Temple Baptist history is Durham history

Its neighborhood displaced by Durham Freeway, 125-year-old church eventually moved north
Apr. 24, 2013 @ 03:39 PM

Back when West Chapel Hill Street was in West Durham, not downtown, long before the Durham Freeway came through, and when tobacco barons were the most recognizable local names, a church was built. In 1888, on the corner of West Chapel Hill Street and a street now cut off by the freeway, Blackwell Baptist Church was built with bricks donated by the church namesake. Later the name was changed to Second Baptist and then Temple Baptist Church, which it remains. The church building however, as century-old congregations have done before, was added on to, and razed, and rebuilt, and then sold.
A church’s history in Durham is also a look at Durham history. And this year, Temple Baptist Church is 125 years old. It celebrated homecoming this past Sunday.
One church daughter moved here when the old church wasn’t even the new church yet. In 1950, Mary Maddry Strauss’ father was chosen as the new pastor at Temple Baptist. The Rev. Charles Maddry would lead the church through the construction of a new brick Colonial building, completed in December 1957 across the street from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Atop the steeple was a copper cross that caught the light and shone for passers-by, and later, those who drove by on the freeway. The 19th century church building next door came down, but the “new” church from the 1950s stayed. It’s still there, but Temple Baptist moved to its current home off Umstead Road in North Durham in 2003. The former church was bought by Healthy Start Academy.
Maddry Strauss was in seventh grade at Carr Junior High when she arrived in 1950. Fellow church member Barney West, her contemporary, joined Temple Baptist in 1948 at age 9. He grew up in the church. His mother was a school teacher and his father worked for Mary Duke Biddle. Before Maddry came as pastor, the Wests rode to church with the previous pastor, the Rev. Horace Hammett.
“The parsonage was right up the street from us, and he picked us up on his way. If you didn’t have a car in 1943, you weren’t going to until after the war,” West said.
When the Maddrys came, they too picked up church members on the way. Maddry Strauss and West knew each other as kids but weren’t in the same Sunday school class – those were separated for girls and boys back then. Her father left Temple to become pastor at University Baptist in Charlottesville, Va., in 1959, and Maddry Strauss pursued her education at Duke University. While a student there, she taught Sunday school at Temple. As an adult, she lived in California and Maryland but made her way back to Durham and the church of her formative years.
“This church has the ability to make you feel part of a family,” she said.
West feels the same. His wife was raised in the church, too. Temple Baptist was a neighborhood church in the mid-20th century, and most of its members could walk there from streets like Shepherd, Vickers, Arnette and Yancey. But after the freeway, then called the East-West Expressway, was built in the late 1960s, the neighborhood fractured and church members moved away. It was getting harder for the church to sustain the building for what was at its peak a 1,600-member congregation.
They managed financially, West said, but also had a demographic study done and were surprised at the results. Eight-five percent of members lived north of Interstate 85. It was a difficult decision, West said, but the church decided to move toward its members, and chose the site on Sterling Drive off Umstead Road. West understood why not everyone wanted to move. His wedding took place in the old church. But the church was told it needed to move to survive. Now, a decade later, things have been great at the new location, West said. New families have joined and the transition was wonderful, he said.
“There’s a poignancy about it,” Maddry Strauss said, “but people were told as Baptists, the church is the body of Christ, not the building.”
Two things came from the old church to the new one, and both are now in the sanctuary. One is the pulpit. The other is that copper cross from the steeple, with its bronze and silver vines pattern. It’s mounted on a wooden frame against the wall, above the baptistry.
Temple Baptist is West’s home.
“And the church family is our family. I think when you’re in a good situation, that’s what it is,” he said.
Temple Baptist, which is part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, has many ministries and activities, from a dartball team to mission work to being part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network. There are about 350 church members, some of whom are part of the Durham Chorale, which will have a concert at the church at 3 p.m. Sunday that has nearly sold out. Temple Baptist services are also broadcast at 11 a.m. Sunday on the Durham community access television channel.
To learn more about the church, visit www.tbcdurham.org.