Louis Hanna, 1936.
Narkis Street Congregation is located on the corner of Narkis and Trumpeldor Streets in downtown Jerusalem. This property has been a center for Christian activity since 1926 when the Southern Baptist Convention purchased it. For many years the Narkis Street Baptist Congregation was under the direction of Southern Baptist, Dr. Robert Lindsey. Since 2016, Gary Alley and Danny Kopp have led the congregation.
Currently, three other congregations meet at 4 Narkis Street--a Russian-speaking congregation (Even Yisrael) that meets on Friday evenings, an English and Russian-speaking meeting (Voice in the Wilderness) that meets Saturday nights, and the English-speaking, Sunday morning Jerusalem Baptist Church.
In 1923, Southern Baptist workers Washington (Wash) and Mattie Watts left the United States and arrived by ship in what was British-Mandate Palestine. Shortly thereafter, the Watts set up residence in Jerusalem and began hosting Bible studies and prayer meetings together with Louis Hanna, an Arab Baptist from Nazareth, and Chaim Volkovitch, a Messianic Jew. Despite persecution, a very small congregation of Jewish and Arab believers started gathering in Jerusalem with the Watts.
On Dec. 12, 1925, three Gentiles and six Jews organized a Baptist church in Jerusalem. Nearly a year later, in November 1926, the Southern Baptists purchased property on Henrietta Szold Road (later renamed Narkis Street). The property was described as a “nice lot, lying on top of the ridge to the west of the old city and near to the center of the rapidly developing new city.” In 1927, a small house with a meeting room and living quarters was built on the property.
In 1928 the Watts were forced to leave Palestine due to sickness and Chaim Volkovitch’s family had moved to Tel Aviv. The infant Baptist church had shrunk to two members. In their absence, Elsie Clor, a Russian Jewish believer from Chicago, continued the work on this corner. Elsie pioneered the “Jerusalem Good Will Center” which provided social and religious services for mothers and children. Weekly meetings included a prayer time, a Sabbath morning school, an afternoon youth Bible class in Hebrew, an English Sunday School, and English night classes using the “New Covenant” (New Testament) as a textbook. Despite heated opposition, by 1937, 235 children attended Elsie's Vacation Bible School on this property.
Eunice Fenderson, served alongside Elsie at the Jerusalem Good Will Center. Together, Elsie and Eunice reorganized the small Baptist church in 1932 with thirteen members consisting of Jews, Arabs, Armenians, and expatriates. A year later, a stone-stucco chapel was built on the southwest corner of the property and dedicated on Nov. 30th, 1933.
From the time of Elsie Clor, different pastors shepherded the flock on this corner for periods of time. Of special note are Henry Leo Eddleman (1936-1937), Elmo Scoggin (1952-1954), Jim Smith (1956-1960), and Frank Hooper (1960-1962). Our longest serving pastor, to date, was Robert (Bob) Lindsey who first came to Palestine (1939-1940) to learn Hebrew for his university studies. Shortly after World War II in November, 1945, Bob returned to Palestine, along with his wife, Margaret, and their growing family, as Southern Baptist workers in Jerusalem here at the “Baptist Mission.” Soon after his arrival, Bob renamed this place, “Baptist House.” Bob pastored the Baptist church and Margret administered the Baptist House for different periods from their initial arrival in 1945 till their retirement in 1986.
Besides pastor, Bob Lindsey was also a serious scholar of the biblical text. In particular, Bob’s passion was the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) of the New Testament. Part of his legacy at Narkis Street was an in-depth Bible Study that discipled university students pursuing the first century Jewish context of Jesus.
Since its humble beginnings as an organized church, the Narkis Street Baptist Church’s membership had rarely exceeded 25 people. But in the early 1970’s, Bob and Margaret Lindsey along with many in the church were moved and filled by God’s Spirit. Bob and the congregation started praying for the sick and many were healed. Very soon the small chapel could no longer hold those attending services. As the congregation grew, walls were knocked down to make more room. In the spring of 1976, windows on the east side of the church were removed and a canvas was raised over the area between the chapel and the Baptist House so more could fit inside. At that time more than 200 people were attending the Shabbat (Saturday) morning service.
Then, a few years later, during the Feast of Tabernacles, on the night of Thursday, Oct 8th, 1982, extremists burnt down the chapel. This attack claimed international headlines. Two days later on Shabbat morning, with only the burnt-out shell of the building remaining, over 600 people, both Jews and Christians from around the country, gathered at Narkis Street to stand in solidarity with the congregation. Jamie Buckingham spoke at the service. Bob drew a big laugh from the crowd when he said, “I was praying for fire, but not that kind. However, gam zu letova—this too is for good. We desperately needed a larger chapel to accommodate the attendance of three hundred and fifty or four hundred people, and saw no way to get one. Now that an arsonist graciously destroyed the small chapel, we see the way open to build a larger one.” The crowd gave $12,000 that day and over the coming years more than a million dollars would be raised independently, world-wide towards the new sanctuary.
For the next nine years the congregation would meet in a large tent where the current parking lot is located. Because of that arsonist fire that occurred during the Feast of Tabernacles and the subsequent experience of worshipping in a tent, our new chapel was designed in the shape of a tabernacle. It was completed in 1991 and officially dedicated in 1996.
With Bob Lindsey’s retirement in 1986, Pat Hoaldridge next served as pastor of the Narkis Street Baptist Congregation (1986-1991). During Pat’s time a sister Saturday evening Hebrew speaking congregation began in 1989 with the help of Narkis Street elders, Ray Pritz and Charles (Chuck) Kopp. In 1991, Pat relinquished his duties with the Narkis Street Baptist Congregation in order to pastor the Hebrew congregation solely (1991-1997). The Hebrew congregation (renamed El Roii in 2000) relocated from Baptist House in 2010.
Chuck Kopp served as the pastor of the Shabbat morning Narkis Street Congregation from 1992 till 2016.
Besides the Hebrew congregation, two other meetings have been birthed from the original congregation. In 1994, Victor Blum helped found and pastored the Even Yisrael Russian Congregation. They currently meet on Friday evenings under the leadership of Nicolay Lemeshkin. In 1996, John Anthony re-established a Sunday morning meeting on this corner, becoming the pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church. Al Nucciarone presently pastors the Jerusalem Baptist Church.
Narkis Street Congregation’s tabernacle design speaks to our community’s past, present, and future. When the congregation began to expand in the 1970’s, the old chapel was constantly modified with walls and windows being removed to make room for growth. While that building was not a thing of beauty with all of its impromptu add-ons, it was a testament to a living, growing, and changing body. When that chapel was burnt down in 1982, we met for the next nine years in a tent until the completion of our present sanctuary. Just like a tent that can be enlarged, our congregation always has room for one more person.
Baptist House Mission, 1929.
Elsie Clor (bottom center) with some of her girls from the Jerusalem Good Will Center, 1940.
Elmo Scoggin and wife, Hannah, and daughter, Scarlett, 1954.
Bob and Marget Lindsey with their six children, 1958.
Liz Kopp with the congregation's piano after the fire in 1982.
Chuck Kopp, 2012.