On the South side of Chicago, Illinois, in 1904, a small group of Christians, whose former church disbanded, felt the need for a new organization in order to continue their Christian endeavor. In April of that year, they met at the home of Mrs. Mary Burr at 2619 S. State Street, and organized the Saint John Missionary Baptist Church.
The founding members were: Deacon George Dunnington, Colonel Young, Clara Hopkins, Mamie Burr, Mary Taylor King, and Deacon Willie McCoo. They soon met the Reverend Forest McCoo, a young minister whose preaching skills and qualifications were impressive. The founders asked Reverend McCoo to help them organize the new church. He eagerly accepted, and became the church's first pastor.
For four years, Saint John held its services in a storefront located at 3403 S. Federal Street, furnished with only a few oil lamps, a coal stove, and a pulpit made from an orange crate. As the membership increased, the congregation purchased land, and built a new church a few blocks away. In 1915, the church moved into a larger facility located at 3434 S. Wabash Avenue. During this period, membership increased to over 5,000 members with a Sunday school enrollment of more than 500.
After a series of reversals in the 1920's, the church was forced to move from the building at 34th and Wabash, and began holding services in the auditorium of the Frances E. Willard School at 49th and St. Lawrence. In early 1927, Reverend McCoo resigned. Later that year, Reverend Oliver W. Williams of Joliet, Illinois, became the new pastor of Saint John. He recommended adding the word "Greater" to the name of the church. Under his leadership, membership increased again, and new clubs and auxiliaries were formed. In 1935, Saint John moved to its current location at 48th and Michigan.
In 1939, a church split occurred, and the large membership was divided. Reverend Williams resigned to become pastor of the new Saint John Temple. For several weeks after his resignation, the original church struggled without a pastor. The following year, the Reverend William A. Johnson of Plainfield, New Jersey, accepted the call to lead Greater Saint John. Under his dynamic leadership, the membership grew to more than 2,000.
Saint John was enlarged and remodeled in 1948, doubling its seating capacity and adding newer facilities. The church purchased the adjacent apartment building in the early 1960's, and converted it into the William A. Johnson Parish House. In 1967, the name of the church was changed to Saint John Church-Baptist, because another church had filed a charter with the State of Illinois, under the name, Greater Saint John.
The underlying strength of Pastor Johnson's ministry at Saint John was a strong worship program. Sunday morning worship at 11 o'clock was an uplifting experience: early worshippers would have the benefit of a spirit-filled devotion featuring personal testimony.
Pastor Johnson demonstrated that by using accumulated resources of the church that we strengthen ourselves by making a difference in the lives of others. Some of Saint John's projects of that principle included:
Pastor William Augustus Elliott Johnson retired from his work at Saint John Church-Baptist at the age of 94. He died on December 21, 1995.
Upon the recommendation of the Board of Deacons of Saint John Church-Baptist, the congregation appointed a Pastoral Search Committee at the semi-annual church meeting in 1994. The health of the then pastor, Reverend William A. Johnson, was rapidly declining, and his retirement was imminent.
After having screened numerous applicants, the Pastoral Search Committee announced its selection of the Reverend Ricky Freeman, Pastor of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Joliet, Illinois, as a candidate for pastor of Saint John Church-Baptist.
He was installed as the pastor of Saint John Church-Baptist on Sunday, January 28, 1996.
At age thirty-seven, Pastor Freeman had already "distinguished himself as an outstanding teacher, counselor, civic leader and preacher of the Gospel." According to his personal testimony, he received the spirit "call" to the ministry when he was sixteen years old, and at age twenty-two, he was ordained to preach the Gospel by the Reverend Doctor Luke Mingo of the Morning Star Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois. At the time of his call to Saint John Church-Baptist, Pastor Freeman had served as Senior Pastor of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church for eleven and a half years.
During his years as pastor of Saint John Church-Baptist, Pastor Freeman has had the opportunity to observe, participate in, assess and begin renovation of the program of the church. Accordingly, he has formulated several goals designed to both reactivate the initiate Saint John's active involvement in the civic and Church Communities. These goals are to organize the ministries and activities of the congregation around its core values; to increase the membership of the congregation [and] to attract more families; to expand the congregation's role in the community; to update our facilities to enhance efficiency and comfort; to expand our level of participation in denominational work; to develop ministry partnerships with sister churches.
In order to pave the way for fulfilling these goals, Pastor Freeman has taken several steps. He began his ministry at Saint John by conducting one-on-one interviews of members, especially the church leaders. Then, in a special "Chat with the Pastor," leaders were asked to formulate a Mission Statement for the church. From this statement evolved the four core values of the church's mission: (a) Reaching the unsaved and unchurched for Christ; (b) Developing spiritually mature Christians; (c) Experiencing God in worship; and (d) Serving the needs of persons in our Church and Community.
In order to accelerate the implementation of the core values through specific ministries, Pastor Freeman hired the Reverend Willie C. Doss as a full-time Director of Christian Education. Before coming to Saint John, Reverend Doss served as an associate minister and youth Pastor at Second Baptist Church in Joliet, Illinois. Later, upon the recommendation of Pastor Freeman, Reverend Doss was named Assistant to the Pastor.
According to the Pastor, Reverend Doss has been instrumental in implementing the objectives of the Mission Statement and getting new ministries started. During his tenure, Vacation Bible School, Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts and the Drama Ministry have been revamped and the following ministries have become operational:
Other ministries that have been put in place and are fully operational are Jesus and Me (JAM), a weekly class of Christian principles for older children; Stepping Stones to Christ, a weekly Bible class for children; The House of Joy, children's worship nursery; and SJCB School of the Performing Arts, which offers piano, voice and organ lessons. These ministries are an expansion of the program of the Department of Christian Education and are designed to address the needs of both the congregation and the community -- bring the two together as often as possible, and serving as quite a potential of growth for the church.
Another ministry initiative is the establishment of a community development corporation called the Saint John Community Outreach Organization. In April 2004, Saint John-Baptist celebrated one hundred years of ministry. That Saint John Church-Baptist has existed as a viable Body of Christ for more than 100 years is to the Glory of God! We should give Him unreserved THANKS.
Saint John Church-Baptist @ 2008. 4821-35 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60615 | Telephone: (773) 536-3215