In 1881, a small group of Christians came together to form the nucleus for what would later be called the Tabernacle Baptist Church. Led by the Rev. J. Countee, they, along with others, had migrated to Kansas from Louisiana and Tennessee seeking greater religious expression and economic and social opportunity. While some in the group, including the Rev. Countee, settled in other parts of Kansas, this group moved to Wichita.
In 1883, the Rev. Countee joined the group for a period to organize the church formally. The name Tabernacle, interpreted “A Haven of Rest,” originated from the mother church in Memphis, Tennessee, now called Beale Street Baptist. Located at 900 N. Water, Tabernacle was housed in a two-story residence, which the Rev. Countee had rented for the group prior to his coming to Wichita. The house served both as a sanctuary and a parsonage for the Rev. R.C. McTurner, the young minister sent by the Rev. Countee to pastor the church. This house served the congregation until 1897 when the Rev. John Van Leu, who had been appointed by the National Baptist Convention as General Missionary for the State of Kansas, donated to the church two lots at 8th and Water. On these lots the first building, later known as the “Little White-Washed, Weather-Beaten Church,” was constructed.
Though there are few written records of the early church prior to 1940, it is clear that several pastors, to whom we owe a great debt, served Tabernacle (See Shepherds of the Flock). In 1940, the Rev. F. K. Simon was called to pastor the church. Early in his pastorate, a parsonage and a three-room educational building were constructed, and a sound budget/financial system was instituted. As the church membership grew, auxiliaries were organized or expanded. Additionally, the Southern Airs singing group was organized, and the church’s first radio program was aired on KFH. In 1951, plans were drawn for a larger building, and in 1952, the groundbreaking ceremony was held and the basement completed. However, as a result of dissension among the membership, the building program was discontinued.
In 1955, the Rev. U.W. Barron was called as pastor. The years of his pastorate became known as “the golden years of the church.” During his first year, all debts of the church were paid, and a new parsonage was purchased and furnished. By the end of 1955, the church membership had outgrown the building. A recommendation was made and approved to purchase the property at 17th and Volutsia and later to expand the church.
Thus, “Operation Hilltop” was launched. In February 1956, the Tabernacle Baptist Church moved to 17th and Volutsia. In 1957, the church purchased additional property north of its property line for parking. The membership continued to grow, and in August 1958, a recommendation was made and approved to build a new sanctuary. The debt for the building and property was paid in full on April 5, 1959, and the groundbreaking ceremony for the new sanctuary was held on July 19, 1959. In March 1961, the 1,000 members of Tabernacle entered the new sanctuary.
During Rev. Barron’s pastorate, several auxiliaries of the church were established and strengthened, particularly the youth and children’s departments. Additionally, a church cafeteria and credit union were established. In 1967, as a result of a car accident, Rev. U.W. Barron, beloved pastor of Tabernacle, passed from labor to reward.
In 1968, the Rev. Wallace S. Hartfield accepted the call to pastor. Under his pastorate, the church’s mortgage was paid, and a new parsonage was built. Additionally, the Hostess and Scholarship Committees were organized, and other auxiliaries were expanded and strengthened. In 1972, the Rev. Hartfield resigned to return to the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1973, the Rev. Willis C. Thomas, Jr., noted preacher and evangelist, accepted the call to pastor the Tabernacle Baptist Church. Under his pastorate, a church office was built and equipped; the pastor’s office was remodeled; the mortgage on the parsonage was paid; and twelve men acknowledged their call to the ministry. In 1976, the Rev. Thomas resigned to accept the call to pastor Unity Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Rev. John Edwards served as interim pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church from 1976 -1977. Under the leadership of the Rev. Edwards the church continued to grow. Also a 15-passenger van, robes for the choir members and carpet for the sanctuary were purchased.
In 1977, the Rev. Dr. Lloyd D. Hall, Jr. accepted the call to pastor. Under his pastorate the Baptist Training Union, Sunday School, Board of Christian Education, Music Department, Youth Church, Usher Board and Women’s Mission Union were strengthened. Additionally, during 1978 and 1979, the following improvements were made: construction of the walk-in chapel, remodeling of the U.W. Barron Memorial Chapel, restrooms, undercroft, kitchen and dining areas. In 1981, Rev. Hall led the church in celebrating the 100th anniversary using the theme: “We’ve Come This Far By Faith.” In 1986, Rev. Hall resigned as pastor of the church.
The Rev. Lincoln Eugene Montgomery, assistant pastor, served as interim pastor until accepting the call to pastor the Tabernacle Baptist Church in August 1987. Under his pastorate, the Tabernacle Baptist Church has experienced a great spiritual awakening. Approximately 1300 members have been added to the church; 19 men and women have acknowledged their call to the ministry, and the Tabernacle Baptist Church family has given birth to a new, though ageless, paradigm. Clearly based on God’s Word, it is one that focuses not on auxiliaries and committees, but on the call to ministry. It is grounded in the knowledge that each member of the body of Christ is endowed with God-given gifts, and since God is the gift-giver, it is God Himself who best determines one’s ministry fit. As a result, members in Tabernacle are not voted into positions but are placed according to their gifts, passion and personal style.
Additionally, during Rev. Montgomery’s pastorate, the Family Ministry (this includes the Young Adult, Senior Adult, Singles, Couples and Parenting Ministries as well as several Support Groups, and the Family Life Counseling Center), and the Creative Communications Ministry have been established. Other ministries have been renewed, expanded and strengthened.
Recognizing the call of the church to minister to the “least, the last and the lost,” Rev. Montgomery has led the church in setting aside 10% of its budget for benevolence and 5% each for Children/Youth Ministry and Senior Adult Ministry. Tabernacle Baptist Church has been blessed to contribute over $1.5 million in the last 13 years to national, state and local causes, emergency relief and mission. The church has also been actively involved in community outreach with continuing and focused evangelistic efforts.
In addition to ongoing spiritual growth opportunities, the church also offers annual and biennial conferences and retreats. The Music Ministry of the church is known for its original productions, and the youth choir has just released its first CD, “Back to the Wall.”
Approximately one million dollars has been expended to completely renovate the existing building and equipment. Future plans call for the addition of a Family Life Center to include a gymnasium, counseling center, classrooms, day care center, and additional office space. The vision of Rev. Montgomery also includes aggressively reaching out to a troubled generation of young people and more effectively ministering to the needs of senior adults in the form of housing and meeting social as well as spiritual needs. The goal, according to Rev. Montgomery, “is to do nothing less than to be used of God to bring healing to a hurting world.”