him and those who work with him.”
Long-time pastor Calvin Hudson, with the help of his son, Mark, compiled a comprehensive history of Second and Fourth Church, that also includes side stories about more than 100 Baptist and other denomination churches in the city. The history tells not only of Second and Fourth’s achievements, it tells of its struggles, of its foibles, its humorous happenings and its sorrows. Hudson writes the history in a combination informative third person and first person narrative. He adds his own thoughts and opinions throughout. The history is a treasure trove of historic information about Baltimore Baptists. Here are a few highlights excerpted from Hudson’s writings. The many name changes/mergers, etc. are not noted in this article but can be found in the entirety of the history.
Some items of notice in the history are just a sample of those Hudson wrote about in his history.
• Early on, the church contended with yellow fever. “In 1797, the year the church was constituted, the congregation began construction on their first meeting house… Before the 27×40 foot plain brick meeting house could be finished, an epidemic of yellow fever hit Baltimore and one-half of the small congregation died, including every male member except Pastor Healey.”
• It became the first church in the United States to have Sunday school that used volunteers and only taught religious studies.
• The church was mission minded in a time of “anti-missions.” On Feb. 27, 1798, the church resolved to hold a monthly prayer meeting for World Missions, the first such meeting in America.
• The congregation opposed slavery, grappled with women’s rights in church and church discipline. Two pastors had served in the Confederate army. One of them had been a prisoner.
• Church members struggled with music. They forbade the fiddle, and then had to reconsider when the choir members protested.
• Through the years they had struggles with finances, especially during the Great Depression. They squabbled over whether they should do fundraisers or depend on members to tithe.
• The founder of Fourth Church, layman William Crane, brought ex-slave Moses Clayton from Richmond who established the “First Colored People’s Baptist Church in Baltimore” in 1836.
• In 1877 D.L. Moody preached a revival in High Street Church (which later became Fourth Church which merged with Second Church). Moody held five weeks of revival meetings and High Street reported 116 additions.
• In 1910, the Southern Baptist Convention met in Baltimore for the first time. Joshua Levering of Baltimore was the president.
• Church members had had picnics at Fort Smallwood Park and the children took steamboat rides.
• The Boy Scouts were founded in England in 1908. When the movement arrived in America two years later, the first scout leader was East Baltimore Church member George Parlett.
• The High Street Church (Fourth Church) had the first baptistery in Baltimore.
• When World War II came, East Baltimore Church members sent gifts to service men and women. They dedicated a service flag displaying a star for each of the service men and women. On Christmas day, 1943, church member Eugene Bell made a victory “V” with candles in honor of the men and women in the service.
• “The ever-increasing presence of the automobile has also been a harmful effect on church activities. In the pre-depression years and later, the Sunday school met at 2:30 in the afternoon. With the advent of the automobile, families were able to visit and do other things on Sunday afternoons and Sunday school was changed to 9:45 a.m.”