The story of Second Baptist Church in downtown Little Rock is a tale of courage. Following Jesus has led us down some unique pathways and unexpected twists and turns.
In 1884, eleven people established Second Baptist Church. All they had was a vision—no money, no pastor, no building. While a church building was constructed, the congregation met in a Jewish synagogue, which raised a few eyebrows back then (and might still today).
In 1917, in the midst of World War I, the church began a ministry to soldiers that featured Saturday night parties along the lines of what later began USO events. This was extremely controversial in the day, because soldiers were considered unsavory figures, and the parties often included dancing. Church leaders received anonymous phone calls and threatening letters. After one Saturday night party, the church building was mysteriously destroyed by fire. Investigators later found clear evidence of arson.
During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, the church continued to offer bold and innovative ministries: a Hope House for prisoners, a Christian center for gifted and talented young people in music and art, the first accredited kindergarten in Arkansas, the first full scale daycare operated by a church in Arkansas, and a day camp at Lake Nixon on the outskirts of town.
In 1957, one of the key moments in history of Second Baptist Church took place. During the school integration crisis at Little Rock Central, our church took a stand for integration of not just public schools but churches as well. Second Baptist openly welcomed African-Americans to visit and join the church. During the 1960s and 1970s, partially as a result of integration, the population center moved away from the downtown area. Despite this population shift, Second Baptist Church, on several occasions, renewed its commitment to downtown. We remain committed to our downtown neighbors and community.
Also in the 1970s, Second Baptist matched its progressive stance on race with a progressive stance towards women, ordaining its first woman deacons before many Baptist churches were even debating the concept. Second Baptist continues to strongly support the ordination of women to all ministry roles today.
In the 1990s, Second Baptist was the first Baptist church in Arkansas to join a ministry to AIDS patients. We also expanded our ministry to senior citizens and special needs populations in the downtown area.
Today, the courage of our past continues to shape our identity and our work.
Our hope and prayer is that our rich history will propel us into the future, as we intend to follow Jesus, no matter the cost. We hope the courage which enlivened our past will also characterize our future, which we would love to share with you!