Due to to the generosity of landholder and philanthropist Henry Rutgers, a place for Baptist worship has been standing on the corner of Oliver and Henry Streets since 1795. Henry Rutgers, born near New York City on October 7, 1745, was the descendant of Dutch immigrants who settled in New York City in 1636 and prospered as brewers. Rutgers graduated from Kings College in 1766, was a colonel during the American Revolution, and later became politically active. He gave lands and funds to his own Dutch Reformed Church, to Presbyterian and Baptist churches, and to schools for children of the poor. Henry Rutgers dies on February 17, 1830. Rutgers College in New Jersey—formerly Queens College—was renamed in his honor.
The first church on the Henry and Oliver Street site was called the Oliver Street Meeting House. Since the establishment of that first church, Baptists have continued to appreciate Henry Rutgers’ gift and have used the original site continuously for more than 210 years.
The early church began as a mission for European seamen who docked at the nearby East River, hence the present-day name, Mariners’ Temple. Rich in history and steeped in the Baptist religious tradition, Mariners’ stands on the oldest site for continuous Baptist worship in Manhattan. It is located on the Lower East Side at the tip of Chinatown, north of the South Ferry, and walking distance from City Hall. Today, the mission thrives as Mariners’ continues to be a sanctuary for those who labor and are tired and a pinnacle of hope for all seeking the kingdom of God.
As maritime activity shifter to the deeper waters of the Hudson, the early Church continued its ministry and gained an additional name, “The Mother of Churches.” As Swedish, Italian, Latvian, Russian, and Chinese immigrants moved through the Lower East Side, Mariners’ gave life to the first Swedish, Italian, Russian and Chinese Baptist Churches, as well as the Norwegian-Danish Mission of New York City. During the mid- to late 19th century, Mariners’ was responsible for exporting the Baptist movement to Scandinavia and Sweden. Most notable in that movement was Captain Gustavas W. Schroeder, a Swedish seaman. In 1844, while attending his first meeting at Mariners’, Captain Schroeder was baptized and joined Mariners’ shortly thereafter. He returned to Sweden as a Baptist missionary and was instrumental in the spiritual awakening of another seaman, F.O. Nilsson. Nilsson was baptized in Hamburg, Germany, and established the first Baptist church in Sweden. Additionally, the early church is said to have sponsored a missionary who took the Baptist teachings to Norway and Denmark.
The First Mariners’ Baptist Church, the forename of Mariners’ Temple Baptist Church, was “formally” established in November 1843. It took over the Henry and Oliver Street building in 1866. In 1867, the First Swedish Baptist Church was organized. That church is now Trinity Baptist Church. In 1844, Mariners’ became a City Mission Field of the Baptist City Mission Society. By 1890, it was lauded as one of the two important City Mission Fields in the world. The First Italian Church was also organized in Mariners’ Temple in 1897.
1900s – 1970s
Throughout the early 1900s, Mariners’ influenced a succession of firsts: The first Norwegian-Danish Baptist Church in 1903; the first Lettish Church in 1905; the first Russian Church in 1916; and the first Chinese Church in 1926. In 1927, the Sixteenth Church united with Mariners’ Temple.
In the period between 1922 and 1940, Mariners continued its benevolence. It was a shelter and soup kitchen for homeless men during the Depression, housed programs for community youth and founded mothers’ clubs and other women’s societies. During this time, Mariners’ conducted worship services in English, Italian, Greek, and Spanish. In the 1940s, Mariners’ Temple became a Christian center for Chinese, Puerto Ricans, and newly arrived African-Americans from the South.
From the middle to the late 1900s, Mariners’ Temple continued to be a spiritual center for all ethnic groups in the neighborhood. In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Mariners’ reached beyond the spiritual realm to address the political needs of the community. Locally, there was picketing of low-income housing thought to be urban removal rather than urban renewal. Nationally, Mariners participated in the famous “March for Jobs and Freedom” held in Washington, D.C. in August 1963.
1980s – Present
By the early eighties, the congregation was mainly Chinese and African-American, with separate services held for each. Later, the Chinese congregation moved into its own church in the area. In May 1992, the congregation paid off the mortgage on the church building and celebrated the title transfer from the American Baptist Convention/Metro NY to the Mariners’ Temple Baptist Church congregation.
Today, there are two unique congregations at Mariners’: the Sunday morning congregation and the congregation from Lunch Hour of Power (LHOP), which was established in the 1980s under the pastorate of Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook. The LHOP congregation, which is comprised of government and corporate employees in the surrounding area, worships at noon on Wednesdays. In their own unique ways, both congregations are dynamic, on fire for the Lord, and passionate about His people, especially those in the community, who continue to experience the effects of the 2001 World Trade Center disaster. On September 23, 2006 during the Friends & Family Day celebration, Mariners’ unveiled a new street sign, co-naming Oliver Street “Mariners’ Temple Lane”, ensuring that from generation to generation, all who pass by this street will know that the Mariners' Temple Baptist Church, was planted there by GOD.