A History of Heights Church
As the trolley car they were on rocked back and forth making its way up Heights Boulevard, two men struck up a conversation.
One of them was Judge T.M. Kennerly, who would go on to serve the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
The other was a German immigrant. He pastored the German Baptist Church in downtown Houston. His name was Reverend Frederich Huhns.
Making their way further and further north into the Heights, the conversation turned toward the need for a Baptist church in that part of the city.
It was 1907.
Starting a Church
Cars were rare, and horses and buggies were still common on the streets of Houston.
Many people would walk to shops, as well as to church at that time.
It could take someone hours to go to worship on a Sunday morning… and that was just to get there.
The conversation on the trolley planted seeds that began to take root.
There was a need for a Baptist church in the Heights.
Other believers joined the conversation in the weeks and months to come.
In May 1908, a small group gathered together.
They were in a small room above Simon Lewis’s store on West 19th Street. Committing to plant a new church in the Heights, they decided on a name:
The Early Years
In those early days, Revered Huhns led the small congregation.
At first, there were only 31 people.
However, by 1912, the church had begun to grow.
They opened their first building on the corner of Rutland and West 20th Streets.
The church was growing rapidly. They looked for ways to serve the community around them. They especially worked with German immigrants to the city, as Reverend Huhns had a strong background with this ministry.
The first public library in the Heights was opened inside Baptist Temple.
A Growing Church
In 1927, the church called a new pastor. This man would be the fourth pastor to lead the congregation at Baptist Temple.
His name was Dr. Thomas C. Jester.
Dr. Jester served the people of the city of Houston, as well as those of Baptist Temple.
He was a leading voice on the Houston City Planning Commission — a body that helped to shape much of the modern roadway infrastructure of the city to this day.
Under Dr. Jester’s leadership, the congregation continued to swell.
By 1946, the church had grown to one of the largest in Houston.
More than 1500 people called Baptist Temple “their church” in those days.
Dr. Jester presented a vision to the congregation for a new building — a multistory educational space.
Construction soon began, but Dr. Jester never saw the building completed.
In 1950, at the age of 65, Dr. Thomas C. Jester passed away.
His passing was a heavy blow to the church and the Heights community.
Baptist Temple named the new building the T. C. Jester Memorial Building upon its completion, and is where the church still meets.
As a memorial, a major road through the Heights, White Oak Drive, was renamed in his honor.
Today, thousands of vehicles drive along T. C. Jester Boulevard.
Weathering the Storms
In 2004, Baptist Temple called Kelly K. Burkhart to be the church’s tenth pastor.
Much had changed about Baptist Temple and the Heights over the years, and the new pastor would lead the almost 100 year old church through some of its most challenging seasons and significant changes.
One of these was “right-sizing” the staff, programs, and facilities.
The church would remodel the T. C. Jester Memorial Building and move their sanctuary into that building.
The old 1912 sanctuary would be demolished.
Excess land was sold.
The remodeling and renovation process began in 2013.
While construction began, the church would meet in a nearby hotel, the Sheraton Brookhollow.
As the remodel wore on, in the spring of 2015, Houston experienced a catastrophic flooding event that would come to be called “The Memorial Day Flood.”
Because of the remodeling taking place throughout the building, most of the church’s historical documents, photos, and furnishings were being stored in the basement.
When the rain finally stopped, the staff returned to over 5 feet of water standing in the basement.
After 3 long years, finally, on Easter Sunday in 2016, the renovation was complete and the church once more began to meet on-campus, but now in a new sanctuary in the T. C. Jester Memorial Building.
The Flock in a Time of Quarantine
Then, in March 2020, the people of Baptist Temple were faced with COVID quarantines and building closure.
In response, the staff of Baptist Temple began recording worship services with limited people in the sanctuary, and sharing songs and sermons online.
It was important that the people of Baptist Temple, and anyone else who stumbled across the content, hear the word of the Lord and have an opportunity to worship, even if they could not attend in person.
In May 2021, after serving Baptist Temple for 17 years, Reverend Burkhart resigned.
A New Plan
Working with a church consulting firm, the staff and members of Baptist Temple began the process of clarifying their vision for their ministry in the Heights community and Houston.
Dr. Robert Sloan, a renowned New Testament scholar and president of Houston Baptist University began to serve as an interim pastor.
Through this time of processing their identity, Baptist Temple adopted a new organizational structure. It would be one utilized by non-profits. It would focus on leadership, staffing, and programming.
The plan called for an executive director, and multiple pastors– all bringing their own gifts and perspectives to Baptist Temple’s ministry.
Heights Church Today
In April 2022, Dr. Robert Sloan, and his son, Dr. Paul Sloan, accepted pastoral calls to fill these leadership roles at Baptist Temple.
In October 2022, the church voted to change the name from Baptist Temple to Heights Church.
With this new model for church leadership, Heights Church is well-positioned to minister to our fellow church members and the community of the Houston Heights.
It will allow Heights Church to serve in innovative ways that are responsive to the needs of our neighbors, and to share with them the love of God in Jesus Christ.