By Michael Daniels
Journal Staff Reporter
For two Sundays in a row, February 17 and 24th, Indiana Missionary Baptist Church celebrated its 73rd Anniversary with an afternoon service at the church. On the 17th, Rev. Dr. Jerry Boose from Second Baptist church was the main speaker. On the 24th, Rev. Dr. Willie Perryman from Jerusalem Baptist Church did the honors. Both ministers brought members of their congregations, as well as, their church choirs to join in on the celebration.
The theme of this year’s program was from Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything, Instead Pray about everything,” This theme was most appropriate because it reaches back to Indiana Missionary Baptist Churches humble beginnings.
It was in the mid-forties when Rev. W. J. Stephenson, the pastor of Central Baptist Church in north Toledo realized that his church was going to lose its property due to an upcoming freeway project that was going to slice through the heart of north Toledo. He became worried that many of his parishioners that lived in the central city would have a difficult time getting to church after the expressway was built.
Faced with this dilemma, Rev. Stephenson did what a man of God should do! He turned to his Heavenly Father for help, and his help came. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he decided to resign his position as pastor of Central Baptist and open a new church in the central city where the majority of African Americans lived during that time period. He then contacted a fellow pastor, the Rev. E. J. Benton along with some established church Deacons, Trustee, pastors, church Mothers and other church-going people for a meeting.
At this meeting which took place on February 20, 1946, at 819 Ewing Street in the central city, Indiana Missionary Baptist Church was officially organized and Rev. W. J. Stephenson became the church’s first pastor. This was a position he would maintain until he passed away in July of 1959. Also present at this meeting were a group of teenagers, and unbeknownst to everyone at the time in this group, was one who was the new church’s hope of the future. A young man by the name of John E. Roberts who was there that night, would grow up, and one day become one of Indiana’s most influential and beloved ministers.
As the new church progressed it quickly began to grow and it wasn’t too long before everyone became aware that they were going need a larger space to properly worship the Lord. Now they had a mission fulfill. So, they started a building fund to build a new church building. Soon enough money was raised to purchase a property at 640 Indiana Ave.
Missionary Baptist Church celebrated a mission fulfilled as they marched singing God’s praises all the way from the old building on Ewing Street to the new one on Indiana Avenue. Since that time the congregation has continued to grow and so has the original structure. In time came the addition of a ground level sanctuary, the upper-level sanctuary, the Stephenson-Roberts Hall and a spacious parking lot to accommodate its large growing congregation.
Since the passing of the founder, Rev. W. J. Stephenson in 1959, the church has had several pastors including the Rev. T. Wiggins in 1960, and the Rev. F. H. Alexander 1961 through 1963.
On January 21, 1965, the young teenager, who attended that first organizational meeting in 1946, the Rev. John E. Roberts became Indiana’s fourth pastor. He later elevated his status in ministry by graduating from the Toledo Bible College in 1975 and was Valedictorian of his class. From this point on he became known as Rev. Dr. John E. Roberts.
Under his leadership, Indiana Missionary Baptist Church has become one of the most influential churches in the city. They are known for their community involvement for reaching out and helping others.
As for Pastor Roberts, he is a minister who lives his ministry, 24 hours a day, in and out of the pulpit. If you meet him out in the world, he’s probably going to ask you two questions. One, ‘your name,’ and two, “are you saved’? He’s a man who understands that his main purpose in life is to help us ordinary folks find out way into God’s grace and into his heaven.
At his church, he is a continual inspiration to others and has also mentored dozens of young men in the field of ministry, many who have gone on to have their own churches.
As the church celebrates its 73rd anniversary, he had these words of divine wisdom for his congregation, he said, “Truly God has blessed us and smiled upon us, and I thank Him for it. We must never forget that Central Baptist gave birth to Indiana. Thank God for Rev. W. J. Stephenson and the pioneers like him that were with him paving the way. We must constantly pray for our church and its ministry of redemption in a lost world as we constantly live our lives in a way that honors Christ and his teaching.”