FIRST MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH
Early history of the Church was passed on to the congregation by way of verbal statements from legacies which included the following: Sister Ida Marshall, Sister Rosa Hubbard, and Sister Lillian Parker Joseph.
Accounts from these legends revealed that the First Baptist Church was an outgrowth of Saint Paul United Methodist Church, which was known as the Community Church for all churchgoers in the Moss Point area. Saint Paul was a one room structure located on the site that is presently Saint Paul cemetery. A small group from these attendees united to organize The First Baptist Church. The following names were established as the charter members: Sister Sarah Brown, Sister Hattie Sims, Sister Sophie Shortt, Sister Vinnie Byrd, Sister Ida Marshall, Brother Caleb Weeks, Brother Robert Mitchell, and Brother Moses Ray.
Interesting and helpful information on the early growth of the church were provided by the following staunch and devoted members prior to their demise: Sister Mary Ellen Cline, Sister Etta Spriggs, Sister Elizabeth Mitchell Jackson, Sister Bernice Ellis Sowell, and Brother Richard Vaiden.
The First Missionary Baptist Church was organized on September 20, 1874, and was located north of the former Grafe Auto Company (presently, Al Bodden). Reverend Madison established the church and served for two years. He was followed by Reverend Mays, who served for ten years; Reverend Hillard served for one year; Reverend Reaufelt served for nine years and made the second addition to the church; Reverend Walker served for one year; Reverend Harrison served for three years; Reverend Washington served for one year and Reverend T. A. Jones served for six years.
In 1902, Reverend T.A. Jones built the second church at the present location. Following him, Reverend Johnson served as pastor for two years. Reverend I.J. Turner served for eight years and laid the first cornerstone for the second edifice, with the following deacons serving; namely, J.B. Hill, B.A. Parker, S.S.A. Levy, B.E. Matthews, R. Garner, A. Brown, and Joe Kidd. W.T. McFail was the secretary as the cornerstone indicates. Reverend Goldsby served for two years. Reverend Thompson served for one year. Reverend Cook served for one year, and Reverend Simms served for three years. During Reverend Simms tenure, ceiling lights were added to the edifice, and a piano was purchased. Reverend J. W. Lee served for fourteen years. A new roof and a steeple were put on the church. New pews, choir, and pulpit chandeliers were purchased, also. The adjoining property on Bayou Street was also purchased during the pastorate of Reverend Lee.
Reverend N.H. Smith, Sr. came to the pastorate in January 1937. He served faithfully for twenty-seven years until death. Several auxiliaries were organized under his leadership: The Progressive Club, The Willing Workers Club, Pastor’s Aid, etc. The Missionary Society was divided into circles. The Junior Church was organized. Each auxiliary functioned well and assisted in meeting the needs of the Church spiritually and financially. The Church was completely renovated. Choir rooms and a pastor’s study were added. A baptismal pool was installed, concrete steps were erected, gas heaters and a water cooler were installed. The membership was increased to a record 850.
After a period, the church became inadequate for the growing membership. It was decided to meet the changing demand by erecting a new structure. The pastor, officers, and members began making plans for this new edifice in 1955. At the group meeting, Brother Richard Vaiden placed the motion before the house. This was carried unanimously. Work began immediately. The new brick structure was dedicated Sunday, August 19, 1956. The approximate cost of the church was $87,000.00. The deacons at this time were: Justice Roberson, John Parker, Frank Long, Major Burns, T.O. Shortt, W.J. Wiley, Roy Cunningham, Alex Roberson, Sr., and Henry Autry.
The building committee consisted of the following: Deacon Justice Roberson, Chairman, Deacon W.J. Wiley, Deacon Major Burns, and Brother Ed Nicholson. Mr. H.C. Travillon was the contractor. In this new church, exclusive of the sanctuary, there were choir rooms, a lounge, secretary’s office, Sunday School Rooms, and restrooms. Many items for the church were purchased, namely; a pulpit set, communion table, communion set, an organ, and a piano. Carpet was installed as well as a telephone. The growth of the church was obvious. During this era, a brick parsonage (the present one) and a church annex were built. Six acres of land were purchased for a cemetery. The debt was liquidated in December 1964. Death came to Reverend Smith on Friday, January 15, 1965.
Reverend J.H. Williams came to the pastorate April, 1965 as the 18th minister of the church and served the longest tenure. He served faithfully for thirty-four years until retirement in 1999. He will be remembered as a true asset to the church and to the city as a whole. His leadership began a new day for the church and expanded all areas of church activities. Reverend Williams organized several additional auxiliaries and committees. The combined auxiliaries set out to supply such needed items as a tape recorder used to broadcast services and additional choir robes. A bus was purchased; property adjacent to the church was also purchased. The Fellowship Hall and Church were air conditioned. A full time secretary, janitor, and choir director were employed. The church underwent renovation in 1966.
Again, in February 1973, the church began a complete and extensive program. The total cost was $73,000.00. Ceiling lights, wall to wall carpet, cushioned pews, expanded choir area, new pulpit furniture, and other additions were made to beautify the sanctuary. During the renovation, the church was vacated. Services were held at the Jackson County Fair Grounds. The Re-entering service was held Sunday, July 15, 1974. The Fellowship Hall was enlarged and a nursery was added. The expansion of the Fellowship Hall provided adequate space for other meetings.
During Reverend Williams’ ministry, the membership grew in the following areas: By Experience – 119; By Letter – 33; By Restoration – 44. Total – 373. The total membership expanded tremendously.
The Centennial Anniversary Historical Resume of The First Baptist Church written in 1974, during which time Reverend Williams was fulfilling his ninth year as the eighteenth pastor, included “The Pastor’s Message”, which stated, thus:
One hundred years ago, the light of God illuminated the souls of a few dedicated Saints with the vision of a Divine Institution of Worship. In spite of their limited resources, educational and economic barriers, we now have visible evidence on these Hollowed grounds a Sacred Place to Worship, still dedicated to Christian Fellowship and Community Service.
What a sense of urgency they must have had in 1874. What a challenge for us…. We must not turn back! We have come too far to retreat. We would do well to recapture the charisma of that faithful number in meeting the challenge before us… There has not been born a conqueror who could amass an army strong enough, soldiers brave enough, and armaments destructive enough to overpower the Church.
His message reminded the congregation that its celebration of “one hundred years” as a Church was proof of the promise of Christ, who said, “Upon this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of hell, shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
The Church has had the distinction of hosting the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Mississippi. This was the first time that this convention convened here. It was concluded that this was a memorable and historical event, and Reverend Williams was heralded as a gracious host.
Reverend Williams was instrumental in furnishing the leadership and expertise for guiding the total membership in reaching its goal during the twentieth century. The native sons of First Baptist include Reverend William Ellis, Reverend Williams White, Reverend Howard Shelton, Reverend Isaac Betts, Reverend Harry Howard, Reverend James Lett, Reverend R.E. Coker, Reverend Jackson, Reverend R. Young, Reverend Cunningham, Reverend O.D. Solomon, Reverend D.G. McMillion, Jr., Reverend J.H. Williams, Jr., Reverend Thomas Fantroy, Reverend Osbry Millender, Reverend Fred C. Bragg, Reverend James Smith, Jr., Reverend Will Woods, III, Reverend Thomas Marx, III, Reverend J. Roberson, and Reverend J. Jackson.
Due to the insight of Reverend Williams, the church implemented special days to celebrate annually. They are as follows: Senior Citizens Day, Pastor’s Anniversary, Church Anniversary, Men and Women’s Day, Homecoming, Auxiliary Annual Day, and Capital Fund Drive, to name a few.
In January 1998, the Office Complex and Archives Room were opened to the congregation and visitors. Both designated areas were well appointed. The Archives Room was decorated by the Chairperson, Sister Franzetta Sanders, with the assistance of Rodney, and committee members. Brother Dan Stallworth, Sr. built a registry for the room and Brother G. Lett purchased a red leather Guest Register for registration of local, as well as out of town guests.
During the year of 1987, a Learning Center was erected. Sister Zollie Clayter was appointed the first Director of Christian Education.
In June of 1989, the church hosted the Mississippi Baptist Congress of Christian Education and also purchased a van to provide transportation for the elderly and others who needed it.
In 1991, the sanctuary choir was organized, making a total of five choirs.
In 1992, all choirs were properly robed. A robe dedication ceremony was held on May 24, 1992. The church is supported by three usher boards (senior, intermediate, and junior). The church sponsored Foodshare/Alabama, a self-help and resource exchange program dedicated to providing a quality, supplemental food package to those willing to help themselves. The van debt was liquidated. Iron rails were installed at the front entrance of the church to assist the elderly and handicapped. A donation was given by Mrs. Earnestine Fountain to assist in the purchase of the rails.
In March 1993, Johnny B. Creer, Sr. (deceased), James Smith, Sr., and Will Woods, II were ordained. The church implemented an Evangelistic Outreach Ministry.
In June 1993, the church hosted the Sixty-second Annual Session of the Mississippi Baptist Congress of Christian Education.
In 1994, improvements were made to the church and to the cemetery to include handicapped parking spaces.
In 1996, an office complex was created to house an archives room and secretary’s office.
In 1999, the Complex was opened for Open House.
Mrs. Brenda Pugh served as church secretary for more than 32 years. She appointed and upgraded the suite used for clerical, financial business and copying to include the most modern office equipment prior to her retirement.
In February 1998, a seventieth year birthday luncheon, hosted by the “Uplifters,” was held at the La Font Inn in honor of Reverend Williams. The marquee in front of the La Font Inn read “Isn’t It Heavenly, Reverend Williams is Seventy.” The whole Gulf Coast knew it.
During the spring of 1998, Reverend Williams announced that he would retire due to doctor’s orders. His duties were lightened and Reverend O.D. Solomon took the lead as Assistant to the Pastor.
The Buds of Promise, the Youth Choir, the Sanctuary Choir, and Good Hope Youth Choir presented a musical tribute to Reverend Williams. On Sunday, at the end of service, the congregation assembled on the west side of the learning center to hold the dedication of the J.H. Williams, Sr. LEARNING CENTER with a congregational song… “We’ve Come This Far by Faith”. Reverend O.D. Solomon presented the prayer, Sister Z. P. Clayter gave comments, the deacons unveiled the letters, remarks were made by Reverend Williams and refreshments were served during fellowship in the Learning Center.
In January 1999, Reverend O.D. Solomon undertook the leadership as interim pastor of the church through the spring of 2000. He effectively provided the unyielding faith and strength needed during the search for a leader. The church held an Appreciation Service in honor of Reverend and Mrs. O.D. (Evelyn) Solomon, which was chaired by Sister R. Fairley on Sunday, March 12, 2000, in the 11:00 a.m. worship service. His pastor, Reverend Robert Landing, of Sweet Rock Missionary Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi delivered the morning sermon.
The church called Pastor Frank O’Harroll of Florida. His tenure was brief. He announced after a few months his inability to accept the position.
In December 2000, Brother James O. Harris was installed as the nineteenth Pastor of The First Missionary Baptist Church. It is with his guidance that we commemorate our founders and give praise to those who brought us this far.
We will continue to share our Love for Our Church, realizing that over a century ago:
The Master Architect designed an earthly habitation
Where He and mortal man should meet
and hold Communication.