Pittsburgh Baptist Church
Article from The Pittsburgh Press - June 5, 1983

Southern Baptists Return To Old Ties
by Jerry Sharpe (Press Religion Editor)

Southern Baptists, often thought of as fundamentalists from the Old Confederacy states, split from a denomination once headquartered in Pennsylvania.

That's only one of the lesser-known facts about the 13.8 million-member denomination which will hold its convention in Pittsburgh for the first time beginning with pre-conference church music sessions on Friday.

Other facts likely to surprise many:

- Although it is believed the denomination is basically composed of Anglo-Saxons, it is one of the most ethnic in existence with members in this country speaking 80 different languages. Its missions reach into 96 foreign countries
- The term "Southern" tends to regionalize the church, but it has members in all 50 states, Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. And in Pennsylvania, most of the 18,000 members in 160 congregations have no Southern roots.
- Pittsburgh is one of the nation's most receptive cities to churches, yet Southern Baptists didn't come here until 1958.

A Greentree man, Clyde W. Standard, of 160 Arla Drive, well remembers the church's pioneer days.

Now, director of traffic in Westinghouse Corp's Industry Products Company, his company tranferred him here from South Carolina, where he had been transplanted from his hometown of Atlanta, Ga.

"Soon after my wife, Margaret, and I came here in 1958 we realized we couldn't find a Southern Baptist church anywhere in Pennsylvania. We were sad. We missed our church. Why, we met and got married in the Southern Baptist church back home in Atlanta."

"We were living here in the old Roosevelt Hotel, Downtown, and got acquainted with a few other Southern families who missed their church. First thing you know we began to get together for meetings. Then we contacted the Home Mission board and got the go-ahead to rent Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland for Sunday meetings."

But the small group wanted a permanent home and a search led them to a former Lutheran Church on a Brookline street which Mrs. Standard joked was "appropriately named Pioneer Avenue."

And services started in April 1959 at Pittsburgh Baptist Church, 3100 Pioneer Avenue.

It was the denomination's first church in Pennsylvania - the root state of the 1800s congregation that eventually became the Southern Baptists.

The Rev. Dwight Moody, pastor of North Park Baptist Church, McCandless, gives this history and information:

Today's Southern Baptists stem from left-wing reformers who began clashing with the established churches in England in 1607. As a result, Roger Williams founded the first Baptist church in America in Providence, RI, in 1639.

The church branched out, and the first Baptist Association was formed in Philadelphia in 1707. Later in 1814, the first Baptist Convention was held there.

But in 1845, disagreements over slavery led to southern members withdrawing and forming their own convention which grew into today's Southern Baptists.

The remaining Baptists were the nucleus of what is today several Baptist denominations including American Baptist Churches in the USA which where organized in 1907 as the Northern Baptists.

Later, numerous blacks organized the National Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. and the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

But more than 300,000 blacks are Southern Baptists, state conventions in Alaska and Illinois have elected black presidents, and more than 100 black professionals are employed by Southern Baptist agencies.

Former President Harry S. Truman was a Southern Baptist, as was Hugo Black, the U.S. Supreme Court justice from Alabama whose opinion helped form the legal basis for the civil rights movement.

Although 74 percent, or 10.2 million members still live in the Old Confederacy states, the denomination has continually surged our of Dixie since the 1940s. And at a time when major denominations report dwindling numbers, Southern Baptists are baptizing an average of 7700 new converts weekly and organizing new churches at the rate of one-a-day. If the present rate of growth continues, the membership will reach 16 million by 1990.

Western Pennsylvania now has three Southern Baptist associations with a total of 53 congregations and dozens of missions in homes, fire halls and other community buildings.

Basicaly a Bible-believing, teetotaling fundamentalistic denomination, Southern Baptist churches are absolutely autonomous and children cannot become members by birth - initial membership is only by baptism.

Standard said, "We're the only family left from the original forming families. We just happen to be southerners, but we are a little sensitive about that because our churches here in Pennsylvania are not by any means just homes for people from the south. We don't ever want them to be."

"What the church stands for is what's important - the region you come from isn't. The vast majority of our 18,000 members in Pennsylvania have no southern roots."

 Baptist Church (Pioneer Ave) - 2011
The Pittsburgh Baptist Church
3100 Pioneer Avenue, Brookline

Note: The church on Pioneer Avenue is an old Lutheran (the Missouri Synods) church, built in 1908. The inside of the building features intricate woodwork and the stained glass windows are one-of-a-kind, with images depicting items of old Lutheran symbolism. The delicate wood carvings on the church fixtures are also steeped in tradition. The sanctuary of the small church is a relatively unknown treasure here in Brookline.

For more information on the Pittsburgh Baptist Church, visit their website at www.pittsburghbaptist.org.

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