About Canaan Baptist Church of Christ

From our humble beginnings in an upper room over an undertaker parlor on 134th Street in 1932, to our present-day modern church facility, Canaan Baptist Church of Christ stands as a beacon of hope, faith and redemption, and a voice for social justice.

Our odyssey began when a group of 40 souls, committed to the truth of the Gospel and determined to live for Christ, decided to leave Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. Calling themselves the “Israelite Mission” they formally organized and founded Canaan Baptist Church of Christ on September 26, 1932, led by the first pastor, Rev. M. Middleton.

It was a period of great pain and economic hardship, but led by their second pastor, Rev. Edward M. Moore, and grounded in faith and their strong belief that God would make a way for them, the disciples moved to 23-25 West 118th Street. By the late 1950’s the membership had outgrown the 118th Street home and Canaan made plans to purchase land at 141st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, but the land would not support a newly built structure. Answering God’s vision, the congregation agreed to purchase the former Loews Theater at 132 West 116th Street for $210,000. After $250,000 in renovations, the congregation proudly marched from Old Canaan on 118th Street to 132 West 116th street, on the fifth Sunday in October 1965. The cornerstone was laid in June 1966. Two months later, on August 8, Rev. E. M. Moore passed away.

The calling of Pastor Walker ushered in a new era of Canaan’s history. Dr. Walker began implementing his vision that would establish Canaan as a paradigm of what urban ministry can be. Dr. Walker devoted his pastorate to the spiritual development of Canaan. His Bible-based preaching on morals, social justice, education, economic empowerment, congregational commitment and community involvement soon filled Canaan’s pews, and the balcony had to be refurbished to accommodate the influx of new members.

Soon Canaan became a tithing church. Eighty percent of the loyal and devoted congregation made it possible for Canaan to sponsor 19 outreach ministries that included housing services (17 developments, 16 buildings), senior services, tutorial services, a Social Action Commission, an HIV/AIDS Ministry, a Wellness Ministry, adult literacy training, and to build the Center for Community Enrichment at a cost of more than $3.2 million dollars. The Center currently houses Sisulu-Walker Children’s Academy, a charter school.

37 Years of Leadership.

Dr. Walker pastored Canaan for 37 years. Canaan’s legacy as a church of social action brought some of the greatest preachers and dignitaries in the world to our pulpit, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor, Dr. Gardner Taylor, Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Rev. Al Sharpton. Congressman Charles Rangel, along with the local and foreign press, celebrities, and scores of international visitors, filled the pews every Sunday. Canaan was the first stop of South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela’s on his first visit to the United States as President.

Dr. Walker ‘s mandate was for preaching connected with the responsibility of transforming the community and liberating the minds, bodies and souls of those who hear the gospel of Christ. His walk with God through Christ was predicated on his advocacy for the poor, indigent, disenfranchised and voiceless people of society. After suffering four strokes, the Harlem pastor, theologian, human rights activist, cultural historian, prolific writer and the nation’s foremost authority on the music of the African-American religious experience, retired from Canaan in October 2004. In great appreciation for his dedication, selfless service and inspired leadership, the church conferred upon Dr. Walker the title of Pastor Emeritus.

And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah 3:15

When the time came to replace the legendary Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, the 1400- member congregation began a long and arduous journey. What would prove to be the toughest chapter in the church’s history began in 2001 when an ad hoc pastoral search committee was created to help find Dr. Walker’s replacement. The 17-member committee of deacons, trustees, and disciples was first chaired by Deacon Larry Smith, Chairman of the Official Board, and later by Rev. Jacques DeGraff. The search process was expected to last no more than 18 months, but stretched into two years.

Candidates were invited to preach at least twice and participate in congregational town hall meetings. In August 2005, three candidates were selected to return for a “preach-off” and breakfast meetings with the church leadership: Dr. Welton Thomas Smith III, of River Rouge, Michigan; Dr. Thomas D. Johnson Sr., of Danville, Virginia; and Dr. Michael Andrew Owens, of Detroit, Michigan.