Tower Grove Baptist Church
Monday, April 24, 2017
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The History of Tower Grove Baptist Church

In 1891 the St. Louis Browns had played ten seasons of baseball in St. Louis, Missouri; Tower Grove Park had been in operation as the first public park in St. Louis for 21 years thanks to the donation of property from Henry Shaw; the great tornado of 1876 and the loss of infrastructure had been eclipsed by preparations for the St. Louis World’s Fair set to occur in 1904; and a small group of Christians believed God was leading them to start a church in the Tower Grove District. Only God could have foreseen the outcome of the series of cottage prayer meetings organized by Rev. John McCourtney, a Baptist minister, in the early spring of 1891. When Rev. McCourtney found several like-minded believers in the community known as the Tower Grove District, and no Baptist churches nearby, he suggested that prayer services be held in various neighborhood homes. The first of these took place in the home of Mrs. Mary Walls on Manchester Avenue, near Newstead with eight persons in attendance.

After several meetings in different homes, Rev. F. T. Shore of California, Missouri was invited to preach in a private home near Tower Grove Station. On September 6, 1891, Rev. Shore, assisted by John McCourtney organized a church of 21 members. The church was to be known as the Tower Grove Baptist Church, and F. T. Shore was called as pastor. For services, three rooms were rented in a tenement house on Newstead Avenue just north of Norfolk. It was here that a Sunday School with an enrollment of 22 was started.

A short time later Rev. Shore and his family moved into a home in the 4300 block of Vista Avenue and invited the congregation to share the house with him. In two front rooms, members constructed benches to serve as pews. Services were held there until the fall of 1892, when the church was moved to a hall on the third floor of a building at the corner of Tower Grove and Vista Avenues. A saloon on the first floor made this location rather awkward, nevertheless, services were held there until a larger property could be obtained in the fall of 1895.

In November 1892, Rev. Shore resigned as pastor and was succeeded by Rev. J. F. Colwell who was at that time the city missionary. Under the ministry of Rev. Colwell, the church flourished. In May 1893, a lot in the 4300 block of Norfolk Avenue was purchased to house the growing congregation. A building was erected on the rear of the lot and the cornerstone was laid August 17, 1895. S. A. Bemis, a prominent businessman and member of Second Baptist Church contributed liberally to a building fund for the new building at a time when aid was sorely needed. Rev. Colwell served as the pastor until his untimely death on February 17, 1897.

In March, 1897, the church voted unanimously to call Rev. Menta Sturgeon as pastor, a position he held until his resignation in 1904. Successive pastors were J. P. Jacobs, 1904-1905; C. H. Hands, 1905-1906; George Steel, 1906-1912; S. N. Mohler, 1913-1919; Albert Haliwell, 1920-1923.

Following the period of multiple successive pastorates, the church experienced a great deal of strife and division. Reverend Forrest A. Lowry was asked to become the pastor of Tower Grove Baptist but refused to accept the call unless the church agreed to reunite and recommit to the ministry God had given to them. The church agreed to reunification and Brother Lowry became pastor on June 1, 1923. Under his ministry the church began a period of unprecedented growth. A new auditorium seating 1500 was built in 1924, and four years later the old church structure was modernized for educational space. As the American landscape moved many off farms in rural communities to jobs in the industrialized city, Tower Grove Baptist Church under the steady and innovative leadership of Brother Lowry provided a faith community that was to be the centerpiece of the Tower Grove neighborhood. Wax manufacturers, cigar and cigarette manufacturers, foundries and meat packing plants in the Vandeventer and Tower Grove area provided jobs but could not provide the sense of community nor provide the support needed to truly feel at home in a new city.

Tower Grove was able to accomplish this and provide support as these families dealt with the daily struggles experienced during the Great Depression and beyond. Brother Lowry understood this deep need and led the church to provide innovative programs to support these new transplants. Just a few of these ministries included a radio ministry to reach the entire community with the weekly Sunday services, a ministry to feed the local newsboys and conduct a Bible study with them, as well as Royal Ambassadors (RA’s) boy’s Bible study and activity ministry, Girls In Action (GA’s) girls mission and Bible Study ministry, Sunbeams (Bible study and activities for young children), Brotherhood men’s ministry, creation of Boy Scout Troop #298 at TGBC, creation of the Baptist sports association with age level teams from children through adults for men and women, establishment of mission churches as well as a bus ministry to pick up families in the neighborhoods surrounding the church that otherwise would not be able to attend the services and activities of the church. In addition to innovation and vision, Brother Lowry’s ministry was marked by his constant attention to the health and well-being of the congregation and community.

It is often told that if anyone in the congregation became ill, he would take the chairman of the deacons and remain with the family as long as his presence was needed. His messages were clear, direct and simple messages of salvation, the second coming, and Christian responsibility. Brother Lowry’s ministry to the community at large was so recognized and respected that on the 25th anniversary of his ministry, the neighborhood business association presented Brother Lowry with a car to thank him for his work in the Tower Grove community. He lived in the neighborhood and walked or took the streetcar to most events, as did most of the congregation. In May, 1949 the church secured a three-acre plot of ground at the corner of Magnolia and Tower Grove Avenues in order to construct a new sanctuary and educational complex for the ever enlarging congregation. The land was received as a gift from a local haberdasher, Mr. Zeiss, who attended services when he was physically able and heard the ministry and message of Brother Lowry on the radio when he became unable to attend due to failing health.

From a membership of 414 in 1923 the church had grown to over 3400 when failing health forced Brother Lowry into retirement in December 1952. During the 29 years Brother Lowry ministered in the Tower Grove community, Tower Grove Baptist Church had become one of the leading churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. Brother Lowry returned to the church several times following his retirement and received a standing ovation at each service he attended. To meet this man of God was to know that he was someone who had the power of God on him, even in his later years when his physical stamina was diminished. The love and respect that was felt for him was almost overwhelming to experience. In honor of his ministry, to acknowledge the great respect felt for him and in recognition of his continuing impact on the Tower Grove Baptist Church and community, the recreational building of the Tower Grove Baptist Church was named the Forrest Lowry Activities Building and a plaque was placed in the foyer of the Activities Building to commemorate this. An endowment at Missouri Baptist University to support the education of ministerial students as well as a scholarship through the church were also instituted to recognize the ongoing commitment and impact of this great leader.

Upon the resignation of Brother Forrest Lowry, Dr. Ira H. Peak was called as pastor. Succeeding a predecessor like Brother Lowry was no small task, but Dr. Peak was able to lead in a manner that allowed the church to continue to thrive and grow under his ministry. Dr. Peak, who was commonly referred to as Parson Peak, was a very serious, humble man of God who understood the role of the pastorate was one to be handled with great caution and care. Under his steady leadership, the congregation was energized and mobilized to secure the funding needed to erect the sanctuary and educational plant that currently exists at 4257 Magnolia Avenue. Each family within the congregation received a personal visit and was asked how they may be able to contribute to the building fund by the purchase of bonds. This personal approach and unity of spirit allowed the congregation, comprised primarily of working class families, to fund the construction of a magnificent church facility at the Magnolia and Tower Grove location. This building was dedicated on January 29, 1956. Dr. Peak resigned in September, 1956 to assume another pastorate. Tragically his life and ministry were cut short soon after by a motor vehicle accident sustained when he was on revival in Alaska. A scholarship exists in his name at East Texas Baptist University.

Reverend Mack R. Douglas succeeded Dr. Peak in December, 1956. Under his leadership, every phase of church life enjoyed tremendous growth. Rev. Douglas was an energetic, motivational, visionary leader with tremendous personal impact. Under his leadership, the emphasis on family ministry continued which included a visionary recognition by Rev. Douglas that baby boom and post war families needed a place to play as well as to worship. To that end, Rev. Douglas led the church to erect one of America’s most outstanding church recreation buildings at that time, which was named the Forrest Lowry Activities Building. To fully impact the community with this new recreation complex, Reverend Douglas led the congregation to hire the very first full time Minister of Recreation within the Southern Baptist Convention. Additionally, Rev. Douglas recognized the growing trend for young people to attend college and the need for higher education with a Christian perspective. To meet that need, the Hannibal LaGrange Extension College was established, which met in Tower Grove facilities, and would later become Missouri Baptist University. Following his ministry at Tower Grove which ended in 1964, Rev. Douglas went on to minister in Florida and opened a church owned and operated retirement community. Rev. Douglas was also a published author and wrote about motivation in life and ministry.

Reverend Douglas was succeeded by Reverend E. Warren Rust. Reverend Rust was an experienced leader and administrator who served on the committee to revise and adopt the Baptist Faith and Message in 1962. Under his experienced leadership a review of the church and the changing community brought an additional outreach to the community, through a Day Care Center a refinancing of the church's indebtedness, and the opening of a part of the building to the public elementary Sherman Branch School No. 2. Reverend Rust served the church from 1965-1971.

Following the ministry of Reverend Rust, a young athletic family man in the person of Reverend Frank Minton was called to assume the pastorate. In 1972 the enthusiastic, outgoing personality of Rev. Frank Minton brought new life to the church membership. His larger than life physical stature and personality, coupled with a very firm handshake compelled a response. His love for children opened the doors for an expanded bus ministry, an energized youth program and a greater use of the church recreation facilities. The institution of an early Sunday evening youth directed worship service with full band, followed by Bible study and evenings in the activities building provided the catalyst for this energetic youth experience. In 1972-73 Tower Grove led the state of Missouri in baptisms and was 14th in the Southern Baptist Convention Top 25 Churches in Baptisms.

In 1974, Rev. Larry Lewis began a ministry of seven years that was characterized by his deep concern for people and desire to see the lost won to Christ. During his ministry at Tower Grove he led the church in a multi-ministry program that included evangelistic teams, bus ministry, day care center, Christian school, senior citizens programs, cross-cultural outreach which including establishment of a mission church, food and clothing distribution, work assistance, and job placement programs. In 1978, Tower Grove Christian School (now Tower Grove Christian Academy) was established, growing until the High school was completed in 1982. During his time at Tower Grove, Rev. Lewis completed his doctoral work. In 1981, Dr. Lewis resigned the pastorate at Tower Grove to assume the presidency of Hannibal LaGrange College. In 1987, Dr. Lewis was elected as the 15th president of the Baptist Home Mission Board.

Rev. Gary Taylor's ministry began in June 1982. His preaching style and personal warmth were reminiscent to many of the ministry of Forrest Lowry. With the physical church plant in serious disrepair, Bro. Gary rallied the people around a 20-year master plan of renovation. In February 1986, a torrential rain storm caused more than 1.5 million dollars' damage to the Sanctuary/Educational Building. The church was forced to hold services in the gymnasium until March, 1987, when repairs were completed. Under the leadership of Rev. Taylor, the church remained faithful, and during 1988, more than 160 people were baptized with some 60 other additions. This was the most baptisms recorded since 1980. In June, 1989, Rev. Taylor resigned to become the pastor of First Baptist Church of O'Fallon, MO. He went on to serve as the Missouri Baptist State Evangelism Director and the president of the Missouri Baptist Convention before going home to be with the Lord in May, 2012.

Rev. Tim Deatrick was called in August, 1986, as associate pastor, responsible for the Singles and Recreation ministry under the pastorate of Rev Gary Taylor. With the resignation of Bro. Gary Taylor, Bro. Tim stayed on in an administrative capacity to direct and lead the church during the interim period. Sensing the Lord’s leadership, the pulpit committee recommended that he be called as pastor, and on July 29, 1990, the church, by an overwhelming majority, voted to call Rev. Tim Deatrick as their new pastor. He assumed that ministry on August 12, 1990 until his resignation in 1995. He is currently still in ministry.

Danny O’Guin was called to Tower Grove in 1995. He was called to another pastorate in 2005.

Today, Reverend Christopher M. Coury serves as the pastor of Tower Grove Baptist Church. Pastor Chris was called to Tower Grove by a large majority vote in October of 2006, after serving as associate pastor at Armitage Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois.

Tower Grove Baptist Church through its’ varied ministries has produced multiple home and foreign missionaries, innumerable pastors, multiple church plants and provided support for various ministries that remain in existence to this day. Through a continued emphasis on meeting the needs of the community, equipping the saints, missions and outreach, Tower Grove has been and will continue to be His light on the corner of Tower Grove and Magnolia Avenues.