The story of the American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York begins with the conception of the New York Baptist Association in April, 1791 at the First Baptist Church in New York City. A number of nearby congregations from New York and New Jersey were represented by messengers who drew up a plan for the new venture, based on the patterns and confession of the Philadelphia Baptist Association (1742). They set a time of meeting for the fall when representatives of the churches who wished to join formalized the proposal.
At its peak in the 18th century, the influence of the Calvinistic Philadelphia Association had extended southward into South Carolina and northward into New England, and was a unifying force among by far the largest group of Baptists in America. As the Baptist movement grew rapidly after 1770, in part because of its emphasis on the autonomy of congregations and its acceptance of the patterns of the Great Awakening, it entered a period of associational organization; according to one count, six associations of churches were formed in the 1770’s, 16 in the 1780’s and 22 in the 1790’s.
By 1800 Baptists were the largest denomination in the land. So the formation of the New York Baptist Association was typical of Baptist life of the time, and in many ways ever since then the association and its successors has been a conspicuous microcosm in the macrocosm of Baptist history in America. Various authorities present differing lists of churches that actually joined the association in its early days, but a number of congregations in northern New Jersey and southern New York (including Staten Island and Long Island) did join. Some of the leadership of churches north of the city, which had originally been interested, chose instead to join the Warwick Association, also founded in 1791.
As it happens, it was in the following years in England that William Carey preached his “Deathless sermon” on missions on the theme “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God,” which sent a message that slowly gathered momentum across the Baptist world as enthusiasm for missions increased. So though an important start at the associational level had been made in 1791, several signs of our second period were already in evidence.
Soon in most areas of Baptist life in the United States, local churches not only supported and belonged to associations, but also formed many societies for particular causes, such as home and foreign missions, Bible and tract publication, youth work, temperance reform, and Sunday Schools. Space permits reference to but several of the many societies that are part of the larger story. It is important to note the founding upstate in 1807 of what soon became the Hamilton Baptist Missionary Society. Five years later a very important part of the Baptist constituency in the state formed the related Hamilton Female Society, and the example was followed in other areas and in many local congregations, and the women’s role became increasingly important in Baptist life and mission. By 1825 the Hamilton Missionary Society became the Baptist Missionary Convention of the State of New York, which continued under that name until 1957 (when it became the New York State Baptist Convention), and with which the New York Baptist Association affiliated. The New York Baptists welcomed the missionary emphasis not only to the extent of recommending that each congregation form a missionary society but also setting up within its bounds what is called the Representative Baptist Missionary Society, which flourished from 1827 to 1842, giving particular attention to home and city missions. Perhaps it was undercut by the organization in 1841 of the New York Baptist Domestic Society of the City of New York – an illustration of the way societies was precipitated around various causes, all drawing on the same basic constituencies. The number of associations in the state also continued to multiply and grow; for example, in 1816 the Hudson River Baptist Association (HRBA) was founded, became the largest in the state, in 1850 divided into HRBA North and HRBA South (and in 10 years a HRBA Central also emerged). The HRBA South overlapped extensively with the territory of the New York Baptist Association (NYBA) so that the organizational patterns, further complicated by agents of the societies who often operated across association lines, became confused.
A major step towards improvement occurred in 1870 when the NYBA consolidated with HRBA South as the Southern New York Association, intensified as immigrants poured in, necessitated the organization of the societies for specialized tasks. Hence the New York Baptist City Mission Society was formed in 1893, and became a powerful and nationally known influence in city work under Charles H. Sears (1902 – 1943). It was renamed the New York City Baptist City Society in 1938 to highlight its concern for all aspects of church work in a modern metropolis. A parallel development had been the forming of a Brooklyn Baptist Church Extension Society in 1886; in 20 years its work was extended to Queens. Under the capable leadership of Dr. Sears, who became executive secretary of both societies in 1918, the Extension Society in time by mutual agreement took over much of the work of the Long Island Baptist Association (Founded in 1867) in Kings, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties. It was the formal merger of the Baptist City Society and the Church Extension Society which brought about the formation of the American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York in 1972 under the leadership of Executive Secretary Angus Hull, who served for 12 years and ended his work in this capacity in 1974.
The Reverend Dr. Robert T. Handy, former Professor of American Church History of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, is considered the Dean of American Church Historians described ABC Metro New York, a regional affiliate of ABCUSA, as a proud participant in the long and distinguished tradition of Baptists in this region, representing over two hundred years of enabling ministry and outreach in New York City, on Long Island and southern Westchester. With 194 member churches, Metro New York serves a resident membership of over 150,000 people. The American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York reflects the diversity of its cosmopolitan citizenship and mirrors the rich composition of the Church. Every Sunday, multiple languages are spoken in our regional congregations. With new traditions and cultures continually arriving in a city that serves as point of entry for many immigrants, the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural fellowship of ABC Metro New York makes it one of the most diverse, most heterogeneous collaboratives in the country. As an American Baptist entity, ABC Metro New York is a part of a larger national and international network of Christian outreach, education, mission and ecumenism. It is a member of the Council of Churches of the City of New York and a supporter of the National Council of Churches and the Baptist World Alliance. The American Baptist Churches of Metro New York exists to serve its churches and is presently providing pastoral ministries for mediation and conflict resolution, new church planting support, pastoral searches, ordinations, leadership development, Christian education, building and real estate consultation, technical assistance, deputation of mission speakers and church development. There are also a host of program ministries available to our churches including: The Youth Convocation and the Biennial Youth Retreat, Best Chance after-school program, Women’s Ministries and so much more. In addition, we have mission entities that serve the wider community including the Flemister House, which is a residence for persons afflicted with HIV/AIDS. The American Baptist Churches of Metro New York also works in partnership with our member churches to engage in God’s mission to the world. It understands that Mission begins with recognition of worldwide causes, sacrifice of resources, commitment to give, and responsible management of gifts and talents. The mission that God has entrusted to the Region is realized by member churches through their own local mission programs and through their support of American Baptists regional, national and international outreach. Our 194 member congregations of ABC Metro New York are warm, affirming houses of hospitality and service. Inspiring worship services and strong empowering ministries, which include counseling, substance abuse treatment, job training and placement, voter registration, schools, low income and senior housing, food pantries, facilities for the mentally challenged, Bible institutes, community development entities, refugee resettlement, immigrant sponsors, credit union, etc., are the hallmark of ABC Metro New York churches.
The following list represents the complete compilation of outstanding servant leaders who have served as executive leaders in the American Baptists in New York Metropolitan Region: