Morningside Baptist Church
By Russell Wilson, Spring 2016
Deemed "Morningside" because of the church's fortuity to be the first Tallahassee Baptist church to embrace the sunrise every morning, Morningside Baptist Church has a simple but rich past.
The first idea of Morningside resides in December of 1978 when a group of around forty Faith Baptist Church members decided it was time for a change. After a few weeks of weekly service at members' houses and the Sun Federal Bank Building, the group decided to formally create a new church. They found a small house to rent on Pedrick Road on the east side of Tallahassee. A man named Horace Chapman was crowned reverend of the then-infant church. After two years of leadership, Reverend Chapman parted ways with the church. To replace him was Ray Tindall, who was currently working as an interim pastor at First Baptist Church of Crawfordville. Along with Tindall's arrival was a sponsorship from First Baptist Church of Tallahassee. These occurrences set up a lot of potential for Morningside. A few months later, Reverend Tindall found six acres for sale where the church could set up a permanent settlement. However, it was a little more than the church had to spend. Tindall and the church members managed to gather the missing $6,000 in order to purchase the land.
After purchasing the land, getting a sponsorship from an already-successful church, and getting a devoted pastor, Morningside Baptist Church was ready to boom. In mid-1983, the first dedicated structure of the church broke ground. April 8th, 1984 marks the first service in the newly-built sanctuary. As expected, the church steadily grew after building a dedicated place of worship. By 1987, one of the primary goals of any church was met: constitution as a Southern Baptist Church. After uninterrupted growth of the church for the next few years, Reverend Ray Tindall decided his time as pastor at Morningside Baptist Church was done. He retired in the summer of 1989.
With the departure of Reverend Tindall from the church staff, a problem arose: the church is pastor-less. Following the address of this issue, the church conducted a search for a pastor to replace Tindall. In late 1989, the congregation finally came to a decision for the new pastor: Reverend Donnie Holley. The early years of Holley's pastorship was just as successful as Tindall's. Several nearby sections of land were purchased for the church to expand. A bible study/education building was built on the newly acquired property.
However, all good things must come to an end. Morningside Baptist Church's overall attendance and popularity began declining because of a church split. All aspects of the church began to decline. Key leaders in the church's community had left. Families that had been attending for years decided it wasn't for them anymore. Sunday school attendance, Sunday morning worship attendance, bible study attendance, everything. Most attendance fell by around half. The overall state of the church was in shambles, nearly going under. There were several other factors that lead to the split, but the biggest one was the direction in which the pastor led the church. The community of Morningside was not happy with his decisions. For example, Reverend Holley made the call to close a pre-school program that had been part of the church for many years prior to his arrival. A fair amount of Morningside's weekly attendance were families. If there's no pre-school program for their children, they don't have much of an incentive to continue attending Morningside over any other Southern Baptist church. The church was not only declining, but the surrounding area was growing. This made the church's decline even more severe.
After ten and a half years of serving as pastor of Morningside, Reverend Donnie Holley was called away from the job in 2000. Similar to the last gap in pastorships, the church staff had to conduct a pastor search. Until a permanent pastor was hired, Reverend Ron Bonds held the position as an interim pastor. Bonds stayed as the interim pastor for a little over a year while the church continued to look for a long-lasting pastor. On December 16th, 2001, they found the guy to take the spot. Reverend Brian Gilliland was decided to be the fourth pastor of Morningside Baptist Church. The church was in such a rough state, it could hardly pay his salary and the church bills while staying afloat.
Reverend Gilliland began applying what he had just recently learned at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and eventually, the church saw long-awaited growth. Over the next few years, the church began to return to the state it was once in. Sunday school saw more and more kids every week. Sunday morning worship attendance grew toward what it once was. The church was able to make additions again -- such as more ministry opportunities to promote growth. For example, Morningside sponsored a Tallahassee youth soccer association. Previously lacking due to the removal of the pre-school program, the soccer addition improved the church's reputation among local families.
Since the beginning of the Reverend Gilliland era, the church has been doing positively. In 2010, Morningside saw a large renovation to their existing facilities along with a new classroom-style building for general use. The old sanctuary was made into a fellowship hall and the old fellowship hall is now the youth room. When Reverend Gilliland started at Morningside, the average worship attendance was around 100 and Sunday school was around 75. Today, the weekly attendance for Sunday morning worship is around 450, and Sunday school being around 300. Reverend Gilliland remains the current Senior Pastor at Morningside. The church may have struggled, but it's bigger than ever. The church purchased many pieces of land for expansion over the years, bringing the grand total to thirty-two acres. Morningside Baptist Church plans to spread the word of God to as much of Tallahassee as possible. However, the current sanctuary is getting crowded with the current attendance. Expansion will be necessary if the church continues to thrive. With a devoted community and Reverend Gilliland at the pulpit, Morningside will find a way.