Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Church Set to Rebuild Its Legacy; Worship the Hendricks Avenue Sanctuary Gives a Rare Home to Moderate Baptists

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Church Set to Rebuild Its Legacy; Worship the Hendricks Avenue Sanctuary Gives a Rare Home to Moderate Baptists

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

A sense of urgency hangs in the air at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church, mingling with the charred smell of the sanctuary that burned two days before Christmas.

The congregation's drive to rebuild is fueled by more than just wanting a permanent, sacred place to worship, though. It also comes from knowing the church is one of the few - and arguably most well-known - places for moderate Baptists to worship in Duval County.

"It would be a tragedy if moderate and progressive Baptists in Jacksonville did not have Hendricks Avenue as a beacon welcoming them," said Greg Warner, executive editor of Associated Baptist Press and a member of the 750-strong congregation.

In a region where the Southern Baptist Convention holds sway, many are surprised to hear there are such things as "moderate and progressive Baptists," Warner and other church members said.

But there are, and their religious legacy is tied to the rebuilding of Hendricks Avenue's sanctuary, church members said.

IN 'OUR DNA'

The Rev. Kyle Reese said he is determined not to let that mission of open-armed Christianity go up in flames along with the pews, organs and stained-glass windows. The cause of the fire has not been determined, but investigators said it did not appear to be arson.

The church will remain "progressive" and "committed to ecumenical and interfaith outreach around the city," Reese said.

"I think this rebuilding is going to be a spiritual exercise in faith and perseverance," Reese said in a Christmas Eve interview in the church gym, where the congregation now worships.

Hendricks Avenue was a Southern Baptist church up until the early 1990s, but even then it was known as a place with an alternative take on faith, said deacon Sylvia McQuaig, a member for 42 years.

"It's our DNA," McQuaig said. "It has always been inclusive, with the ecumenical reaching out."

It was that style of Christianity that propelled the congregation toward it's eventual departure from the Southern Baptist Convention, although it is still loosely affiliated with the convention through donations to missions.

BIBLE BATTLES

The differences between conservative and moderate Southern Baptists reached the boiling point when conservatives rose to power in the 1980s and '90s and began to remove leaders who didn't view the Bible as the inerrant word of God.

"The key issue was what do we believe about the Bible?" said the Rev. Jerry Vines, former pastor of First Baptist in Jacksonville and a former convention president who helped lead the successful conservative movement.

"The historic Southern Baptist position is that the Bible is God's word without error," Vines said. "And we did have some teaching . …

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