Second Baptist Church Celebrates 100th Anniversary
By Dianne Anderson
From humble beginnings, all the old landmark traditions of 100 years ago at Second Baptist Church in Santa Ana continue, even as what’s old becomes new again.
With the development of a strong digital and online presence, membership is increasing at home, and internationally. During the worst of times, the church prospers, and gives back to others.
“It’s a big deal, and not only is it a big deal for the church, but from the perspective that shows we’ve been resilient,” said Pastor Pitts.
Too many churches to count have closed their doors in the past few years, a trend that started even before the pandemic hit. In many foundational ways, Rev. Pitts said they are the same church as was in their beginning.
Yet, today they have become more versatile to meet the level of need.
It is a place of worship, a valued venue of help for the community with attention to healthcare matters, mental health and wellness. It’s a place of direction for those that have been caught up in the justice system.
He said the church has become a trusted resource.
“We are also an incubator for ideas, support for small business and entrepreneurial endeavors, we’ve always been there. Now, we’re no longer exclusive, it’s whosoever will. Also, we think globally, we are the same, but there’s a difference.”
Keeping the doors open even as so many thousands have closed in recent years has required making good use of technology, he said. For churches everywhere, despite many challenges and striking social justice crises facing the nation, Pastor Pitts still feels that in general, the Christ-based church is still going strong.
It will have to be, he said. Social injustice in 1923 looks much different than the social ills today.
“This country is so divided, and freaking violently divided. I think that the next generation of churches will be a balm of healing, and a closer and filler of those breaches, whether politically, religiously, racially, economically. How do we become bridge builders?” he said.
Retaining younger people is always part of that answer. They are the ones that will lead the decades to come, which he said must be a priority for church focus. Churches have always had issues with sustaining young people, but he is confident that the church can draw them in, and keep them coming back.
“Young people will come where they feel valued, loved and that they can contribute to something greater than themselves. I think anyone that puts that kind of atmosphere out there, then the young people will come.”
For all the rich history that Second Baptist Church proudly spans, he contemplates what it means for him to be placed exactly at this time in history.
“I am incredibly privileged to be here right now. I could have been a pastor that retired five years ago, but I’m here for this season, and to be part of this celebration,” he said.
On Saturday, February 18, the 100th Anniversary event kicks off with 100 Voices Second Baptist Church Choir starting at 5:00 p.m.
Church historian Milana Oyenuga said that the church has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of struggling nonprofits, organizations, families and individuals with shelter, and resources with their benevolence fund.
“During the pandemic, it was a tragic time for a lot of people. Our reach expanded because we were able to transition so quickly online. Membership has grown, and we have been blessed with our funds,” she said.
At the same time, their membership never waned, even as many members in surrounding counties faithfully trek to Santa Ana each week to worship at the church.
“They still make the drive every Sunday and are fully engaged in all the different ministries because of such a feeling of family and support. We’ve always had an educational segment of the ministry that helps foster kids with after-school tutoring,” she said.
Originally, one of the church’s co-founders, Julia Sullivan, was also a trailblazer when women were not establishing churches. She was about 40 years old and a widow when she moved locally with her sister and brother, and they searched for a place to worship, but no Black Baptist churches existed in Orange County.
With their 12 members, they decided to start their own, eventually connecting with the local First Baptist Church,which was a white abolitionist church in 1871.
“They helped them get started with the down payment of $150, a Bible, and the first pew, which we still have on our premises,” she said.
In those first photographs of the congregation from their first church, Mrs. Sullivan stood in the middle holding her Bible surrounded by 50 members of the congregation of First Baptist Church.
“With that initial help they had given us, they have been a friend and support to us all these years, that culminated to today, to them worshiping with us the last three years of their church before it closed.”
But one hand washes the other.
First Baptist, that helpful church, became aged out with remaining members in their 70s and 80s. Down to the last seven members, they asked Second Baptist Church if they could worship there. In turn, Second Baptist gave them the chapel to worship with their pastor for three years before they shut their doors. First Baptist ended up giving Second Baptist their endowment, seeing that Second Baptist remained so strong over the years in serving the communities.
The church has grown exponentially. Ministers, minister’s wives, deacons and deaconesses all support the pastor by assisting within their designated zip codes because they serve so many regions with the ministry, funerals, and Bible studies.
A lot of work has been done, but there’s much more to do.
Oyenuga feels it is important to glean from the vast wealth of experience and knowledge that still exists at the church today.
Among this year’s honorees of dedicated deacons, leaders, missionaries and ushers, the church recognizes Phyllis Gilchrist, Jim Bowman, Kathi Bowman, Les Washington, Hiram Solis, Mercer Ross, Carol Odom, William Wilkerson, Adrianne Littlejohn, Daphne Perkins, Renda Pettis and Pastor Ivan Pitts as Pastor of the Year.
She said that God works through people, and there is plenty of talent within the church that younger and new members can come and glean from.
“We want to ensure you understand the giants that came before you,” she said. “There are opportunities there to talk and grow from them. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we want you to redesign it and move it forward.”
For more information on events and times, see https://sbc.family/
For information on the Second Baptist Church exhibit starting February 18,