Morning Star Baptist Church to celebrate 102nd anniversary
July 5, 2019

Morning Star Baptist Church of Chicago offers congregants a large, comfortable home for worship at 3993 S. Martin Luther King Dr.

By Kayla Kirshenbaum

The act of praying means different things to different people. For Edward Talbot, a congregant of the Morning Star Baptist Church of Chicago for the past decade, prayer used to be an activity that was private.

“I used to stay at home and practice religion with my mother and father,” he said. “We would pray at home.” Talbot, a retired physics teacher from Tilden High School, took his prayers public when he joined Morning Star Baptist Church ten years ago after the former principal of Tilden, Phylis Hammond, suggested the two go “church hopping.”

Talbot noted Hammond had gone to the the church “since she was five years old. We went church hopping and checked out the church together in our free time.” What he found was community and family at Morning Star Baptist. 

The church will celebrate its 102nd anniversary on Thursday and Friday, July 18 and 19, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 21, at 10:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Established in 1917 at 3800 S. Vincennes Ave., the church moved to 664 E. 43rd St. for a short period before permanently relocating to 3993 S. King Dr. in May 1937.

With its colorful stained glass windows and festive party hall on the upstairs floor, the church offers an oasis of beauty and connection to the nearby community. The building is a former automotive repair shop.

Pastor a longtime member

One of those congregants who was raised worshipping in the church alongside his parents and grandparents as a young boy now serves as the current pastor. The Rev. Henry Barlow, who became pastor in 2015, has deep roots in Morning Star Baptist.

“I grew up in this church,” said Rev. Barlow. “I was baptized when I was a little boy in this church. My family on my grandma and grandpa’s side came out of this church.”

The church has provided support, both social and spiritual, to the community throughout its history. “At this corner has sat a pillar in the community,” said Rev. Barlow. “It has been a beacon in this community for many of the residents that live in this area. Over the years, we have tried to keep the doors open as a place of refuge for people seeking peace and harmony. It has had nine pastors including myself in its 102 years of existence.” 

Over the last few years, however, the congregation has seen its numbers dwindle. “Ten years ago, we probably had about 70 to 80 people,” Talbot remembered. “Now, it’s around 30 to 40 people.”

One reason is that aging congregants between 70 and 90 years old make up about 85% of the membership. “The seniors are very kind and gentle with the young individuals,” said Rev. Barlow. “They will give them their space and will lend an ear to whatever the young people have to say. And it is not where it goes in one and comes out the other. They are actually listening.” 

The longevity and active lifestyle of the church’s older congregants has helped buoy the community over time. “My chairman of the deacon board is 89; my chairman of the trustee board is 96,” Rev. Barlow said. “They are still active, still know what it is to serve God’s people, which I think is very beautiful. These guys really look out for the people of this church.” 

Varying interests among older congregants and their younger counterparts have created a dilemma for the pastor in how to keep his congregation engaged and bring in new membership. With the advent of social media and online opt-in church services, members feel a growing concern about the future of membership and shrinking engagement from younger congregants.

Although the Morning Star Baptist congregation is predominantly older, the church offers programs for children as well.

Challenge of the millennials

“I am concerned about what can motivate younger individuals, especially the millennials,” said Rev. Barlow. “You just can’t seem to find that one thing that can hook them like you could with young people long ago.

“That’s one of my challenges,” he continued. “How do you really reach the millennials? They are social media driven. If the majority of my congregation is older, social media is not high on their list of priorities.” 

In an effort to pique local young people’s interest, the church held a graduation-recognition celebration on June 29 that honored graduates from preschool through high school and college this past school year.

On Saturday, Aug. 17, the church will partner with pastors from nearby Monumental Baptist Church and Ebenezer Baptist Church in a joint back-to-school community picnic at Morning Star.

Rev Barlow himself instituted another effort to engage young people in the community. “I have created within the church what I call a roundtable discussion where everyone has a seat at the table,” he said. “We listen to each other, and I make everybody feel like they are a part of what is happening in the church.”

This kind of initiative demonstrates the inclusionary culture Rev. Barlow represents and brings to the community. When Talbot joined the community ten years ago, he worried about being received as one of the only white congregants in the church.

Yet, as he said, “When I came to Morning Star I just felt so welcome. I was sitting in the very back of the church when the pastor came up to me and said, ‘Why don’t you come up to the front?’ He put me in the front row. He was so friendly. 

“They welcomed me so good,” Talbot continued. “I felt at home there. Morning Star is Baptist. They have music, and altar prayer, something I had never done before. We all held hands and the pastor would talk. I was actually in tears. I got so inspired that I was eventually baptized. This church is a much more personal church. You get to know people easily.”

This year, the church will celebrate the individual office clerks and staff who have made an immeasurable difference over the course of 102 years.

“Most church work is volunteer, and most of the time people don’t tell you ‘thank you,’” Rev. Barlow explained. “It is more than just getting up on a Sunday and giving a message or leading a bible class.”

The church will celebrate these individuals through prayer service, where all people are welcome to pray in the sanctuary on July 18, 19, and 21. “I am a product of prayer, and I believe in prayer,” shared Rev. Barlow. “I believe there is a God, and I believe he does speak to us.”

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