Change — a one-word slogan that propelled a little known U.S. Senator from Chicago to the presidency of the United States. Forty-Sixth Street Baptist Church is no stranger to change. From its humble start in 1961 as The Crawford Tabernacle Baptist Church, Forty-Sixth Street Baptist Church has experienced 50 years of growth and renaissance.
In 1961, with only 30 members, the late Rev. Thorny C. Crawford organized The Crawford Tabernacle Baptist Church. In 1967, the Rev. Leo Graham legally chartered The Crawford Tabernacle Baptist Church as the Forty-Sixth Street Baptist Church.
In its 50 years of existence, Forty-Sixth Street Baptist Church has had seven pastoral leaders: Crawford, the Rev. Alex Blake, the Rev. Robert Waters, the Rev. Leo Graham, the Rev. Theophilus Wright, and the current pastor, the Rev. Martin T. Wright. Theophilus Wright, who had the longest tenure of 39 years, retired two years ago, passing the senior pastoral role on to his son Martin.
On his role in succeeding his father, Martin said, “Excellent. (It’s) a blessing, (an) opportunity to learn ministry, and to share what I’ve been given with other people in the community of God, the kingdom of God. It’s been an exciting time. The Lord has, by his spirit, provided the impetus to vision things and to implement things.
“We have made great advances in expanding our ministry.”
Those innovative advances have included raising funds to make improvements to the church edifice, creation of a newsletter, weekly movie nights at the church, Saturday night worship services for the seniors and a Web presence on the Internet.
Church first lady Cynthia Wright, 52, is a hands-on leader who loves serving with her husband, Martin. “Being there, to help people along the way,” she explained, “is a real joy.”
Alice Williams, 75, one of the most senior members of Forty-Sixth Street Baptist Church, said of Martin’s pastoral leadership, “He’s a loving man, he’s a good preaching man. He’s not no sexy-man that’s running after other people. He’s a man that loves God.”
Forty-Sixth Street Baptist Church has an array of ministries to appeal to youths and adults, including: Sunday school, men’s and women’s fellowships, dance, basketball and drama.
Minister Joshua Wilsher, 21, president of the Drama Ministry, described his leadership role, “Well, I write, direct and act in most of the skits that we do.”
Wilsher’s vision for his ministry is to spotlight real-life issues that most churches shy away from, for example, “Something like, um, a crackhead mother that’s being abused by her husband, and the children are there watching the whole thing, and how that affects a child as they grow up, in school, and how that relates to bullying.”
Wilsher is certainly cutting-edge. His next dramatic production will deal with an abused mother who puts her man above raising her kids. Visitors can catch his dramatic ministry productions the second and fourth Saturdays of every month.
The Youth Ministry seems to be the most vibrant of all the ministries, says Mary Woodard, youth supervisor and superintendent of Sunday school, “We have a very exciting, vibrant group of young people here, ranging in ages from babies to college graduates. Some have gone on to college, striving for their doctorate degrees, and they’re back here, still coming back to the church, and being a very vital force in the church, teaching Sunday school and working with our youth in various ways.”
Woodard, 59, has been a member of Forty-Sixth Street Baptist Church for 27 years.
Keyanna Wilson, 15, revels in the fact that Forty-Sixth Street Baptist “(is) a very active church, we go on a lot of trips. And the youth here (are) always encouraged to do more, if they are not doing their best.”
Wilson, a ninth-grader at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, is eagerly anticipating the “hype-ness” of the upcoming Youth Anniversary celebration, set for next Sunday with 11 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. services. The youths will take a prominent role in serving and performing during the Sunday morning and afternoon worship services.
Wilson’s favorite part of ministry is serving. She is an usher, sings in various choirs, is a praise dancer and she will soon become a junior nurse. She strongly recommends that today’s youths should attend church.
“When youths think of church, they think, ‘You’re coming to church, people gonna judge you, because you haven’t been coming to church a lot’ — Forty-Sixth Street is not that kind of church,” she said. “It’s a church that encourages you, they believe in you, they believe you can do better. It’s a really good church. I would never leave my church home.”
Deacon Howard Mills, 52, is one of Pastor Wright’s right-hand men. He is also president of the Men’s Fellowship Ministry.
Commenting on that ministry, Mills said, “We all have different talents; some of us may be talented in plumbing, some of us may be electricians, you know, but whatever you can do, you do that for the Lord. There are a lot of churches that you go to, and the women are the ones doing all the work. So, I’m just glad that I came to a church with a strong male presence. You know, that’s not something to take for granted.”
Howard Jackson, 64, has served as a member of Forty-Sixth Street Baptist Church for approximately 22 years, “I have grown a lot since I have been here,” said Jackson, a deacon. “Being a deacon has helped me (to) grow.”
Jackson said some people get caught up in carrying a title, but he feels it’s most important to serve. Being called to the Deacon Board is one of his greatest life achievements.
As he speaks, Jackson’s raspy voice cracks with emotion. It’s obvious from his conversation that Forty-Sixth Street Baptist Church and the Deacon Board have transformed his life. Jackson said he is indebted to Christ and his church for turning his life around. As a result, barring sickness, he proudly proclaimed, “I don’t miss church…God has been good to me.”
46th St. Baptist Church
1261 S. 46th St.
Pastor: Rev. Martin T. Wright
Sunday School — 9:30 a.m.
Sunday Morning Worship — 11:00 a.m.
Prayer and Bible Study, Tues. — 7 p.m.