- Faith & Family
In 1964, Second Baptist Church of Miami [Richmond Heights] was founded by 13 men who were determined to establish a place to worship in the Richmond Heights area. Among their leaders were Israel Benbow, the oldest deacon among them, and the Rev. John A. Ferguson who guided the group and became the church’s first pastor. First they met in homes but their plan was to build a church of their own and that they did — at 11111 Pinkston Drive.
From an initial 53 members, including the 13 “founding fathers,” Second Baptist continued to grow, expanding its services and outreach to the Black community. Even when Hurricane Andrew severely damaged the church and its daycare center in 1992, Ferguson and his congregation remained dedicated to the guiding principles and mission of their founding members.
Ferguson served with distinction for 36 years, retiring in September 2000 when he was then designated as Pastor Emeritus. He chose one of his sons in the ministry, the Rev. Alphonso Jackson, Sr., the pastor of St. James Baptist Church in Coconut Grove, to succeed him.
Ferguson, born in Miami in 1923, died last Thursday at the age of 89 — six months to the day that his wife Anita preceded him in death. Their five children and countless other mourn the loss of both Anita and John Ferguson. But his name — and what he achieved on behalf of Blacks throughout Miami-Dade County — will long be remembered.
Jackson has been a friend and colleague of Ferguson for over 20 years. He says he remembers his mentor with great fondness, particularly their frequent “fireside chats.”
“We met shortly when I first began pastoring in Coconut Grove and I learned quickly that he was a no-nonsense kind of man,” Jackson said. “I really admired his administrative abilities and how organized he was. And he demanded that from those around him. He was truly ahead of his time. His was the first church in the southern part of the kingdom with a full time secretary and a full time administrator. He was the Flaggler of Homestead. He organized a school too and earned the respect of everyone. Young folks don’t realize that he was also a community activist and a civil rights leaders. When people wanted justice they came to Rev. Ferguson. When people wanted solid advice they came to Rev. Ferguson. We spent hours talking and he would share wisdom nuggets with me. I could bounce things off of him. Our relationship was akin to that of Moses and Joshua. He got this church to the promised land and depended on me to conquer the land and to get us there. I would never try to replace him as that would be impossible. But I will spend the rest of my life working to make him proud. I never want him to regret having made me his successor.”
Father figure for South Dade youth
Debra Patrice Baker, 50, was born and raised in the Richmond Heights community. She now serves as a senior associate minister at Second Baptist. She says she was two-years-old when her parents, the Rev. Willie J. and Inez Baker and her brother, became members at the church.
“After my father died in 1999, I looked at Rev. Ferguson not only as my spiritual leader but as a father figure. He leaves a mark on my life that cannot be erased. If I were to choose one word to describe him, it would be faithful. Even when his health began to fail in 2000, he was faithful in passing the baton to our modern day Joshua so that he could carry on and expand the vision of Second Baptist Church.”
“He consoled many families over the years and trained many of the pastors that are serving today,” said County Commissioner Dennis Moss. “His leadership and the example he set will be sorely missed. He was even a role model and mentor to me. Those of us who were able to go out in this community and do great things all have Rev. Ferguson to thank. He was there to guide us along the way.”
A memorial service is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. at the church on Friday, Aug. 3rd. His homegoing service will be hold on Saturday, Aug. 4th at 11 a.m. at the church. Call 305-232-0499 to confirm both times or for more information.
By D. Kevin McNeir