‘Invincible’ Second Baptist Church celebrates 180 years

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Detroit— Second Baptist Church of Detroit celebrated its 180th anniversary Sunday with inspiring sermons, sweet-sounding hymns and, of course, heartfelt prayer.

The church’s senior pastor the Rev. Kevin M. Turman, noted the Monroe Street church between Beaubien and Brush has survived fires, wars, “race riots, atheists, the KKK” and internal conflicts since 1836.

“We’re still standing after 180 years and likely 180,000 challenges,” Turman told the congregation gathered for Palm Sunday service. “... Pastors have died while in office and one died in his office ... pipes have burst, floors have sunk ...

“If we can just hang together, work together and pray together, hold our peace and let the Lord fight our battles ... we are invincible.”

The church is a treasure trove of history. It was founded by 13 former slaves in 1836 — one year before the Michigan Territory became a state. The founders had left a segregated First Baptist Church of Detroit. Second Baptist has been at its present location since 1857.

The church helped runaway slaves as they got to the Crogan Street station, a stop on the national Underground Railroad. The street was later renamed Monroe.

LaTrelle Powers-Mays of Southfield holds her hand up in praise during a musical ministry part of the service on Sunday. Powers-Mays has been attending Second Baptist for 26 years.

Second Baptist Church has boasted many well-known parishioners and visitors: Ralph Bunche, the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was baptized there in 1927. Abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass, himself born into slavery, spoke at the church in 1859. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the church in 1945, 1954, 1958 and 1962. The church claims to have raised more money than any other church for King’s civil rights activities in Montgomery, Ala.

Turman, who was elected pastor in 1988, said the church has about 500 active members and “about 200” at any service.

On Sunday, a Celestial Handbell Choir played between some readings and announcements. At other times, a 16-person choir, whose hymns were accompanied by piano, guitar, drums and trumpet, had many on their feet, clapping their hands and singing along.

Among those attending the Palm Sunday service were Turner and Marsha Thompson, proud members for 30 years.

When asked to reflect on the church’s anniversary Turner Thompson remarked “how blessed we have been to survive over the last 180 years and have a pastor (Turman) with a vision for the future.”

Another attendee on Sunday was Oakland County Commissioner Nancy Quarles, D-Southfield, who presented Turman with a county resolution celebrating it as one of the oldest, if not oldest, church in Metro Detroit.

“We want to celebrate with you ...” said Quarles, “ ... your work and your deeds. ...”

Quarles, a former state representative, said the church is known throughout Michigan.

Besides its missionary work, the church, near popular restaurants and the Greektown Casino, opens its doors every Tuesday to feed the hungry and provide free clothing.

Twice a month, the church also becomes a safe overnight shelter for the homeless.


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