Over 130 years ago, a little church school, inspired by the dreams of a paperboy, was planted amidst a grove of trees in the quiet countryside on the outskirts of Richmond. Over the years, a neighborhood grew up around the little school and, in turn, the little school grew into a full-fledged church (January 28, 1891) The neighborhood and church grew up together. The grove of trees was eventually transformed into Grove Avenue, a bustling corner of a an expanding city. The church thrived where it was planted. What began as a little school would later become one of the largest Sunday Schools on the eastern seaboard.
Tabernacle Baptist Church and the Fan District reached a numerical zenith in the years preceding WWII. However, the years that followed the war would bring a steady decline of both congregants and neighbors as young families migrated to the suburbs. During this period of time, many downtown churches followed the families out of the city and some churches were even forced to close their doors. The little church, that became a big church at the corner of Grove and Meadow, found itself “little” once again. The congregation found itself at a crossroads, “do we follow the others out of the city or do we take a risk and remain?”. The church took a courageous stand and chose to remain true to the vision first cast in 1887. Limited resources made it difficult to maintain deteriorating facilities. However, the church never lost sight of its original commitment to serve God and to share the love of Christ in this community. There was always the expectation that God would honor the church’s continuing commitment and prayers for renewal.
Many years later, the little church found itself turning a significant corner. Positive signs began to surface in the late 1990s and momentum came steadily into the turn of the century. We began to see some dramatic growth in 2005 as young adults, students and professionals alike, began to stream into the church. Three years later, a massive influx of refugees from Burma arrived on our doorstep. Our brothers and sisters from east Asia brought numerous children back into the corridors of the old church building and together our wonderfully diverse family began to live into something new. The veterans that remained so faithful, for so many years, welcomed each and every newcomer with open arms. A surge of public and private educators, social workers, investors, lawyers, construction workers, seminarians, nurses, doctors, architects, artists, sushi chefs, etc., soon joined the ranks. Today, the momentum continues to build and we are eager to live into the vision God has put before us.
Tabernacle Baptist Church looks back over these 130 years of ministry with a full awareness that we are participating in a story larger than our own. We are celebrating renewal and recommitting ourselves to the initial vision cast thirteen decades ago: the nurture, care, and spiritual development of children, teenagers, and their families. We are also uniquely equipped to facilitate ministry for partners wishing to serve in the city or for others wishing to develop their gifts in a healthy ministry environment.
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