Wake Forest Baptist Church was organized in 1956 when Wake Forest College moved from Wake Forest, North Carolina, to Winston-Salem, perpetuating a 125-year-old tradition of having a Baptist church at the center of the campus.
Since that time, Wake Forest Baptist Church has enjoyed a unique relationship with the university. Though it operates as an autonomous congregation — electing its ministers, raising its budget, conducting its business and operating its programs — the church is housed in Wingate Hall, which also houses the Wake Forest Divinity School, the Department of Religion and the Office of the Chaplain. The congregation worships in Wait Chapel, the university auditorium. The church is provided nursery space, children’s classrooms and youth rooms. Adult Sunday School classes meet in university classrooms.
When the church was founded, many of the members of the student body, faculty and administration were Baptist. Over the years the percentage of Baptists on campus has decreased significantly, and the church has looked increasingly to the community for its membership. Currently, Wake Forest Baptist Church has approximately 325 members, two-thirds of whom come from the community. The church and its membership are becoming increasingly ecumenical while still “believing in and dedicating themselves to preserving and practicing historic Baptist principles, freedoms, and traditions.”
Wake Forest Baptist Church has been an innovator in local ministry. The church co-founded the Winston-Salem Meals on Wheels ministry along with North Carolina Baptist Hospital. It helped to establish the Association for the Betterment of Children, now called Imprints for Families. More recently, its members have played a leading role in establishing C.H.A.N.G.E., a grassroots interfaith organization that currently involves more than 50 faith communities and neighborhood associations.
The ministers and members of Wake Forest Baptist Church have been unafraid to deal with difficult and controversial issues. In 1994, Wake Forest Baptist Church was presented the Whitney M. Young Award for “bridging the gaps in race relations” by the Winston-Salem Urban League. A year later the United Way of Forsyth County presented a special award to Wake Forest Baptist Church and its partner, First Baptist Church, Highland Avenue, for building “a better community through a variety of joint undertakings.” We were presented the 2005 Kaleidoscope Faith Community Award by PFLAG of Winston-Salem.
Because of its inclusive stand regarding the role of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons in the church, Wake Forest Baptist Church was removed from membership in the Pilot Mountain Baptist Association and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The church voluntarily left the Southern Baptist Convention. The church has found a home in the Alliance of Baptists and continues to offer a vibrant witness to Jesus Christ.