On November 15, 1874, ten members of Raleigh’s First Baptist Church established a new church from its mission Sunday School on Swain Street. In only four years, the Capital City’s Second Baptist Church had outgrown its facilities and, in 1878, voted to relocate. Financial reverses did not dim the church’s vision of a new home on Person and Hargett Streets downtown, and that vision became a reality on “the first Sabbath in October 1881,” when the building was dedicated. On that busy corner, overlooking Moore Square, the church house–or modifications of it–stood for 120 years. Of the several renovations, perhaps the most notable was celebrated in 1910, when 1,500 worshipers attended each of three services. At that time, the church changed its name to “Tabernacle” and was on its way toward becoming “the largest Baptist church in North Carolina” (Biblical Recorder, 1944).
The Heart of the Church in the Heart of the City
Even before its move from Swain Street, the church developed a heart for missions; for example, in 1889, it opened a free dispensary for the medically indigent in its community.
Other ministries included the creation of an emergency soup kitchen, during the widespread ‘flu epidemic of 1918, where all in need were welcome–either to come to the kitchen or to order from it. The kitchen served more than 2,000 people.
During World War II, in a church-owned house next door, Tabernacle operated a weekend home-away-from-home for military personnel.
“Lov’Em Through Linens” continues since 1979 as a service to people in need of household linens.
The Living Christmas Tree, introduced in 1982, is perhaps the most memorable of all the church’s outreach ministries. A four- or five-night schedule was necessary to accommodate the thousands of people who came and worshiped at the presentation each season.
From 1987 until its relocation in 2001, the church opened its doors on Wednesdays for lunch and a brief worship opportunity for men and women who worked downtown. The “lunch bunch,” as they called themselves, usually numbered about 120.
In 1986 we began the church’s 30-minute Sunday morning broadcast over WPTF Radio, at which time the previous Sunday’s sermon reached an audience of about 10,000 people. The radio ministry was ended in 2011 so the church could expand its website and better support other forms of distributing our worship services.
In 2009, Tabernacle began video taping the Sunday morning services so that DVDs could be distributed to home-bound members, a ministry that continues today. Our first TV ministry broadcast occurred In 2009, and that ministry is also continuing. A previous Sunday’s service is broadcast on Time-Warner Cable and AT&T U-Verse on Sundays at 8:00 am. In 2014, the church began live-streaming our worship services and in 2015 further expanded our website capabilities to include viewing of the live-streamed broadcasts.
When businesses and state government complexes dominate downtown in a thriving city, when hundreds of churches take their places in suburbia, and when churchgoers find their spiritual niches in their own neighborhoods, downtown churches make prayerful decisions. God answered the prayers of Tabernacle when He placed a buyer of its property on its doorstep and, almost simultaneously, a seller of prime property where a church was needed–at 8304 Leesville Road in Raleigh.
In assurance of the Holy Spirit’s leadership, the church prayed, planned, built, and packed through many of the new Millennium’s celebrations. Tabernacle’s first Sunday at the Leesville Road location was July 22, 2001. New members of all ages have gladdened the heart of the church as it continues to proclaim the good news, minister to all people, and nurture spiritual growth.
A rich history, indeed.