SANTA ANA — The region's oldest black church celebrated its 70th anniversary Sunday with prayer, song and a plan to build its facilities into a center of spiritual and educational growth.
Created when African-Americans in Orange County were few in number and had little hope of getting good jobs, the Second Baptist Church in Santa Ana began in 1923 with 12 members. Today the church boasts 1,800 active members who come from throughout the county and beyond, some from as far away as Pomona.
The church has served as an important social and spiritual gathering place for Orange County's black residents, many of whom couldn't find homes outside of their Santa Ana, El Toro and Fullerton neighborhoods because of racial discrimination.
"The church in the black community has always been the center of political and social life," said the Rev. John McReynolds, the church's pastor. "It's all part and parcel of our ability to survive."
The church started as a humble structure in the 1800 block of West 8th Street, now Civic Center Drive, and moved to West 2nd Street in 1937. In 1940, a new church was built at West 2nd and Baker streets, and in 1973 the church moved to its present location at Raitt Street and McFadden Avenue to accommodate a growing membership.
While the past 70 years have been important ones in building church membership and giving black residents a sense of identity and community, church officials are using the anniversary to launch a five-year drive to expand facilities and empower black residents through extensive educational programs.
"We will not only continue our mission of extending Christ to all people, we wish to motivate self-help activities to build the social esteem of our community," McReynolds said.
Vickie Woodbury, who moved to California from Illinois eight years ago, said she has used the programs offered through the church.
"A lot of what we do here is enhancement, not just of kids, but of adults too," she said. "I learned WordPerfect (a computer word-processing program) here last year, and I use it in my work."
McReynolds said the black community needs to be empowered so that "integration is not just being able to sit at the front of the bus, but to sit on the board of directors" of large corporations and important institutions.
The church already provides counseling on AIDS and substance abuse, tutoring for adults and children, classes in French and Spanish and community food-aid, among other services. But to accommodate its growing programs, the church needs more space. Its goal is to raise enough money to build a new sanctuary by the time the church's diamond anniversary comes around five years from now.
"We need more room for these programs, and we eventually hope to get accreditation for a school--for kids and adults--and maybe even for a training center," said the Rev. Jesse Smith, one of the church's associate ministers. "We're looking to rebuild right here on this corner. A lot of churches would move, but we're staying right here."