Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Fall the Church Stood Still

Baptist Temple closed its doors for eight Sundays from October 26 – December 21 in 1918. There was no Fall Festival, no revival, no Thanksgiving service, no choir practice... nothing. All churches were closed. As were schools and theaters; all public gatherings were banned.

Fifty one soldiers had succumbed to the Spanish flu on September 30, 1918 at Camp Travis, San Antonio. The flu had been spreading around the planet, sped along by the close quarters and troop movements of World War I. The first outbreak was in Ft. Riley, Kansas in March 2018. Soon there were outbreaks in Camps Hancock (GA), Lewis (WA), Sherman (OH), Fremont (CA), and San Quentin Prison (CA). In August there were major outbreaks in France, Sierra Leone and Boston. It quickly reached Russia, North Africa and India. The flu eventually reached China, Japan and the Philippines.

The Spanish Flu killed more than 25 million people in the first 25 weeks. It killed more people in 25 weeks than AIDS has killed in 25 years. It killed more people in one year than the Bubonic Plague killed in one century. As many as 100 million died in the pandemic that reached every continent; 6% of earth's population. Six hundred thousand died in the US.

Quarantines at Camp Travis and Fort Sam Houston failed to stop the spread of the flu into the city, where there were already several hundred cases. On October 19, city doctors reported 700 cases in a 24 hour period and the San Antonio Board of Health acted to stop public gatherings.

Baptist Temple Church members J.M. Baugh (charter member) and Mrs. M.T. Heck were among the 881 who died that Fall in San Antonio.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

A Church Adapting to a Community in Transition

Baptist Temple circa 1955, before construction of I-10.
In 1964 highway planners made a decision that had a profound impact on the history of Baptist Temple. The proposed route for Interstate 10 changed so that it would pass along Baptist Temple. The original route, planned in 1959, would have connected it further north to I-35 at S. New Braunfels.

More than 800 houses were demolished to clear a way for construction of the highway. The character of the neighborhood started to change as larger homes were converted to apartments and property values declined. The sixties and seventies saw Baptist Temple transition from a traditional suburban church to an inner-city community church witnessing to a neighborhood undergoing economic and social change.

The highway was completed in 1968 in time for HemisFair 68, San Antonio's world's fair. Venue construction on the 92 acre site of the fair also eliminated many houses including the house and street where Baptist Temple was born. Although the fair only lasted six months, it, along with highway construction, permanently changed the landscape and demographics of southeast San Antonio. It accelerated the growth in the north side of the city and white flight in the south.

Baptist Temple's response to neighborhood transition was outreach through a variety of conventional (bus ministry, food pantry, clothes closet) and unconventional (medical clinic, methadone program) ministries. The result was a more economically and ethnically diverse congregation and a sustainable church.

In 1972, Baptist Temple was selected as a model church for the transitional church conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The Baptist Standard wrote, “No church in Texas has done a more beautiful job of reaching people in a transitional community than has Baptist Temple.”

This drew interest from numerous groups throughout the state including Bill Pinson's Christian ethics class at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Texas area missionaries and Women’s Missionary Union leaders.

The highway's impact on Baptist Temple is usually viewed as negative because many of the homes that were destroyed housed church members and it changed the neighborhood. On the other hand, the interstate's construction reflected the America's growing automobile culture. Fewer people walked to church. Many would drive further and further to attend the church of their choice.

The interstate system allowed folks who moved away from the neighborhood to return to Baptist Temple for worship. It also enabled people who were willing to travel a few miles to make Baptist Temple their church home. Baptist Temple's rate of decline was much slower than that of other large Baptist churches in the Southside. This is primarily attributed to its ability to connect with the community but the access provided by the I-10 (as well as nearby Interstates 410, 35, 37) put in position for success.

Megachurches often seek to build along a highway, knowing that folks will drive a bit to attend a church they like. So, as it turns out, I-10 was more of a blessing than a curse for Baptist Temple's gospel mission.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Is Your Church a Community Church or a Commuter Church?

Many churches carry the word community in their name but, for many, it is unintentionally ironic. One of the largest church in the US call itself a community church but it is surrounded by a parking lot so large that it requires a shuttle service. Beyond the parking lot are acres of undeveloped land and beyond that one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the area.

A commuter church is filled with people who travel from outside the community to worship. They are attracted by a certain style of music or a dynamic speaker. Church is more of an event to attend than a people assembled.

One family would drive 40 minutes one way to attend Sunday service. They did not know anyone in the church and had no contact with either the church nor the surrounding community during the week.

That type of anonymous worship suits many folks today. Commuting to church and work has created bedroom neighborhoods that lack cultural opportunities and human interaction. This type of isolation has led to decreased involvement in civic activities and the political polarization we see today.

Not all commuter churches are large. Some churches have transitioned from community to commuter as the neighborhood changed. Most members moved away but a remnant return to the old neighborhood to worship. The pastor is usually part-time and lives away from the community in which he preaches. The disconnect between church members and the community leads to continued decline.

A community church is involved in its community. It becomes a center of life and beacon of God's love for it's neighbors. An urban church involved in its neighborhood is an oasis of living water. Jesus said that we are to be His witnesses beginning in our own community (Acts 1:8). Many of these churches (75%) host community service organizations.

Each church can provide a unique approach to interacting with its neighborhood. Whether it's community service, the arts, activism or something else, relationships can be created that will lead to gospel-sharing opportunities.