Our History

St. John Baptist Church
Founded in 1927

St. John Baptist Church has always found a way, for under the divinely inspired leadership of Reverend Burnie C. McCarley and four faithful followers, St. John launched on the sea of Christian endeavor in 1927. A group of kindred souls mostly from South Carolina found themselves in a new place and sought comfort and divine guidance for a place to meet and worship God. The late Mrs. Alice McCarley, Joseph and Dora Kelly and Mrs. Mabel McCarley were the first members of St. John Baptist Church.

From a little storefront on William Street the church moved to 481 Clinton Street, then to 616 Clinton Street and in 1930 to 92 Monroe Street.

Through faith, prayer, and God's grace, St. John had its first two converts: William Price and Willie Green. After these two, others came and united. Soon there were enough for a small senior choir and the first deacons appointed were Walter Price and Nathan Crockett. The Sunday school was organized the Missionary Society, The Senior Usher Board and the Pastors Aid Society. In 1945, St. John had outgrown the 92 Monroe location and the building at 183 Sycamore Street was purchased for $21,000. St. John members marched joyously to the new location. By July 1947, the mortgage was paid in full.

Under the leadership of Reverend McCarley, ministers were ordained and new churches founded. As the membership continued to grow, an even larger edifice was needed to accommodate the families, friends and visitors. Music was an integral part of the worship services and several choirs sang to the glory of God every Sunday morning. The Bells of St. John, the United Voices of St. John also known as the hundred voice choir, the Junior Choir and the Gospel Chorus all participated in the worship services.

Nearly 20 years later, St. John again sought to accommodate the growing membership. The Sunday school held classes in the basement, in the sanctuary, and in the balcony. After much prayer, discussion, and negotiation, it was decided that a new edifice should be built. A building fund drive was begun; plans were developed and a site was selected. The people had a mind to work and in 1966 the grand edifice at 184 Goodell Street was completed. On May 1, 1966, Reverend McCarley, the congregation, auxiliaries, and many others marched from 183 Sycamore Street to the new church.

Reverend McCarley's vision of pastoring a large church had been realized. Many sacrifices had been made, many obstacles overcome, and many prayers answered. In March 1972, the congregation mourned the loss of its founding pastor, Reverend Burnie C. McCarley.

Later in 1972, Reverend Bennett W. Smith Sr. was called to pastor St. John Baptist Church after having preached a soul saving revival at St. John and inspired the congregation and church officers. Under his leadership the church continued its progress in gaining souls and enlarging its territory. The mortgage was paid in full; a mission center opened; and a federally chartered credit union was organized. In 1980, Reverend McCarley's vision for housing for low income families became a reality and was named McCarley Gardens in his honor. In 1982, Reverend Smith continued the housing focus and led the church to erect a senior complex, St. John Tower. Also a second-floor educational wing was added to the church.

Some of the ministers ordained under Pastor Smith were Reverends Jerry Stover, Ronnie Davis, J. Daryl Wood, Larry Watson, Herman Potts and Michael Chapman, the current pastor. St. John Christian Academy opened its doors in September 1993. Beginning with prekindergarten through second grade, the Academy expanded to eighth grade. The musical legacy of the church continued with the Male Chorus and the Radio Choir which sang during the eight o'clock service.

As a member of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, St. John rejoiced in the election of its pastor, Reverend Dr. Bennett W. Smith Senior, to the presidency of the organization in 1994. St. John hosted the 36th session of the Progressive National Baptist Convention in Buffalo, New York In 1997. During Pastor Smith's tenure, a number of notable preachers and other national figures stood in the pulpit of St. John Baptist Church: Reverend Jesse Jackson, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Reverend Al Sharpton, and Reverend Otis Moss. On August 7, 2001, Reverend Smith was called from labor to reward. The Reverend Bennett W. Smith Senior Family Life Center stands as a testament to the life and work of Pastor Smith.

In 2002, Reverend Michael Chapman was installed as the third pastor of St. John Baptist church. The number of prayer and worship services has increased during his ministry as have opportunities to engage in outreach. Pastor Chapman oversaw the construction of Hospice House an eight-bed hospice residence in the Fruit Belt on Maple Street that provides care for individuals in an urban setting. It is the first time Hospice has partnered with a local church. Under his leadership, the Fruit Belt Community Development Corporation has built single family and townhouses to attract new residents and provide housing alternatives for current residents.

The campus of St. John Baptist Church provides for its congregation, the community, and the city elements for the cycle of life: the church as a spiritual center; St. John Christian Academy and Aloma D. Johnson Charter School, education; Reverend Dr. Bennett W. Smith Family Life Center, recreation; St. John Tower, senior housing; St. John Baptist Hospice Buffalo House, palliative and end-of-life care.

In May 2012, St. John will celebrate its 85th anniversary under the leadership of three pastors.

"Great is thy faithfulness…"