Middle River Baptist Church | 75th Anniversary

By Sharon Mager

MIDDLE RIVER, Md. — Middle River Baptist Church (MRBC) is celebrating their 75th anniversary this year. They had planned to celebrate in April but had to cancel the event due to COVID-19 restrictions. They will, however, observe the special anniversary at worship services throughout November.

1945 was tumultuous for the U.S. as World War II came to a close. In Middle River, Maryland, The Glenn L. Martin Company, which manufactured aircraft and aerospace equipment, was thriving as a result of production for the military and provided a boon to the local economy. Over 50,000 workers streamed to the area and settled into homes, many newly built, to support the workforce. Among those new transplants were Baptists who wanted a nearby church in which to worship.

Ivan (far right) and Laura Hart (left) led a Vacation Bible School, the first ministry at Middle River Baptist Church in 1943 (photo provided by MRBC).

A Baptist Heritage
MRBC had humble beginnings in the summer of 1943. With the help of Overlea Baptist Church, a small group of believers began a two-week Vacation Bible School which Ivan and Laura Hart led. Ruth Cantrell assisted and brought many children from around her neighborhood. Cantrell became a strong leader in the church and in Maryland/Delaware Baptist life. Cantrell served the Baltimore Baptist Association as director of the associational training union and the director of Baptist Young Women. Later MRBC employed her as a secretary.

In August, the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) sent Albert A. Medlock as a pastor to help guide the small group of believers. In November, they began meeting at the Glenmar Gardens Community Center. On February 11, 1945,  the mission constituted with 108 charter members. Baptisms took place at Overlea Baptist Church.

The church bought the 11-acre site they now occupy on Middle River Road for $3,500. Prior to the purchase, Mildred (Milly) McDaniel, the anniversary committee chairperson, said the men from the church walked through and prayed over the land. They built their meeting place and dedicated the new building in October 1945. Sadly, it burned down just a year later on Dec. 20, 1946. “The little church caught fire and we don’t what happened, but they had to totally rebuild,” McDaniel said, adding that the new building was larger to accommodate the growth. Over the decades, they would continue to add improvements to the land.

Roy Gresham served as pastor of MRBC from 1946-1957 (BL photo).

The church called Roy Gresham as pastor following Medlock. Gresham was a giant in Southern Baptist work, both locally and nationally, serving as president of the then Baptist Convention of Maryland (now the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D)), as the president of the state mission board, and as president of the Baltimore Baptist Pastor’s Conference. Nationally, Gresham served as the first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and was president of the SBC Association of State and Executive Secretaries and Associates in the church loans division of the North American Mission Board.

The church had strong ties to the BCM/D, the Baltimore Baptist Association, and the SBC through the years. Along with Gresham and Cantrell, Jim Willey also emerged as a Baptist leader, serving as a Baltimore Baptist Association director of missions. Several members served on the BCM/D staff or on the BCM/D General Mission Board and hosted many BCM/D meetings.

The church was strong in women’s, men’s, and youth ministries such as Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action. They hosted regional Pinewood Derby events and Bible drills.

MRBC had the second-largest revival in the SBC in 1955. In 1959, they had the highest number of conversions during simultaneous crusades in that year.

Their bus ministry flourished in the 70s and welcomed its 100,000th bus passenger in December 1979.

They grew from a total membership of 115 in 1945 to, at their peak, a high of over 2,200 resident members.

The MRBC building (photo provided by MRBC).

Throughout their seven-and-a-half decades, MRBC has sponsored seven missions/church plants: Hazelwood Baptist Church; Carrollwood Baptist Church;  First Baptist Church of Gray Manor in Baltimore; Tabernacle Baptist Church in Essex; Edgemere Baptist Church (now Church on the Point);  Valley Baptist Church in Lutherville, Trailer Village Baptist Church, and Northeast Baptist Church in Armistead Gardens.

Middle River Baptist Church has supported missions locally, nationally, and internationally. Members have served with BCM/D Disaster Relief, have supported funding and trips to help Native Americans on reservations, and have served on missions in Scotland and Kenya.

In addition to Medlock, Gresham, and Willey, pastors included Tom M. Freeman, Padgett Cope, Jason D. Ross, Dr. Randy L. Hyde, Joe A. Williams, D. Alan Ray, Dr. Donald Satterwhite, and Glenn Leatherman. The anniversary committee has bookmarks honoring the pastors, which they will distribute to families in November.

Nine MRBC members entered the ministry and many dedicated their lives to full-time service, including Norville and Hattie Welsh, who became foreign missionaries and served in Brazil.

Celebrating the Anniversary
Throughout November, the anniversary committee will provide “anniversary moments” during the morning worship services. One of the highlights includes honoring charter members, four of which are still living: Thelma Boone Sivard; Betty Gillespie Auten; Mary Helen Gillespie Blackmon; and Phyllis Pittman Taylor.

The church has kept an ongoing history compiled by several of the ladies. Margaret Diehl wrote a history of the years 1945-1990 and Ruth Cantrell wrote the history from 1990-1995. Phyllis Taylor has been updating the history every five years since 1995. The church will distribute the newest version, from 2015-2020, in November. Additionally, families will receive keepsake Christmas ornaments and engraved blocks of wood. McDaniel explained that the wood is from a tree on the church grounds, one which members have seen since the church’s beginning. “The tree was on the land next to the parsonage and it recently died. It was cut down and to our knowledge, it was there at least 75 years ago. Some of the men decided to make blocks of wood from the tree,” said McDaniel.

On November 22, Doris Burch, the church’s pianist and organist and a longtime member, will share her testimony.

McDaniel said leaders hope to have a catered dinner in 2021 for a late anniversary celebration.

Looking Ahead
Keith Corrick, who recently retired as the Potomac Baptist Association’s director of missions, is serving as an interim pastor and preparing the congregation for the next man who will lead them into the future, God-willing, to their century mark and beyond. “I appreciate and feel the deep and great tradition at MRBC,” Corrick said. “From my viewpoint, it is a great honor to stand in a pulpit. It’s like standing where spiritual giants have been before. I feel that and appreciate that and I’m really grateful for it.”

Corrick began serving in April as COVID-19 restrictions came into place. The church is now back to meeting inside and streaming and Corrick is pleased that, with an aging congregation, they are averaging about 80 attendees, with others watching online. Bruce Conley, the director of the Blue Ridge Baptist Association, is serving as the interim minister of music.

The neighborhood around the church has changed and diversified, and like most older churches, membership has decreased, but the members are vibrant and are striving to reach their community. Pastor Search Committee members are studying local demographics to use in a pastor profile so they can effectively reach their neighborhood. Corrick said the church has a fabulous location in the middle of many residential developments and nearby schools.

In an effort to begin ministering to younger people, the church is kicking off a new contemporary worship service at 4 p.m. on Sundays, beginning September 27. Lonnie Duckett, the pastor for family ministries, will lead the services.

The church continues to minister through its childcare development center, outreaches to senior citizens, and provides support to local food and clothing ministries. MRBC also supports the Cooperative Program with 11% of their giving.

As they look to the future, the church is remembering its past but looking to God for instructions on moving forward. Their theme is “celebrating the memories of yesterday, the joys of today, and the hope for tomorrow.”

Their mission has been and will be, “…to glorify God by changing everyday people into joyful followers of Jesus Christ, following Luke 9:23.”