June 6, 2024

Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church – A rich history and an even brighter future

Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, which celebrates its 62nd anniversary this year, is steeped in Black history. From its founding in 1962 by 13 worshippers who met in the lounge of the student union at Texas Southern University in what would become the Houston Southeast management district, to the megachurch it is today, the church played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement in the city. The founding Pastor, the late Rev. William A. Lawson, raised funds to bail TSU students out of jail after holding sit-ins at lunch counters, and welcomed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when no other churches would. But it was the COVID pandemic of 2020 that launched the church into the future.

“They really pivoted during the pandemic,” says Lynn Porche. “Everything went digital. We had our own YouTube channel, which is still very popular, you can watch services whenever and wherever you want. And we still often do zoom meetings.”

Porche is a lifelong member of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. She played with Rev. Lawson’s children when she was young, sang in the choir, was married there by Rev. Lawson, and has served on church committees. She recalls the pandemic as a time of change.

Another plus was the additional of electronic giving. “Which has just about paid for the new cathedral,” says Porche.

A long-planned new cathedral, education complex, and parking lot were in the works when the pandemic struck in 2020. For 20 months there were no in-person services, but that allowed the construction work to surge forward. In November of 2021, Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church opened the new multi-million dollar building that holds three times as many members. From the original 13 members the church has grown to 14,000 today. At the time Rev. Lawson told a local TV station that he was “excited that God allowed me to live long enough to see it.” He passed away at the age of 95 in 2024. The Reverend Dr. Marcus D. Cosby succeed him as pastor when he retired in 2004 and was instrumental in the opening of Wheeler Avenue Christian Academy; by opening a transitional housing facility for homeless single mothers in the Third Ward community of Houston; through cultivating a missional outreach in multiple villages in South Africa.

“We’re in the heart of the Third Ward, says Porche. “We have people from all walks of life and all races and all ages who gather here to worship.”

You can also watch Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church services and programs here.

– by Marene Gustin

credit photos to: WABC