Established in 1883
Calvary Baptist Church is a thriving urban congregation located in the diversely dense Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis. Positioned just south of downtown and nicknamed the “international neighborhood,” Whittier is well known for “Eat Street” on Nicollet Avenue. However, our current multicultural and Eat Street identity only reflects today, as the church and the neighborhood have undergone tremendous change over the years.
Located on the corner of 26th and Blaisdell since May 6, 1883, Calvary was founded by 24 constituent members organized around a new dream of reaching out to neighborhood kids. Then Whittier was on the outskirts of town, a new neighborhood that would soon house the business and professional class of a city that had emerged as the “Queen City of the Northwest”, a national leader in flour production, and the third-largest city on the Mississippi.
Calvary’s membership reflected the community’s residents: it was home to prominent leaders of the business community, including members of the McGarvey and Pillsbury families, leaders in the coffee and flour industries, and to renowned architect Harry Wild Jones. Our beautiful sanctuary, designed by Minneapolis architect Warren Hayes and supervised by Jones, opened in 1902 and stands as both a registered historic landmark and an inviting worship center open to all.
Calvary reached its peak membership in the 1910s and 1920s, with 1400 adult members. The church dedicated its last major structure, the Parish House building, also designed by Jones, in 1928. But soon both the church and the neighborhood would undergo tremendous change. During the Depression years, many of the neighborhood’s former mansions began to be converted into duplexes and apartment complexes. Whittier’s upper- and middle-class residents moved out, and the neighborhood became the home of a more diverse, working-class community.
Changing with the times
Calvary’s membership reflected these trends. By 1944, about a third of Calvary’s members lived more than four miles away and traveled to the Church by streetcar and, increasingly, automobile. This was a trend that Calvary shared with many congregations located in what were becoming known as the “inner cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The obvious next step for many congregations was to move as well. During the postwar years, more than seventy Twin Cities churches eventually left their original locations, following their members to the suburbs.
Calvary’s members chose to stay. By then the church building had grown old, as had much of the neighborhood’s turn-of-the-century housing, and maintaining it became a labor of love. At its low point in the 1980’s the building was in need of extensive repairs and the church had about 30 committed members. But the congregation, like Whittier’s residents, remained committed and vibrant. Calvary embraced the community’s growing diversity and its mission as a haven of fellowship and a place of refuge in the neighborhood. Over the past 20 years, Calvary Church has undergone extensive remodeling and restoration, while the community has grown into the vibrant, multicultural congregation that is today.
Throughout it all this Minneapolis landmark has maintained its commitment to both a shared journey of faith in Jesus Christ and to the neighborhood it calls home. While much has changed since 1883 one thing has remained the same: we have always been a place of healing, celebration and honest inquiry.
Kane, Lucile. 1966. The Waterfall That Built a City. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society.
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Norton and Peel. 1953. “Congregation worshipping at Calvary Baptist Church, 2602 Blaisdell Avenue, Minneapolis.” 8x10 Photograph. Norton and Peel Photograph Collection #214685, Minnesota Historical Society, accessed April 25, 2019, http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display?irn=10859066&return=q%3DCalvary%2520Baptist%2520Church%2520Minneapolis,.
Roise, Charlene K. and Linda Pate. 2010. “Minnesota Architecture History Inventory Form for Calvary Baptist Church.” Prepared by Hesse, Roise and Company for the Southwest Transit Survey, Hennepin County, Minnesota.
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