A Summary History of
Second Baptist Church
Second Baptist Church is the first black Baptist church organized in Evanston, Illinois. Initially, many black Baptists were members of the First Baptist (now Lake Street) Church. As time went on, some of them became dissatisfied with their passive roles and decided to separate themselves from that congregation.
In July 1882, local black Baptists and Methodists formed a religious organization that held union services in a room above the post office on Davis Street between Chicago and Orrington Avenues. Richard Day, a well-known entrepreneur in the Village of Evanston, chaired the society.
The Methodists and Baptists voted to establish churches within their own denominations in September 1882. After the Methodists moved to a different location, the Baptists, with 20 members, continued to worship above the post office.
During the First Baptist prayer meeting on November 8, 1882, a company of black men and women requested that the pastor and two delegates be present on November 17, 1882 to “meet in council to consider the propriety of recognizing said company as a regular and independent Baptist Church”.
On November 15, 1882, ten black First Baptist Church members requested and were granted letters of dismission: Nathan and Ellen Branch, Andrew and Susan Scott, George and Maria Robinson, Daniel and Mary Garnett, Richard Day and William Ender. The Evanston Index reported that on Friday, November 17, 1882, “the Second Baptist church was organized and recognized by an ecclesiastical council invited for that purpose” with twenty members—the ten from First Baptist’s rolls and others, which may have also included William and Lucy Trent, Miss Maggie Carey, Sandy and M. L. Trent. The organizing pastor was the Reverend S. T. Clanton, from Louisiana, a seminarian at the Baptist Union Theological Seminary in Morgan Park, Illinois.
The young church continued to worship in the room over the post office and held many fundraising events in the nearby Union Hall with the goal to acquire its own building. Upon Reverend Clanton’s graduation in May 1883, Reverends R. DeBaptiste and J. W. Terry concurrently served at two Second Baptist churches—in Evanston and Elgin—on alternating Sundays.
In September 1883, the church purchased a frame schoolhouse located at Hinman Avenue and Dempster Street. Northwestern University issued a 20-year, $40.00 a year lease to Second Baptist for a lot on Benson Avenue north of Church Street, and the congregation moved the building to the Benson lot.
Through 1889, other pastors—some of whom also matriculated at the Baptist seminary—served the church: Reverends P. V. Hazel, R. J. Temple, C. L. Fisher, E. L. Scruggs and W. B. Brown. The latter raised funds so the church could buy its own lot. But on September 14, 1889, a fire between the alley and Church Street destroyed the edifice and other nearby frame structures. For a time, the congregation worshipped in Liberty Hall on Davis Street near Chicago Avenue.
In May 1890, Second Baptist purchased the building used by the Second Methodist Church of North Evanston. The church leadership petitioned the Village of Evanston to move the edifice to lots owned by Nathan Branch on Wesley Avenue between Lake and Grove Streets. However, more than 100 of his neighbors protested the move in a counter-petition, citing “…not only increasing the hazard of fire but necessitating much injury to our shade trees…” Reverend S. Taylor served during part of this period as deliberations continued. After Second Baptist’s bid to purchase the Benson Avenue lot failed, a land swap was negotiated: the University purchased Branch’s lots, and he and his wife purchased the Benson lot for $750.00. In early December 1890, the church edifice was moved there.
The Original SBC Building
The Reverend G. M. Davis was called in April 1891 from Indianapolis, Indiana, to serve as pastor. After the Reverend J. W. Anderson of St. Louis, Missouri came to preach a series of trial sermons in March 1894, he installed himself as the pastor. This precipitated a split in the congregation—some members wanted his leadership while others did not. The dissenters, including the Scott and Trent families, established the Berean Baptist Church, with Reverend Anderson as the pastor. Second Baptist extended a call to the Reverend E. H. McDonald of Detroit, Michigan, another student from the Baptist seminary. Later that year, after some scandals connected to Reverend Anderson, Berean changed its name to Mount Zion Baptist.
Pastors that served brief tenures during the subsequent years included Reverend E. H. Beverly, Reverend E. H. Fletcher, Reverend S. Taylor (again), and Reverend William Gray. By September 1900, Reverend B. P. E. Gayles of Mississippi was the pastor. When the congregation sought to replace its deteriorating edifice in 1911, Reverend Gayles did not want to lead the capital campaign. After months of contention, he resigned in January 1912.
Reverend I. A. Thomas, a Morehouse College graduate who hailed from Georgia, was called to Second Baptist in February 1912 and installed in May. With assistance from Rev. James H. Stifler, First Baptist’s pastor, he smoothed over remaining tensions and gained congregational and community support for construction of a new brick edifice. A building permit was obtained in August and the old building was demolished later that year. Worship was held at 620 Davis St., and the cornerstone was laid in March 1913. After many fundraising events, the building was dedicated on December 12, 1915, as the church celebrated its 33rd anniversary. Reverend Thomas initiated a capital campaign in 1920 that allowed the church to burn its mortgage, build a parsonage in the rear of the church and purchase a Kimball pipe organ. He was active in the state and national Baptist conventions and founded an investment company that promoted the building and purchase of homes.
Reverend B. P. E. Gayles
Reverend E. H. Fletcher
By 1929, as property values escalated in downtown Evanston, the congregation was split about whether to remain or sell the land and relocate to the West Side. Reverend Thomas began to exclude members who were against his immediate vision. He and his officers were voted out in July 1929, and he challenged the election results for more than a year. In 1931, Reverend Thomas established a splinter Second Baptist Church, which first met at the Foster School and later at 1625 Emerson St. It is now known as Bethany Baptist Church of Christ.
Reverend T. L. Ballou, a seasoned minister who had pastored churches in Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia, was called from a Chicago church to lead Second Baptist as Reverend Thomas challenged his dismissal. His Second Baptist tenure, which began in September 1929, ended around late 1930-early 1931. He established Ballou’s Gospel Tabernacle (now Tabernacle Baptist Church) with members of the First Baptist Church in Glencoe who decided to reorganize in Evanston.
Reverend I. A. Thomas (center)
Reverend W . H. Borders
Reverend W. H. Borders, a seminarian at Garrett Bible Institute, was ordained and installed as pastor in June 1931. He successfully halved the church’s debt and re-established its credit. In September 1937, he resigned to return to Atlanta, his home town, to teach at Morehouse College, his alma mater.
Reverend J. Gentry Horace of Texas was called to the pastorate in February 1938. While serving, he briefly attended Garrett but transferred to Northern Baptist Seminary in Chicago. The citywide prayer band began during his tenure, and he led the church’s efforts to eliminate its long-standing debt, which culminated in another mortgage burning ceremony on August 2, 1942. Reverend Horace resigned in August 1946.
Reverend J. Gentry Horace
Reverend C. Nathaniel Hawk Sr.
Reverend C. Nathaniel Hawk Sr., another seasoned pastor who hailed from Louisiana, was elected in March 1947 after serving in the United States Army as Chaplain, retiring as Captain. In 1951, the church purchased property at 2312 Church St., and in 1954, Second Baptist hosted events during the Second World Council of Churches. The first women trustees were appointed in the 1950s, and the church held major anniversary celebrations in 1955 and 1965. Towards the end of his tenure, the annual fall Usher’s Luncheon was established. Reverend Hawk served faithfully until the fall of 1971.
Reverend Dr. Hycel B. Taylor, of Columbus, Ohio, was called as Minister on February 13, 1972. A professor at Garrett Theological Seminary who organized the Church and the Black Experience program, he was a philosopher, poet, artist, and social activist. Under his leadership, Second Baptist launched many new ministries, including the Ione S. Brown Memorial Scholarship Fund, the Youth Action Ministry (YAM), the homeless soup kitchen, the Faith and Freedom Drill Team and the Female Rites of Passage program. The sale of memorial windows began during his tenure, and both the 8:00 a.m. worship service and Samuel Adams Memorial Reserve Fund were established.
Reverend Dr. Hycel B. Taylor
Dr. Taylor's legacy includes the recognition of women's calling to ordained ministry, in spite of the traditional stand taken in most black Baptist churches during that time. Brenda Williams-Piper (the late Reverend Dr. Brenda J. Little) was the first woman licensed and ordained to the Christian ministry at Second Baptist in May and June 1979. She later became the church's full-time Assistant Pastoral Director. On February 13, 1983, Lorraine Morton and Margaret Walker were the first women to be ordained as deacons.
During his pastorate, Second Baptist nurtured, ordained and sent forth more than 50 faithful “sons and daughters” in the ministry who have served locally, nationally and internationally as pastors, chaplains, seminary presidents and professors, and in numerous other fields. After nearly 30 years of service, in October 2001, Dr. Taylor resigned to become pastor of the historic Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois.
Reverend Mark A. Dennis Jr.
Reverend Mark A. Dennis Jr. served as the Interim Pastor from January 2002 to August 2003. On November 16, 2003, he was installed as the Senior Pastor. During his tenure, he initiated the Pillar Ministry leadership structure and spearheaded initiatives such as Rite of Passage, Sankofa, the Community Garden and SunBlock as ways to expand the church’s impact beyond the walls. He also established the Annual Leadership Awards: Nathan Branch (Faith); J. Gentry Horace (Freedom); and Sarah “Mom” Hawk (Fellowship), as well as the annual awards for outstanding youth, young adult and senior.
Under Reverend Dennis’ leadership, the church also conducted its first Facilities Audit, which led to extensive building renovations. In December 2014, he resigned to become the President/CEO of the McGaw YMCA in Evanston, Illinois.
In December 2014, the Second Baptist Church called Reverend Dr. Michael C. R. Nabors as its Senior Pastor. The church warmly welcomed Dr. Nabors, his wife Sydni Craig-Nabors and their three youngest children: Spencer, Pierce and Parker. He introduced a broad vision for expanding Christian Education with an array of courses for all ages. Dr. Nabors also introduced the Maximizing Ministry initiative, which brought over 40 different auxiliaries and organizations into seven focused, over-arching ministries. Ministers, officers and laypersons are all working together to achieve the goal of “building the beloved community”.
Since its organization in 1882, Second Baptist Church has been known as The Homelike Church, The Church That Exists to Serve the Public and Its Ever Growing Membership, The Church for All People, and The Church of Faith and Freedom. It now embodies its current motto, The Church of Faith, Freedom and Fellowship. Founded by a group of former slaves and organized during a time of much growth in Evanston, the church has served as a bulwark and as a beacon for our people for well over a century. Its long and illustrious history has had its conflicts and challenges, but Second Baptist has prevailed. By the grace of God, the church continues to stand confidently in "Faith, Freedom and Fellowship", serving as a beacon of light on the North Shore.
Compiled by Rhonda K. Craven