In Richmond, a new Baptist church quietly begins taking shape.
Late in the evening hours, a small group of local slaves slip away from their quarters. Their destination is a ramshackle shed near a trash dump on Navy Hill. There they gather and worship God, singing and offering “prayers of thanksgiving and liberation.” Should they be discovered, punishment or even death could be their lot.
Following the war the slaves-turned-freedmen form Richmond’s Fifth Baptist Church, a congregation yet thriving in the 21st century.
Meanwhile, a seven-year dream of Chicago Baptists is realized this month. Since 1858 Baptists of the city have dreamed of the establishment of a theological seminary “in connection with the University of Chicago.” In 1863 at a meeting at First Baptist Church the Baptist Theological Union is birthed. But not until this month is a charter obtained, signifying the formal beginning of what becomes known as The Chicago Baptist Theological Seminary.
Both developments, one a brave commitment by yet-enslaved Baptists and the other a vision for theological education, signify Baptist renewal and growth as the Civil War draws to a close.
Source: “Mission and History,” Fifth Baptist Church (link); “The Chicago Baptist Theological Seminary,” in Alfred Theodore Andreasp, History of Chicago: From 1857 until the fire of 1871, Chicago: A. T. Andreas, 1885, p. 438 (link)