1961-1970

 

Beginning in the 60’s, Tabernacle began to lose more members to other churches than were being received into its fellowship. The church was without a pastor for more than a year. During this time there were numerous requests for repairs or maintenance work from various Sunday School departments, and the financial picture worsened each month. However, Rev. Dwight Cumbee, assistant pastor to Dr. Brown, and Mr. William Berry, Jr., Minister of Education, faithfully led Tabernacle after Dr. Brown’s departure. On January 8, 1961, Dr. Cumbee resigned to further his studies at Florida State University, and on January 22, Dr. Solon B. Cousins, retired head of the Department of Religion at the University of Richmond, became Tabernacle’s interim pastor.

Dr. J. Roy Clifford was called as Tabernacle’s eighth pastor and began his pastorate on August 1, 1961. The effects of a general exodus into the suburbs and the aging of a large portion of Tabernacle’s membership led Dr. Clifford to immediately begin programs to offset these factors. Dr. Clifford initiated a visitation program, stressing the urgency of increased membership in both Bible School and worship services. Membership had dropped to 2,414 and many of these were homebound or inactive. The Bible School, which had for many years been the largest in the state of Virginia with an enrollment of 2,000, had fallen to 1,278 with an average attendance figure of 689.

Following months of preparation, the 75th anniversary of the Bible School was celebrated on October 10-21, 1962. Dr. Solon B. Cousins delivered the Anniversary Address at the Anniversary Dinner held in the fellowship hall. On “Anniversary Sunday,” an overflow crowd filled the Sanctuary to hear Dr. Jack Noffsinger give the morning message. Dr. Clifford delivered the evening message. A highlight of the celebration was a pageant depicting the past and future of the Tabernacle Baptist Bible School.

In 1965 the church purchased the property at 1911 Grove Avenue and 106 North Granby Street. These properties were ideally suited for the purpose of a parking lot. Buildings on both lots were removed, the lots excavated, and paved to form the initial private parking spaces available and owned by the church. The Board of Trustees stressed that it was their belief the church should also negotiate with the owners of the properties at 1901, 1903, 1905, 1907, and 1909 for purchase of these lots to extend the church’s parking facilities for the entire block on Grove Avenue, back to the public alley space.

In 1965 the Board of Trustees initiated an Endowment or Reserve Fund. On May 19, 1968, a formal Endowment Fund, which would benefit the church in perpetuity, was formally adopted by the church.

In June, 1965 the church received the gift of a beautiful Wurlitzer electronic organ from Mr. Allan T. Shepherd, which was placed in the Sanctuary to supplement the music program.

Tabernacle’s Seventy-fifth Anniversary was celebrated on January 30, 1966, and the service was broadcast over WMBG-WCOD. Various observances commemorated this diamond anniversary throughout the year. A Christian Life Conference was held May 1-4, led by the three living former pastors of Tabernacle – Dr. Raymond Brown, Dr. Ernest Honts, and Dr. Jack Noffsinger. This was an ambitious program designed to further challenge and motivate the church regarding her role in the inner city. As the year progressed, many special services with guest ministers gave positive emphases to this very special time in the life of the church.

Dr. Clifford was a vice president of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention as well as chairman of the personnel committee. Tabernacle wished to express appreciation for his efforts in the Southern Baptist movement and realized that Dr. Clifford had had little opportunity for travel since becoming their pastor. Tabernacle, therefore, extended the opportunity to Dr. and Mrs. Clifford to participate in a mission trip of their choice (sponsored by the church). The Cliffords selected a mission tour of Europe and the Middle East, which they began in the spring of 1967.

As a new approach to the church’s music program, Mr. James F. Davenport of the Westhampton Baptist Church of Hampton, Virginia accepted the call to become the full-time Minister of Music at Tabernacle on August 1, 1966.

Mr. Robert Ford, a young university student was employed as organist. There were 119 members in various choirs by the end of 1966.

Rev. William A. Berry, Jr. accepted a call by the Richmond Baptist Association to serve as Director of the Cary Street Baptist Center September 1, 1968. Mr. Donald Stewart assumed this position as Minister of Education on April 1, 1969.