Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church: 75 years young and still growing

Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church: 75 years young and still growing
Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church

Buildings and people have come and gone, but Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church’s founding vision to be a church “with old ideals and a new idea, that of offering to children and young people a Church that is a place of worship and also a community center” has never wavered.

The original members split from two other congregations and agreed to form a single church in 1945 in space they rented from the Little Theatre in San Marco. Soon, they purchased 14 acres of land on Hendricks Avenue beyond Oriental Gardens near the end of city development along a narrow, blacktopped State Road 13. HAB’s first service in its new location was on Sept. 22, 1946.

True to their original vision, the members built first not a sanctuary but a gymnasium. The Hendricks Avenue Baptist Recreation Association was established in June 1958. The recreation program changed to Hendricks Avenue Community Athletic Association (HACAA), a non-church owned organization in 1986. 

“HAB gives its campus away,” said Dr. Kyle Reese, who served as the church’s pastor for 13 years until 2019. “We have had as many as 1,000 people from the community on the campus per week.”

HAB is unique among Baptist churches in its promotion of women leaders. In 1986, Ann Carter, Anne Birchfield, Evelyne Hanson, Sylvia McQuaig, Nannie Paul Thomas and Corinne Williams were the first females to be elected and ordained.

“Hugh and I joined HAB in August 1987 after we moved here from Nashville,” said Susan Greene. Hugh Greene, an ordained minister, retired from Baptist Health in 2019, where he had been an executive since 1989 and CEO for 20 years.

“We joined because HAB is a progressive Baptist church,” Greene said.

One long standing mission of the church has been its international work. Beginning in 1966, members taught Cuban refugees both conversational English and citizenship. At one point, members were holding classes for as many as 100 students from 27 nations.

HAB’s most widely visible moment was when the original sanctuary was destroyed by fire on Dec. 23, 2007. The next day, Christmas Eve, the members had worship in the Family Life Center, which didn’t burn in the fire. At the end of worship, All Saints Episcopal Church members came in and announced they had lunch for the members. Other churches helped as well, by loaning them music and choir robes. A Jewish young lady and her family bought the church new pew bibles.

“Our members would serve as ushers at the temple on High Holy Days, and their members would do the same for us on Christmas and Easter. Before the Islamic Center got a building of its own, it used a Sunday School room at HAB for Friday prayers,” said Reese.

HAB’s most recent community outreach is the HAB Art Gallery, which opened in 2009. Susan Greene was part of the Art Ministry Team that planned the HAB Art Gallery.

“It became very meaningful to see how art opened up new questions and new thoughts that led to conversation,” she said.

“From its very beginning, HAB has had the community on its mind,” Reese said. Reese resigned in 2019 to become deputy director for OneJax.

“Being in a church that is welcoming and a place of acceptance was important to both of us. Our three daughters actively participate in the children’s and youth programs. Our oldest played several seasons in the baseball program,” Anna Valent said.

Valent, who grew up in the Baptist church, started attending HAB after she graduated from college in 2003. When she met her now-husband, Kevin, who grew up in the Presbyterian Church, he started attending with her.

B.J. Hutto was called as HAB’s pastor in 2020. His wife, Rev. Rebekah Hutto, a Presbyterian minister, and he, along with their daughter, Hannah Ruth, and son, Elijah, live in San Jose.

“What I’ve seen so far is a church that is careful, considerate and willing to go the extra mile to take care of its members and the people surrounding it,” said Hutto. “People are always going to want to go to a place where they will be loved, where they can come together and investigate interesting, critical questions in life.”

By Karen Rieley
Resident Community News

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