Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Baptist Tabernacle

"A Quick Working Church"

Tabernacle Baptist Church, photo c.1900, photographer unknown.

by John B. Green III

On June 7, 1895 there appeared in the New Bern Daily Journal an article with the heading "A Quick Working Church." The writer proceeded to detail all that the newly established church had "accomplished inside of thirty days." The members had withdrawn from First Baptist Church, organized a new church, called a pastor, erected a "Tabernacle with Baptismal pool," organized a Women's Missionary society, had a Sunday School picnic, and begun a "protracted meeting" or revival.

The new church, known variously as Second Baptist Church, the Baptist Tabernacle, and Tabernacle Baptist Church, began as a Sunday School mission sponsored by members of First Baptist Church in 1893. Meeting in the western part of town on Norwood Street near Queen and Pollock streets, the mission eventually moved to a lot on Bern Street where a temporary frame structure known as the Tabernacle was erected and the new church was formally organized.

The Daily Journal, Friday, 13 November 1896.

Continued growth led the church to purchase a prominent lot on the northeast corner of Broad and George streets in August 1895. There, between November 1896 and April 1897, a large and stylish church was erected.  Designed by New Bern architect Herbert Woodley Simpson and constructed by A.W. Cook, builder, the new church contained a vestibule and a large auditorium with four sections of seating converging on the pulpit in the corner of the room. Behind the pulpit was a baptistry with two dressing rooms and concrete steps leading down into the water. Four class rooms flanked the auditorium, three of which could provide additional seating by opening the large windows which divided them from the main room. The church faced George Street and was entered through a two-stage tower, the most notable feature of the building's exterior. The structure would be remodeled and enlarged in 1913 to provide additional room for the growing congregation.

Tabernacle Baptist Church, as remodeled in 1913. Image from Illustrated City of New Bern, North Carolina, 1914 (Np: Southern Press, 1914)

This large, frame church, on its corner lot, would remain a vital part of New Bern's religious and community life until the evening of November 30, 1931 when a faulty flue started a fire which reduced the church to a smoldering ruin. Although the congregation made plans to rebuild immediately, the Great Depression slowed recovery efforts until 1943 when a new brick church was completed on the same site.

Morning New Bernian, Tuesday, 1 December 1931.