In his new book Learning From a Legend: What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach us About Preaching (Cascade Books), Jared Alcantara tells this story from Taylor’s life:
“On the evening of October 2, 1952, one of the oldest and largest Black Baptist churches in Brooklyn was destroyed by fire. It took just a few hours for Concord Baptist Church to burn to the ground. Some suspected it was a fault in the electrical wiring. People could see the smoke billowing up from the church all the way from Queens.
The same church that began in the home of ‘Mrs. Maria Hampton on Fair Street’ in 1847, that offered sanctuary to runaway slaves during the antebellum period, that advanced literacy in the community, that advocated for civil rights in all arenas, was transformed into a pile of rubble and ash in the span of a single night.
Recounting the horrendous scene, Dr. Taylor described it this way: ‘Not a pencil was left! The next day when we came to probe in the ashes we found that the membership roll had been covered by a piece of falling tin. It was the only thing left.’ When Concord burned down, Taylor was only 34 years old.” What followed was a four-year process of rebuilding a new facility in its present location.
“One day, as he stood alone in the new sanctuary before it was to be occupied, Taylor reflected on the task in front of him, that is, the opportunities and dangers ahead in his ministry. ‘I saw the forty rows of pews stretched out before me and the 65 foot arch overhead,’ he remembered. ‘I said to myself, ‘This can fool a preacher. This can give a pride, a vanity, a self-centeredness, that would be destructive.’
So he asked the construction workers to place an inscription on the floor behind the pulpit that read: ‘We Would See Jesus.’ This phrase, found in the King James Version of John 12:21. . . . Taylor explains why this request served as the perfect inscription:
The preacher needed to see that! Never mind your skill of oratory: ‘We would see Jesus.’ Do not dazzle us with your knowledge. We have come here to see Jesus. We are not hungry for your theories of life. ‘We would see Jesus.’ Never mind your positions and suppositions about what is or ought to be. ‘We would see Jesus.’”