Riverside Baptist turns 100

Riverside Baptist turns 100

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

From canvas to cathedral. Such is the course of the 100-year history of the Riverside Baptist Church. Five years after that initial tent meeting was held in 1908, the present site on the corner of Park and King Streets was acquired and a frame building erected. This August marks the 100th year of that first worship service. In the 1920s work began on a new building and the first regular service in the new Sanctuary was held on Easter Sunday 1926.

According to 50-year-plus member Rufus Dickinson, what used to be a traditional Baptist style of worship started to change when the congregation saw how beautiful the building was. “A significant portion of our identity is bound up in the architecture of the church,” said Dickinson, a resident of Old Ortega. “We’re a church where many other faiths and denominations feel comfortable, due to our architecture for one; it’s a church where liturgy and congregational involvement is what’s called for.”
Dickinson explained that they have on average four weddings a month at the church, because they allow ministers of other denominations to perform the weddings. “But we’re currently in a place where we either need to grow or go.” Average Sunday attendance is about 120 in the 600-seat Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary was designed and built by world-famous American architect Addison Mizner, who had promised to build a church in honor of his mother. This was his only project ever built in Jacksonville, for which he refused any payment. “It was a gift to us [from Mizner],” Dickinson noted. “He said that when he visited all the monasteries and cathedrals in Europe, he designed Riverside Baptist Church after the one where he felt closest to God.”

Mizner incorporated three major types of architecture – Romanesque, Byzantine and Spanish – in what is now considered Riverside’s Historic Cathedral.
In 1973, the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., listed Riverside Baptist Church on the National Register of Historic Places.

The pews and pulpit furniture were made in Jacksonville by Wilkie J. Schell, a member of the church and the building committee for the sanctuary. Another church member and renowned artist, Lee Adams, was commissioned to paint the Adoration of the Shepherds, which hangs in the north transept.

The organ is one of the largest pipe organs found in any church within the city of Jacksonville. A combination of two Ernest M. Skinner Organs (1924 Opus 473 and 1925 Opus 533), this instrument has 65 registers, 79 ranks, 4,554 pipes and two consoles which function independently or simultaneously. This distinctive historic instrument forms the centerpiece of the church-sponsored C. Edward Bryan Arts Series. Riverside Baptist Church hosts performances of national and international concert organists.
Worship services are held on Sundays at 11 a.m. at 2650 Park Street. Call (904) 388-7692 for more information.

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