• A Brief History 1909 to 1959
  • Great Change 1960 - 2009
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A  Brief History of the 

Miami Baptist Association

1909   -   1959

A Rugged Beginning   1909 - 1934

The Miami Baptist Association had its beginning on January 30, 1909.  Rev. W.E. Stanton was the pastor of First Baptist Church in Miami.  He called for a conference and invited all the area’s Baptist churches to attend.  There were delegates from First Baptist in Miami, West Palm Beach, Lemon City, Dania, Ft. Lauderdale, Hialeah, and Silver Palm.  They discussed a name for the new association, and unanimously chose Miami Baptist Association.  They seriously discussed The Southeast Association, Biscayne Bay Association, and Miami River Association. Dr. Stanton was elected Moderator, and they set November 19-21, 1909 for the first annual meeting to be held at First Baptist Church in Miami.  However, Dr. Stanton died in his home on October 26 at the age of 71 before the annual session.  The charter churches for this new association included 9 churches:

First Baptist Church, Miami                Key West Baptist Church                     Dania Baptist Church

West Palm Beach Baptist Church        Ft. Lauderdale Baptist Church       

Lemon City Baptist Church                  Ojus Baptist Church (became Pioneer Baptist Church)

Naranja Baptist Church, (became Silver Palm Baptist Church)                      Homestead Baptist Church

The new association extended from Stuart to Key West.  They had a total of 369 members.  There were only 4 Sunday Schools, but 5 had strong Women’s Missionary Unions.  Only the First Baptist Church in Miami had full time preaching and was self supporting.  The oldest church was the First Baptist Church in Key West, which constituted in 1842.  First Baptist in Miami constituted in 1896.  The Association called Rev. H.H. Sturgis to be their missionary.  The Association pledged $50 for the first year giving to the Association. 

The first new church started in the Association was Stanton Memorial Baptist Church in 1918.  After the first 25 years as the Association, there became 41 churches with 11,500 members; 35 of these had Sunday Schools, and total property values were worth $1,419,369.  In those first 25 years of history, the Association had to deal with 2 terrible hurricanes.  There was a horrible hurricane in 1926 in Miami and one in 1928 that hit West Palm Beach. Many of the churches suffered wreckage.  The churches had to contend with the horrors of World War I.  Plus, the Great Depression followed the crash on Wall Street in 1929.  Southeast Florida was not an easy place to live or travel in those days.

The pastors of the Association had a friendly rivalry as to who could bring the largest attendance to meetings. They preached strongly against smoking, drinking alcohol, dancing, and card playing.  Segregation was practiced and only infrequent occasions did Black and White Baptists meet.  Notable pastors in this era included J.L. White at FBC Miami for 25 years, C.H. Bolton at FBC West Palm Beach, A.E. Gammage of Calvary in Miami, and J.C. Simms of Riverside in Miami.  Judge E.C. Collins and P.L. Gaddis were prominent laymen during this period as well.  The missionaries for the association during this period besides H.H. Sturgis were J.B. Rodgers and E.H. Rice throughout the 1920’s.

 Great Growth             1935 – 1959

There were 42 churches reporting in the Association in 1938 with a membership of 14,758. The newly formed Central Baptist Church organized in 1936 from a merger of First Baptist and Temple Baptist churches while Dr. Roy C. Angell became their pastor.  This church was destined to become the largest church in Florida.  By 1957 Central had over 5,000 members. 

In 1939 seven churches in the north left the Association to begin a new association called Palm Lake Baptist Association located around West Palm Beach. The Gulfstream Baptist Association began in 1943 with 8 churches from our Association in Broward County.  The Association saw thousands of military service men from all over the country come to Miami Beach for training during World War II.  Churches responded with special programs to minister to these men and women. Churches grew as people married and made South Florida their new homes. The Sunday School Board established a Book Store in Miami in 1943 with Miss Edna Hickman the new manager.  The association had a weekly radio program on WBAY.  By 1949 the Association only included Dade and Monroe Counties, but had 48 churches with 23,594 members.

In 1949 the Baptist Goodwill Center was established with Minelle Graves as their missionary director.  Miss Rosa Lee Franks and Mildred Womack were also assigned as missionaries by the Home Mission Board.  These two ladies stayed and worked in the Miami Baptist Association for more than 40 years functioning in Vacation Bible Schools and many organizations including Senior Adult ministries. Allapattah Baptist Church had a revival where over 300 people responded to salvation in one week.  Dr. Jack Haldeman was the new, exciting, and popular pastor.  The Mae Haven Home for Stranded and Homeless Women was established that year too, by our Association. 

In 1950 the Baptist Student Union building was dedicated on the campus of the University of Miami.  Margaret Walker was the first worker reporting our first Spanish mission in the Association in 1951.  Our first work with the Seminole Indians was in 1953 under the Home Mission Board’s Rev. Genus Crenshaw.  Rev. Milton Leach became the first full time missionary to Spanish speaking people in the Association in 1954.

A committee was selected to establish a Baptist Hospital in Miami in 1956.  The next year, the Florida Baptist Children’s Home opened a branch in the Kendall area. At the Golden Anniversary of the Association in 1958, perhaps the Association was experiencing the greatest years.  Our churches were broadcasting on radio and television and were well known throughout Dade County.  We had 53 churches with 46,882 members.  There was work with Russians, Chinese, as well as in Spanish languages.  Howard Smith was a full time missionary to the Jews in our area.  Land was donated for the Baptist Hospital on the Road to Nowhere.  A great crowd participated at the ground breaking dedication service on September 20, 1958.  The First Spanish Baptist Church constituted in 1959.  The population of Dade County grew during this Great Growth era from under 200,000 to 900,000 people.  

Baptists during this era promoted a campaign to close businesses on Sunday, including football events.  A number of churches started elementary schools reacting to civil rights in 1955.  Rev. A.D. Dawson, Rev. Waldo Wood, and J.T. Gillespie served as the Superintendent of Missions during this time.  The Associational offices had been held at Central Baptist Church for many years.  In 1957 the offices moved to 1790 N.E. 2nd Avenue which had been the former Westminster Presbyterian Church.


A Brief History of the

Miami Baptist Association

1960 - 2009

Great Change 1960 – 1987

Morris Elliot came to Miami with the Home Mission Board to establish a ministry to help juvenile delinquents in 1960. Once again, this missionary stayed for more than 40 years. The Baptist Hospital opened their doors that same year. Charles Stanley came to First Baptist Church in 1962, which was located on North Miami Avenue. Dr. Conrad Willard came to Central Baptist Church that same year too. George Miller was the first full time Chaplain at Baptist Hospital in 1963. The Associational staff in 1965 included Hubert Hurt as Director of Spanish work, J. Ray Dobbins as the Director of Missions, Morris Elliot as Director of Juvenile Rehabilitation, J. Elwood Rawls as Director of Promotion, and Lloyd Whyte as Director of Work Related to Non-evangelicals. The Baptist World Alliance meeting was held at Miami Beach in 1965 with a great finale at the Orange Bowl. During these years we hosted the Florida Baptist Convention as well as the Southern Baptist Convention. Our Associational offices moved to 1452 N.W. 36th Street when the former governor of Georgia, Ed Rivers gave property in 1966.

The Association gave control of the Baptist Hospital to an independent Board of Trustees at the Associational Annual Meetings in 1967 and 1968. By 1969, the Association reported our largest number of members with 59,979 in 73 churches. The Florida Keys Baptist Association was formed in 1969 with 8 churches in Monroe Country. Now, the Miami Baptist Association, for the first time only included Dade County. Richard Bryant was the Director of Missions. He introduced a study entitled, "The Worlds of Miami" in 1972. He included the Ghetto World, Resort World, Sports World, and the Retirement Worlds of Miami. It was Conrad Willard of Central Baptist Church in 1975 that made a statement to become famous for Miami, "We are probably the most cosmopolitan association in the Southern Baptist Convention".

During this time, the Association actively opposed the Gay Rights movement. It was Bill Chapman and Anita Bryant of Northwest Baptist Church that were pushed into a national platform in 1977. The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary opened their Ethnic Branch in Miami under the direction of James Benson, and shortly following was Julio Diaz. Northwest Baptist Church was our largest church as they led the association with 356 baptisms in 1979.

It was in May 1980 that riots broke out in our Black communities. Glendale Baptist Church became our fastest growing congregation under the leadership of Pastor Joseph Coats. This congregation and pastor became national leaders for African American Baptists. Pastor Emit Ray of Riverside and Pastor J.C. Walters of Wayside rose to leadership to help guide the Association during troubling times of 1982 when several people resigned on the Associational staff. The Association had the lowest number of baptisms and membership was down to 37,000. Anglo churches were losing members in spite of diligent efforts. Ethnic mission work was thriving. The Mariel Boat Lift took place in 1980 when Fidel Castro would send more than 125,000 Cubans to Miami. Crime increased, and movies like Miami Vice and Scarface described our city. One highlight was the conversion of Manuel Noreiga, the kingpin drug dealer from Panama. He was led to the Lord in Federal prison by a couple of members from the University Baptist Church.

Churches were outwardly opposed to the state lottery and casino gambling. Pastor Billy Baskin of New Way Fellowship was recognized for reporting 319 baptisms in 1986. Doyle Wetherington became the new Director of Missions in January 1984. He pledged to have new rules and new programs for the Association. Reinaldo Carvajal came on staff to lead all languages in church planting that same year. The annual report for 1987 showed 94 churches with membership at 49,929. Population in Dade County was close to 2,000,000.

Great Commission 1989 – 2009

The last two decades of ministry in the Miami Baptist Association have been exciting, to say the least. We have become leaders in language church starting as the world has come to Miami. The Association has grown to over 300 churches and missions. We have approximately 100+ churches in English, 100+ churches in Spanish, and 100+ churches in Creole. Also, we still have other languages including Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, and French. The average sizes of our congregations have become smaller, but the number of congregations has tripled. We have become a leader in the state in baptisms. We have produced leaders from our churches in many languages that serve Baptist entities all over the world. The Miami Baptist Association literally touches the world with our mission endeavors.

Baptist Hospital has expanded into Baptist Health South Florida. This enterprise now consists of more than 12,000 employees and is number one in health care in Miami-Dade County. Robert Jacoby has been the lead chaplain at the hospital, and led the way to establish a Pastoral Care Ministry Center. The seminary extension has grown into the Baptist Theological Seminary of the Americas where there are classes in 4 languages with 300 students enrolled. David Lema became the director in 2005. The Florida Baptist Convention now has the Urban Impact Center located in the heart of Hialeah. They have more than one dozen employees living and serving in the Miami-Dade area. Al Fernandez has become the leader, and he is another product of the Miami Baptist Association.

The Association sold property on Flagler Street in 1985. That money was saved and used to purchase our present building at 7855 S.W. 104th St. A layman, Paul May from Stanton Memorial Baptist Church, called Pastor Tommy Watson of First Baptist Church in Perrine to tell him he found some property before it went up for sale. Pastor Watson offered $750,000 for the office building one week. The next week he brought the motion, which passed at the annual meeting in 1994. The association offices moved from the Westchester area in borrowed Sunday School space at Trinity Baptist Church on January 13, 1995. At that time associational employees consisted of David Cleeland, Reinaldo Caravajal, Mike Daily, Harry Watkins, Mirian Lopez, Donna New, Darnel Morales, and Zaida Valdes. There were 108 churches and 48 missions with a budget of $258,000.

Michael Daily came to the Miami Baptist Association in the summer of 1987 as the Church and Community Ministries Director. He has been involved in leading our churches to establish many community evangelistic ministries. He led the way to create the Good News Care Center which opened their doors in 1996 in Florida City. Carlos Knapp became a chaplain for the clinic in 2007. Today, we see more than 100 people coming to know the Lord each year through this free medical care ministry where they take care of more than 1,000 patient visits per month.

Hispanic work has grown in the Association under the leadership of Reinaldo Carvajal, David Lema, Mirian Lopez, Emmanuel Roque, and now under Natanael Vicens. From the Iglesia Bautista Primera de Miami constituting in 1959 to over 110 churches today, we are proud of our Hispanic pastors and congregations. Our people have risen to national prominence in the Southern Baptist Convention while they have ministered to their neighbors in Miami. The Confraternadad Iglesias has become a tremendous venue for Hispanic churches to work together and enjoy partnership with fellow Baptists across Miami-Dade County.

Haitian Churches grew under the Florida Baptist Convention’s Emmanuel Caesar. Since 2001, the Miami Baptist Association has been blessed by the leadership of Scott Nelson, who has served as a missionary to Haiti as well as France. Luc Dominique was our first Haitian pastor in 1979 in Miami Shores. Today, we have about 100 Creole speaking congregations. These churches continue to have great evangelistic services where they support each other ministries.

Hurricane Andrew was devastating to the southern part of our county in August 1992. However, there was much ministry that took place following the storm. The Florida Baptist Convention was present along with a dozen other state conventions and their disaster relief units. The storm destroyed many churches and homes. Long time residents decided it was time to leave the area which led to many Anglos moving from Miami-Dade County. The Miami Baptist Association continued to grow more diverse in our multi-cultural complexion. Anglos were no longer the majority, and we no longer had any ‘Anglo-only’ churches.

By 2001 our Association consisted of 98 English Speaking churches and was led by Jimmie Harrell, who was the first African American on staff for the Association. Marty Beall joined him as an assistant to English speaking congregations. We had 79 Spanish speaking churches and 69 Creole speaking churches with 11 other language congregations. Harry Watkins moved from the Associational staff to lead "For You Miami" which was a joint project uniting the North American Mission Board, Florida Baptist Convention, and the Miami Baptist Association with an emphasis on planting new churches in Miami-Dade County. This emphasis led our Association to start over 80 new churches, many of which are still in existence.

As we celebrate 100 years, one-third of our congregations are less than 10 years old. In addition to many new congregations, a fresh, younger, group of leaders have emerged from the multi-cultural congregations that have fully developed throughout Miami. We were the first Association to call a Haitian as moderator in Ronell Julian, Pastor of Premeire Iglese Baptiste North Miami Beach. We are the first Association in the Southern Baptist Convention that has a moderator who does not speak English with Pastor Augusto Valverde of Iglesia Bautista Resurreccion. We have church members in our association from every continent, including more than 70 nationalities. Our pastors represent two dozen nationalities. Miami-Dade County is the only county in the United States where more than 50% of our population was born outside the United States, and association reflects that diversity.

The Miami Baptist Association has received and given several church properties to various congregations over the past two decades that value more than $20,000,000. We have developed the idea of "a church within a church" because only one-third of our congregations are able to own their own building. We have churches that meet in a variety of places, like schools, warehouses, offices, as well as storefronts. Presently, the Association owns 2 church properties with 6 congregations meeting there. Also, our office complex has 8,000 square feet space, of which half is rented.

The Miami Baptist Association started with rugged, humble beginnings. Certainly, our area has become more un-churched and more secular. Yet, we are the largest and strongest evangelical presence in the 4,000,000 population metropolitan area of Miami-Dade County. We have over 50,000 members in our churches. We have more than 33,000 people in all of our churches on any given Sunday morning. The tithes and offerings of our churches add up to $30,000,000+ annually. Our churches annually contribute $1,000,000 to the Cooperative Program. Plus, our churches give another $2,000,000 to other mission ventures, including about $400,000 to the Miami Baptist Association each year. The total of all Baptist properties in Miami-Dade County is worth close to $1,000,000,000.

Two of our Associational employees are jointly funded through the North American Mission Board and the Florida Baptist Convention. We have been blessed by hundreds of volunteers who have come here from all over the nation to minister in our Association. We have hosted and entertained mission groups, world changers, and college students, from the United States and other nations. For 6 years we partnered with Baptists in Cape Town, South Africa. Today, we have partnership agreements with Baptists in Manaus, Brazil and in Boston, Massachusetts. Our Hispanic pastors have gone on joint mission trips each year, and have covered all of Latin America. Our Haitian churches are extremely generous participating in mission work back to their own homeland.

A good verse to think about when you consider all the ministries throughout Miami-Dade County is Revelation 7:9 which states:

 "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands".

In this picture of heaven, we see people from all over the world worshiping the Lamb on the throne. We get to enjoy a little taste of that, here on earth in the Miami Baptist Association. Until the Lord returns, may He bless us with multiplied more numbers of brothers and sisters from around the world.


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