Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, the “Birthplace of Gospel Music,” celebrates 120 years of ministry and a pillar in the Bronzeville community. The anniversary theme “The Pursuit of Oneness” comes from Psalm 133.1, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
Ebenezer was founded in June 1902 by its first pastor J.F. Thomas who served as president of the Illinois State Baptist Convention and chaplain of the 8th Regiment. In 1920, due to membership growth, Thomas and Ebenezer purchased Isaiah Temple, a Jewish synagogue located at 4501 S. Vincennes, Chicago, IL. Ebenezer was one of the churches that experienced growth due to the Great Migration and is considered a special place with a long family legacy history.
Ebenezer is the “Birthplace of Gospel Music” under the leadership of Pastor J.H.L. Smith. Thomas A. Dorsey, the “Father of Gospel Music,” assembled the first modern gospel music choir. Dorsey was instrumental in paving the way for singers such as Roberta Martin Singers, Salle Martin, Ruth Jones, Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, Bo Diddley, and several artists who have passed through the doors of Ebenezer.
Rev. Darryl H. Person serves as the 9th senior pastor at Ebenezer. Person is the fifth generation of his family members that recognize Ebenezer as their church home. Person’s grandfather was a deacon; father was a trustee, and mother was a minister of music. Person was licensed, ordained, and endorsed by Dr. Frank K. Sims, fourth pastor of Ebenezer.
Under Person’s leadership for the past three years, membership grew to over 125 parishioners, the church is financially out of the red, expanded some of its ministries, and served Ebenezer through the pandemic by providing COVID vaccinations. “We have been able to survive during the pandemic while many other churches have still not opened or will never open. Ebenezer has been able to maintain our worship service through a robust online presence. A presence that we had before the pandemic. That was a major accomplishment,” says Person.
Ebenezer has been a place of sanctuary, support, and a bedrock for the Bronzeville community. The church has been an important and intricate part of the community during the civil rights movement and black lives matter. Ebenezer provides clothes giveaways, Thanksgiving baskets, Christmas toy drives, and food pantry. Ebenezer was featured in the Netflix series “Somebody Feed Phil,” Chicago episode.
Person wants Ebenezer to restore its presence in the Bronzeville community that would meet the needs of the people. “There was a time when Bronzeville had many projects that have been wiped away. They removed the housing, never replacing it, and now there are million-dollar homes around the church. We want to reach every level of the socio-economic level that people experience in the Bronzeville community,” says Person.
Person’s main focus is the restoration of Ebenezer. The church has launched a major capital stewardship campaign and building restoration project. “We have embarked upon a $1.2M effort to restore and do some major work to one of our buildings. The Chicago Landmark Committee approved us for $900,000 to go to the renovation and restoration of our historic landmark building. We are trying to raise $300,000. We are halfway there and have another six months to get there,” says Person.
Person says it’s vital to engage with the younger generation that going to church is a place they can find love and support. “Growing up, I had to go to church. I didn’t have a choice. Many of my contemporaries and friends have told me they would give their children a choice if they want to attend church. For example, we don’t give our children an option to go to school. We insist they go to school until they graduate from high school. Even though they didn’t want to go to school, the value paid off in the end,” says Person.
Person wants the younger generation to know that Ebenezer is a place where they can be themselves. Person wants to create a STEM camp and tutoring program once the church is fully back from the pandemic. “We must give our young people something to do beyond just coming to church, listening for an hour, and going home. They need something to pique their interest. Our young people need to know they are loved, and God loves them,” says Person.
The future is bright for Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. Person is focusing on restoring the church and the people in the Bronzeville community. “Ebenezer was a church that had a membership of 3,000 strong through the years. Coming out of the pandemic has been challenging. Many people have gotten used to worshiping online, which is convenient, but we want to see more presence in the sanctuary,” says Person.
Person is leading his church into the future through Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ.” “For me, it means nothing is impossible,” says Person.
To support Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church’s mission to raise funds to renovate the church, go to givelify.com/donate/ebenezer-missionary-baptist-church-chicago-il-2j7wy5MTUwMjc4NQ==/donation/amount.
To learn about the rich history of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, go to ebenezerbronzeville.org.
Tammy Gibson is an author, re-enactor, and black history traveler. Find her on social media @sankofatravelher.