A mission church, a spiritual home for over 120 years in South Buffalo.
South Park Baptist Church began as a mission, started by Seymour Bennett and his wife, devoted members of the old Washington Street (later First) Baptist Church in the city of Buffalo. That beginning was in 1887, using the Almo Hall at the junction of Abbott Road and White’s Corners.
Mr. Bennett was treasurer of the Buffalo Baptist Union at the time he began the mission with his wife, and together they labored for many years teaching Sunday School classes and directing spiritual work. By the year 1891, the growth of the mission made the need for a new and bigger location. Thus of a lot and building at Good and Triangle (now South Park Avenue) Streets was purchased for $1,200. This was done under the care and direction of the Washington Street Church, which had been charged with the care of the mission on March 10, 1891. The mission started with faith and grew into a child of promise so was adopted into the Buffalo Baptist Union.
As the early 1900s progressed, industry brought jobs and families to the South Buffalo area. Thus, the Buffalo Baptist Union, composed of 27 churches, decided to begin a new Baptist church in South Buffalo. Under the encouragement of the Buffalo Baptist Union, on July 26, 1900, with a total of 23 people, South Side Baptist Church was organized. Rev. A. Scrimshaw was named as the church’s first pastor, and, in the first letter sent to the Baptist Association, he wrote these words: “It is with gratitude that we can say our people are a loyal people, loyal by being present to our services and contributing of their earthly substance for the spreading of the gospel.” Rev. Scrimshaw was with the church from 1900 to 1905. When he resigned in 1905, the church membership had grown to 70.
The next series of pastorates were of a short duration, starting with the Rev. Sandy Kent for 6 months, Rev. William Rounds for 2 years 8 months, and Rev. Amos Naylor for 2 years. There seemed to be a difficulty in paying the meager salary promised to these men, yet during these years the building was enlarged three times and still seemed inadequate. On May 25, 1911, a young man ordained in the church – Robert A Fuller – became pastor and served for three years, during which time he saw the congregation grow to 100 members, the organization of a Boy Scout Troop, and a major improvement – electric lighting!
Rev. Fred J.W. Chubb took over in 1914 and served until September 30, 1917, during which many events took place, beginning with World War I in 1914. Church membership grew to 149, with 104 in Sunday School. Also, during this period, there was active lay leadership under such as W.H. Lawrence, William Whitney, and Deacon Millard. As the congregation continued to grow, the building did not meet the needs of the church, and since further expansion at the location was not feasible, a building fund was started for the erection of a new building.
The next pastor, Rev. Benjamin J. Davies, began the longest pastoral leadership in the church’s history, beginning May 10, 1918 and concluding 28 years later, June 30, 1946. Much happened during his leadership. World War I was still going on when he began, and World War II was in progress when he left. During Rev. Davies’ tenure, the church moved to its present location. The church, throughout its history, sought to apply the teachings of Jesus to the pressing problems of the time (wars, Great Depression, prohibition, etc.)
On May 15, 1919, the church record shows a vote in favor of the purchase of a lot on South Park Avenue (renamed Southside Parkway in the early 1930s) and Macamley Street. The cost was $44,000 per front foot. A note adds, “”About $1,800 raised on subscription that night.” In 1920, another lot, adjoining the original, was purchased. These lots had 136 feet of street frontage and are what exists today. For the next 38 years, the cost, the construction, and the mortgage absorbed the attention of the congregation, with the joyous celebration of the mortgage burning on the 7th of January, 1957. While paying for these lots, the church did not forget its other obligations, including a contribution of nearly $9,000 for the Baptist New World Movement.
The overcrowded old building was being used to full capacity. One of the teachers, Mrs. William Wood, organized her class into the Mizpahs. This closely united group was a great service organization in the church in many ways for years. Another teacher, Mrs. Walter Milligan, organized a World Wide Guild that was to be active for several years. Another teacher, Alfred Bernadt, held his class of 20 boys in a corner of the basement near the furnace. He decided to devote his time and life to the full-time Christian ministry and went on to attend universities in Buffalo and Rochester, then to Colgate-Rochester Divinity School. After his ordination, he went on to pastorships in New York, Iowa, Kansas, and Connecticut.
The minutes of a church business meeting on March 6, 1925, record a long and legal sounding resolution about building on the property at South Park Avenue and Macamley Street. During January, 1925, with the help of Mr. Devine, pledges totaling over $50,000 had been secured. Ground was broken for the new building on May 31, 1925, with the cornerstone laying on September 13, 1925. The South Side Baptist Church changed its name in 1925 to correspond with the new location on South Park Avenue. A few years later, in the early 1930s, the City of Buffalo renamed the street to Southside Parkway.
The new church building, with a basement and two floors, was dedicated on April 25, 1926, with 27 members baptized that evening. The sanctuary, balcony, and choir loft were filled to capacity. A new day and a new opportunity had opened for the church. Besides the sanctuary, balcony, and choir loft, there were a community room in the basement with a stage, Sunday School rooms on the main floor, and a gymnasium on the second floor over the Sunday School rooms. The annual report of 1927 showed that the Sunday School enrollment was increased by 95 for a total of 315. The average attendance that year was 150.
The church, with its new building and increased congregation, had just begun when the Depression of 1929 came and extended into the ‘30s. The church had unknowingly strengthened itself for these hard times. A Wickes Direct Electric pipe organ was installed and dedicated on October 19, 1930. With the coming of the ‘30s, difficulties in making payments caused a change in the ownership title from the Buffalo Baptist Union to the South Park Baptist Church. Pastor Davies voluntarily took a cut in salary, and there were no other paid workers in the church. The church cleaning and the firing of the coal furnace were done by volunteer labor. It also was a time of great fellowship in the church, with Mrs. Davies leading the various women’s organizations, united into the Women’s Union, later to become the Women’s Council.
Also, during the 1930s, John Donovan, a member of the church, decided to devote his time and life to Christian service. He graduated from Dennison University and Colgate-Rochester Divinity School and was ordained in the South Park Baptist Church on April 8 1945. He went on to serve pastorates in New York State and Pennsylvania and as Secretary of the Council of Churches in Broome County, New York.
During the ‘30s, decisions were quietly being made to determine the church’s future. Divisive, fundamentalist influences were abroad that were to disrupt the work of the Buffalo Baptist Union and Christian churches in general. Many churches left the fellowship of the American Baptists. South Park Baptist held firmly to the principles of Baptist freedom and Christian fellowship and remained a loyal part of the Northern (later the American) Baptist Convention and remained in the mainstream of evangelical Protestantism. Support of the Buffalo Baptist Union and of its missionary program of American Baptists has been, from the founding of the church, a part of its program.
Although a motion was passed on April 30, 1913, “that South Side Baptist Church will not identify itself with the Buffalo Federation of Churches,” the church and its pastors, through the years, have cooperated with the Protestant community and furnished leadership in the Council of Churches. For many years, the church was involved with the South Buffalo Ecumenical Association and has also been an active member of the Network of Religious Communities.
Moving from the ‘30s into the ‘40s, WWII broke out, and South Park organized a Service Committee that was very active in sending messages and parcels to those in our country’s service. From 1935 to 1945, the membership remained static, with 378 in 1935 and 381 in 1945. From this point until 1955, the membership began a slow decline, dropping to 300 in 1955 and gaining to 353 in 1960.
The year 1946 was one of many events, with the end of WWII. Members began the move to the suburbs; the church purchased another piece of property next door for a parking lot; and a home at 181 Como Avenue was purchased for a parsonage.
On April 28, 1946, Rev. Benjamin Davies announced his resignation, to take effect on June 30, 1946. As a symbol of love for the man who had led them through difficult days, baptized many of them, married many, dedicated their babies, comforted them in sorrow, guided them through trouble, taken a pay cut during rough times, the congregation elected him Pastor Emeritus., a title he cherished until his death on March 17, 1960. Such a title was given by South Park Baptist in 1986 to Rev. George McHenry, and the renamed Good Shepherd Community of Faith bestowed Rev. Lloyd Noyes with Pastor Emeritus as well.
On December 15, 1946, the Rev. Ralph Davie began his seven years as the new pastor. His dynamic leadership brought new interest in the church. New groups were organized, with an Education Committee to provide a more systematic supervision and aid in the running of Sunday School. Realizing the need for a more systematic method of distribution of information to the congregation, “News Notes” were published in 1947. “News Notes” continued until the 1970s.
On April 30, 1947, a resolution was adopted providing for the reception of members from other Protestant Evangelical churches. This policy of “Open Membership” was a significant change in serving a changing community and is still in effect today.
On September 19, 1954, Rev. Frederick L. Gilson became pastor and served until his retirement in 1965. On January 17, 1956, a church Constitution covering the entire church program was adopted. A campaign was conducted to clear the church mortgages. On January 6, 1957, the church was declared “debt free.” Although this seemed like a dream come true for the many who had labored for so long for this goal, many realized that it was only the beginning of a greater opportunity.
In 1960, the church, under Rev. Gilson, prepared for a 60th Anniversary and secured $15,000 in pledges towards a program of rehabilitation and remodeling of the building to meet its needs at the time. The next period, from 1960 through 1980, is sketchy. The next Pastor, Rev. Eugene A. Charsky, began his pastoral leadership on September 11, 1966 and served until 1971. During his tenure, membership again began a decline, and the parsonage was sold. In 1970, the South Buffalo Church League moved into the gymnasium, where it remained until the 1983 basketball season. The church continued to have its own team, however, until the 2000s. One of the early stars of the league, Elbert Scott, was an active member of South Park Baptist Church.
In 1971, Rev. Charsky left and was replaced by Rev. Earl R. Sidler III, who served as Interim Pastor until March 1981. During Rev. Sidler’s leadership, a new community activity came to the church using the community room and kitchen in the basement. The Southside Senior Center ran many programs for the senior citizens and had a meal for them. The Center left in 1982 and relocated in the former School 29 building on South Park Avenue. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, church membership was still on the decline.
In March 1981, lay minister George G. McHenry took over the leadership of South Park Baptist Church on an interim basis. George had been a long-time member of the church and also served as Chair of the Church Board. In October, 1985, Mr. McHenry was ordained as Pastor of the church. Due to illness, however, Rev. McHenry was not able to continue after 1986, and, on May 16, 1987, he died. During Rev. McHenry’s tenure, the attendance stayed stable, and many activities began to fold due to low attendance. In 1984, the Boy Scout Troop #96 closed, and the Basketball League moved to the suburbs, leaving the church without any outside activities. The decline of the church was accented with the loss of the church boiler in March, 1983. From that time forward, worship has held in the basement Community Room.
In 1985, due to Rev. McHenry’s failing health, Rev. Earl B. Robinson was brought in to act as Interim Pastor, and he remained until May, 1987. During his term, the church yoked with the Lancaster Baptist Church, with both churches being served by the same pastor. On May 10, 1987, Rev. Lloyd Noyes was called to serve in this position, but the yoke did not succeed, and, after the 18-month agreement ran out, the Lancaster Church voted to go on its own. Rev. Noyes continued as Pastor of South Park Baptist until April 1989 and remained as a member of the church until his death in 2012. After Rev. Noyes resigned, several pastors and speakers filled the pulpit, including lay leader John Barnum. Finally, on October 1, 1989, Rev. Jan Mahle was named as Interim Pastor. This was historic since she was the first woman to serve South Park Baptist Church.
Rev. Mahle immediately began a series of programs to revitalize the congregation, beginning with a restart of the Sunday School class. The class grew to an average of 18 per week. Bible Study Classes also began, and a weekly Prayer Circle was formed as well. In March, 1989, the church was approached by Sister Celeste O’Bryan and the Board of the South Buffalo Community Table, a community service that had been housed at the old South Presbyterian Church on Seneca Street. The Community Table needed another location, and the Board of South Park Baptist Church approved. The Table began to make many improvements in the basement areas of the building, including a new kitchen area. The Table opened on October 3, 1989, serving its first meal at South Park. Many days they have served over 100 people, demonstrating the importance of this mission to the people of South Buffalo.
As the year 1989 passed, many positive changes were happening at South Park Baptist Church, but evidenced was that more needed done. One idea was to close South Park Baptist Church and begin a “restart” church. The congregation approved this idea in 1988, and, finally, after much study by the American Baptist Churches USA, the request was accepted. Part of the requirements was that the South Park Church would close, and a new church name and Constitution would be needed. While some “restart” programs require a new building location, the church was able to remain at its present location, largely due to the fact that the church had been “debt free” since the mortgage burning in 1957. The next requirement was that Rev. Mahle had to take some special studies to meet the “restart” qualifications, clearing the way for her to become full-time Pastor. As a part of the “restart,” American Baptist Churches U.S.A. and American Baptist Churches of the Niagara Frontier agreed to pay the first three-year salary for the pastoral leader.
On May 20, 1990, after much discussion, the congregation made its decision to name the “restart” church Good Shepherd Baptist Church. The gala celebration was held on Sunday, June 3, 1990, beginning with an 11:00 a.m. worship service, followed by a 12:30 p.m. dinner, a 2:30 p.m. “Singspiration,” and a 3:00 p.m. Charter Service and reception.
Rev. Mahle remained with the church until 1996, when she was called to serve elsewhere. Until September, 1999, the congregation maintained a healthy worship, Sunday School classes, a men’s group, the Women’s Council, a Gospel Choir, and yearly activities – all conducted either with lay leadership or with short-term interim pastors. Two of those Pastors were Rev. Lloyd Noyes and Rev. Jimmie Morrison. In August of 1999, the search committee learned about a woman who was seeking a part-time position but was still attending seminary. They invited Barbara Hulsing to visit their picnic at Emery Park in East Aurora, invited her to preach in September, and, in October, voted to call her as Pastor. In January, 2000, Barbara was installed as part-time Pastor.
Barbara continued her studies at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, New York, graduating in May with her Masters of Divinity. Her official ordination took place on July 29, 2000. During her tenure, which continues to this day (January, 2016), Rev. Hulsing maintained many programs, brought back some old ones, and instituted new ones. Her friend Sue Allen became Parish Nurse and began to conduct many health and wellness related programs and workshops, bringing in expert speakers on many topics. Rev. Hulsing also returned to school, earning her Doctor of Ministry in May of 2008.
In the early 2000s, the Niagara Area Baptist Association (formerly American Baptist Churches of the Niagara Frontier) attempted to pass a “resolution on human sexuality.” The purpose of this attempt was to prevent any member churches from becoming “Welcoming and Affirming” (W&A), in other words, opening their membership to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) people. The congregation of Good Shepherd Baptist Church showed its true colors by opposing this resolution. As many as 12 to 16 members attended the meetings held to discuss the possibility of such a determination. Good Shepherd firmly believes in local church autonomy, a strong Baptist principle. The resolution failed to pass, but it became obvious that the fundamentalists of the Niagara Area Baptist Association (NABA) would not let the issue drop. Good Shepherd, therefore, had decisions to make.
Subsequently, Good Shepherd became a “Welcoming and Affirming” church. NABA then tried to force the church out of fellowship, again failing by a minority vote. Rev. Hulsing proposed remaining in NABA and fighting, applying to the Rochester Genesee Region of American Baptist Churches since they accepted W&A churches into fellowship, and/or making an effort to become dually aligned with the United Church of Christ, which is an open denomination. The congregation voted to apply to Rochester and the United Church of Christ. After acceptance to both and withdrawal from NABA, it was determined that a change of name would be appropriate in order to not be seen as tied to one or the other denomination in particular. In June, 2004, a new constitution was approved, and the church name was changed to Good Shepherd Community of Faith.
The membership and attendance during Rev. Dr. Hulsing’s tenure has fluctuated between a high of around 60 to a low of 25. Presently (2016), it remains fairly steady at approximately 35. Membership has fallen due to many deaths over the decade and a half and risen because of new arrivals who are LGBTQ or their allies. Also, under Rev. Hulsing’s direction, the church has acquired a substantial gift through the will of a deceased “friend” of the church, several fundings through grants, and a substantial loan (which has recently been paid off) in order to install new windows throughout the building.
The building, being built in 1925-26, is difficult to maintain, but the small congregation remains determined to keep the doors opened. Rev. Hulsing has also facilitated the church becoming a polling place for Erie County elections, a meeting place for four Alcoholics Anonymous groups, use of the gymnasium by young men who gather for basketball, and a quilters’ group. The congregation itself has added Self-Care programs as part of their Wellness mission. Free Chair Yoga and Arthritis Exercise programs as well as other addiction support groups, plus regular Narcan training are provided at Good Shepherd. Fundraisers such as the annual barbecue and theme basket raffle and bake sales, plus a yearly rummage sale also help. Good Shepherd also hosts the South Buffalo Community Table for all those in need of a hot meal, Sundays - Thursdays.
As Good Shepherd continues to move forward, the hope is that the church is able to continue to meet its lasting purpose to extend the life-changing power of Jesus Christ to ALL people through prayer, teaching, fellowship, and mission. We, therefore, invite ALL people, of every race, gender, cultural background, socioeconomic status, mental or physical ability, marital status, gender identity or orientation into fellowship and service in Christ’s name.