Wake Forest Baptist Church, the modest congregation, located on the campus of Wake Forest University had its last service on November 5, 2022, without much media attention.
Sure, the dwindling congregation with historic ties to Wake Forest was a small remnant of what it had once been decades ago. It was on the long path to dissolving. But the university’s intention to charge WF Baptist $30,000 annually in rent was the congregation’s death nail. Wake Forest University administrators never gave an adequate explanation for their decision to threaten WF Baptist with rent payments after allowing the congregation to use Wake Forest’s facilities rent-free for decades.
“It is easy for us to fear a tomorrow where Wake Forest Baptist Church does not exist, but it can exist in the hearts of each and every last one of you.”
-Speaker at the November 5, 2022 Service
What is $30,000 to Wake Forest University? That’s about half of what they charge for undergraduate tuition and fees. That’s pennies to them. Wake Forest University, by announcing they would charge Wake Forest Baptist rent, assigned the little congregation that had worshiped on their campus from the moment it was constructed in the 1950s to the dustbin of history. They canceled Wake Forest Baptist.
I’m not going to shed a tear. I don’t have a personal connection to Wake Forest Baptist. One less Baptist Church in the world isn’t such a bad thing, in my opinion. But Wake Forest Baptist had a rich history of social activism. It integrated prior to the university’s decision to integrate, and it embraced gay marriage long before gay marriage enjoyed broad public support.
Though its congregation was largely a collection of gray-haired Boomer’s, the congregation continued to be a welcoming space for the marginalized until the end. It’s unacceptable for Wake Forest University to price Wake Forest Baptist out of existence, to manufacture a rent bill that they knew the congregation could not pay.
If anything, the university should have offered to give Wake Forest Baptist $30,000 annually instead of the other way around. Remember Wake Forest purchased the campus of Winston-Salem First in 2019 for $10 million?
Again, what is $30,000 to Wake Forest University? Wake Forest’s treatment of Wake Forest Baptist is an example of the university’s animosity toward the general public and its adopted hometown in general.
Churches often dwindle but rarely die. Their tax-exempt status gives them something akin to everlasting life. Even though Wake Forest Baptist has folded, it will live on through scholarships the congregation funded. Its history will be archived at Z. Smith Reynolds Library, and few will question why university administrators stopped loving Wake Forest Baptist.