The year 1910 was a mixed bag of high hopes and low expectations. Local folks were dismayed when Detroit lost to Philadelphia after winning the American League Pennant three years in a row, but delighted that the critics who laughed at Henry Ford's plan to mass produce automobiles on an assembly line weren't laughing anymore. A Republican lawyer by the name of William H. Taft was president of the United States.
Meanwhile, without any fanfare or big newspaper headlines, a small band of Christian men and women who recognized a spiritual need in their community began a Sunday school work in Highland Park, Michigan. In January 1911, 20 members organized the Baptist Society of Highland Park. Fournier Hall, located at Buena Vista and Woodward, was rented for Sunday services, and during the summer, tent services were held at the corner of Woodward and East Grand Avenues.
On January 22, 1913, the Society reorganized with 37 charter members and took the name Highland Park Baptist Church. Rev. C.E. Conley was interim pastor for nine months, and in 1914, William G. Coltman of St. Clair agreed to serve as Pastor. At that time, there were 73 members.
Rev. William G. Coltman understood the community in which he was called to preach the gospel. He was a warm and loving man, and also a practical one. After World War 1, Highland Park was a center of industrial development thanks to the Ford Motor Company, and the promise of jobs drew immigrants from more than 40 European countries and other parts of the world.
New Americans found in Highland Park Baptist Church not only a fellowship of believers, but instruction in English. Hard working and conscientious, many of them prospered and put much effort into establishing the church that nurtured them. Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those immigrants still worship at Highland Park Baptist Church and are a vital part of its ministry.
Early in 1914 a building committee was appointed and a lot purchased on Ford Avenue in Highland Park. In less than a month, pledges amounting to $8,135 were taken for a new building.
Dr. Coltman served as pastor until his death on Feb. 4, 1956, and a little more than a year later, Dr. Lehman Strauss of Bristol, PA, accepted the call to serve as senior pastor. He ministered for seven years, until his retirement from the pastorate in 1963.
In May 1957, the church purchased 20 acres of land on Lahser Road near 12 Mile in Southfield, for the purpose of starting a branch work. Ground was broken for the chapel of the church in June 1962, and January 20, 1963, the first unit of the new church was dedicated.
Dr. Robert McMillan followed Dr. Strauss as pastor at the Highland Park church and served until 1965. Rev. Badon Brown became pastor of the Southfield Chapel in 1964 and served until 1968.
In 1965, the original church building in Highland Park was sold to the New Grace Missionary Baptist Church, and in October 1966, the congregations of the Southfield branch church and the Highland Park church were merged at the new Southfield location.
Immediately, plans went into effect to construct a new church facility. The present worship center was dedicated on February 25, 1968.
In 1970, the church opened Southfield Christian School with 117 students in grades K-8. The following year, grade nine was added, and an additional grade was added each September until the school encompassed grades K-12.
Initially, all classes were held in the educational wing of the church, but on March 26, 1972, a new activities building was built which houses the junior and the senior high school.
In June 1975, the school received accreditation from the University of Michigan and the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. That same month, the first senior class was graduated. Current enrollment is approximately 650.
Dr. George H. Slavin, an outstanding teacher and Bible expositor, became Senior Pastor in the spring of 1971. Under his ministry the church purchased land that extended its property to the corner of 12 Mile and Lahser Roads, in anticipation of expansion and growing community outreach. The congregation was saddened when Dr. Slavin died unexpectedly in March 1979 after a short illness.
After a long search for a man of God to serve as senior pastor, in April 1981, Rev. Joseph Stowell III accepted the position. Under his ministry, a second Sunday morning worship service was added in 1984, and in October 1986 "double track" Sunday school and worship services were implemented in order to facilitate growth in the worship service and also provide much needed additional room in the educational division.
It is perhaps an ironic compliment that in 1987, 62 years after Highland Park added Moody Bible Institute to its missionary budget, Rev. Stowell, was appointed its president. We launched the search for a replacement, rejoicing that our congregation had been privileged to serve as a training ground for yet another of God's servants.
After much prayer and consideration, the congregation invited Rev. Leonard G. Crowley to serve as senior pastor, and he began his work here in the fall of 1990. A gifted teaching pastor, he led our fellowship through much of the 1990s, a decade filled with challenges and many new opportunities for reaching people and growing up Believers in their relationship with Christ.
With a new millennium came numerous changes. In 2005, the congregation amended the constitution and elected an Elder Board to oversee ministries and operations. Worshippers now may attend the Exaltation Service at 9:00 a.m., which includes traditional hymns and choir and orchestra-led musical selections, or the Praise Service at 11:15 a.m., which includes many contemporary praise songs. On Sunday evenings, the Stand for young adults meets in the Chapel, while other worshippers meet for Hymns and Bible Study.
Rev. John Bedford served as Senior Pastor from mid 2006 though 2007, then in January of 2008, Highland Park Baptist Church commissioned Pastor Brent Slater as the new Senior Pastor. Brent was raised in Africa as the son of medical missionaries and then, after seminary training, was sent out by HPBC to serve the Lord in Uganda. He planted churches and developed leaders in Uganda for 22 years. During those years he completed a Ph.D. in Edinburgh, Scotland before coming back to serve this, his home church, first as pastor of missions and leadership development, and now as Senior Pastor.
In our efforts to build for the future, we remember there is much we may learn from the past. The history of a church is the story of its people, not its buildings, budgets, or even its programs. It is the story of men and women who gather together to praise and worship God, to study His Word, and to train up their children in the ways of the Lord.
And, too, it is the story of ordinary people with an extraordinary burden for their neighbors, whether those neighbors live next door, in the next town, or across the ocean.
This is our story, though incomplete as any human history will be until the day when our heavenly Father says, "Well done, good and faithful servants." For now, our mission is as clear and strong as it was more than 95 years ago. Highland Park Baptist Church is all about growing disciples of Jesus Christ committed to worshipping God and transforming our world.
- by Leola Gee -