East Park began as a Sunday School for all ages led by Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Owens, because “the people [of East Park Boulevard] began to feel the need of a Sunday School in their midst.” Located in a small building at 1653 East Main Street, the Sunday School flourished with “much help from the First Baptist Church,” outgrowing its first meeting place within the first four years.
In 1891, the Sunday School took up residence in a newly built chapel on two donated lots at the northern end of East Prairie Avenue’s 1700 block. The Ladies’ Aid society of First Baptist Church supported the work largely by community fund-raisers.
The pastors of First Baptist Church continued to support the ministry of the East Park Sunday School, eventually leading to its incorporation as an independent church on April 18, 1909. A basement was dug for the chapel in 1914 to make room for additional Sunday School rooms; and, though the early years of the church saw frequent leadership changes, the floundering congregation never saw its doors close.
In 1926, under the leadership of Loyd P. Bloodworth, a former evangelist, the growing church quickly built a temporary adjoining “tabernacle” with wooden benches and sawdust floors. “This temporary building filled a great need. Many souls were led to Christ.” Attendance topping 650 in 1927 and still increasing, the church removed the wall that separated the old and new church auditoriums and moved the pulpit to the far end of the tabernacle.
Numeric growth continued so that in only four more years, it was time to raise funds for yet another building. April 19, 1931, saw the last services in the tabernacle and chapel buildings; their subsequent demolition made way for the erection of a new brick building throughout the summer months, the lower, first phase of a long-range building vision. The expanded capabilities came none too soon, as the church saw its peak Sunday School attendance of 1,242 on December 20, 1931.
The Great Depression in 1932 along with other factors made for decreasing crowds, but East Park pressed on. In the early ‘50s, “the basement church” was remodeled to allow for a new auditorium above. As the church’s meeting place for over four decades, it saw the ministry mature into a seasoned body of believers with continued significant impact on its community. During these years East Park opened a Christian day school, East Park Baptist Academy.
A gradual social down-turn in East Park’s original neighborhood reached a point in the 1990s that led the church to make the difficult decision to relocate. The Lord provided an ideal 40-acre plot east of Lake Decatur on Baltimore Avenue toward the growing Mt. Zion community, and the church moved to its newly built present facilities in the spring of 1997.
This brief sketch (largely absent of information about people) hardly does justice to the history of God’s working in East Park. For a more complete historical account of the church, please see the history written for the church’s 100th anniversary.