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The first African-American Baptists in Mississippi

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

From the start, many of the Baptists of Mississippi were African-American. Only a few of the white Baptists owned slaves, but slaves who belonged to non-Baptist slaveowners were welcomed to worship as fellow members alongside whites in Baptist churches. From 1806 to 1813, Ebenezer Baptist in Amite County listed four “Africans” who joined, out of about 50 members. For instance, on December 8, 1815, the minutes of Ebenezer read, “Received by experience an African Ben belonging to Samuel Harrell.” (Samuel Harrell does not appear in the list of church members.)  In 1821, Salem Baptist on Cole’s Creek had 28 white members, listed by full name, and 32 “black” members, listed by first name only, under the names of their owners. None of the slaveowners were members of the Salem church. The common practice was for slaveowners to give a written pass for slaves to attend worship. For example, the minutes at Salem on May 3, 1816 read, “Captain Doherty’s Phil came forward with his master’s written permission to join the church by experience.” (Doherty was not a member of the church.) Although slaves were bought and sold and transported from state to state, Baptist churches still received them by letter from their former churches. In November 1816, the minutes of Sarepta Church in Franklin County read, “Bob & Ferrby servants of Walter Sellers presented letters from Cape Fear Church in N. Carolina & was received.” Slave members were disciplined, as well, as Sarepta minutes of December 1822 read, “Bro. Prather’s Rose (a servant) excluded by taking that which was not her own.” From this wording, it is likely that Walter Sellers was a slaveowner but not a Baptist, whereas “Bro. Prather” likely was a member of the Sarepta church, who had a slave named Rose.

   During the antebellum era until the end of slavery, most African-Americans worshiped with whites. However, there were a few Baptist churches that were exclusively for blacks. One such church was in the Mississippi Association. Called the “African Church,” it first appeared in the minutes of the association as a member church in 1813. It met at a sawmill belonging to Josiah Flowers, pastor of Bayou Pierre Church. In 1814, the African Church sent a letter to the association, and in 1815 the association called on the various white pastors to take turns preaching to the African Church, which was then using the meeting house of Bayou Pierre church. Every year from 1816-1819, the African Church sent two messengers to the associational meeting, by the names of Levi Thompson, Hezekiah Harmon (messenger twice), E. Flower (messenger three times), William Cox, S. Goodwin, J. Flower and W. Breazeale. They never appeared in the associational minutes in any leadership position, but they did attend as duly registered representatives of the African Church, and they were given a seat alongside their white brothers in Christ. There were other African churches, as well. In 1818, members of Bogue Chitto Church granted “the Request of the Black Brethren to be constituted into a church.” In 1822, members of Zion Hill Church in Mississippi Association considered licensing Smart, a slave, to “exercise his gift” to preach, but delayed their decision “in consequences of an Act passed in the legislature.”

   The situation had suddenly changed. Fearing a slave insurrection, the new state of Mississippi’s legislature enacted a law prohibiting slaves or even free people of color from assembling except under certain restricted conditions. This brought the Mississippi Baptist Association into conflict with the state legislature. When the law was applied to the African church, it forced them to discontinue meeting for a time. The association took up the cause of the African church and appointed a committee to prepare a memorial to be “laid before the next legislature of this State, praying the repeal of such parts of a state law thereof, as deprives the African churches, under the patronage of this association, of their religious privileges and that Elder S. Marsh wait on the legislature with said memorial.” The legislature did not agree with the association, and the African stopped meeting for a time, although the members were still welcome in the other churches led by whites.   

In 1824, the state legislature heeded the complaints of the churches, and revised the code to permit slaves to preach to other slaves, as long as the service was overseen by a white minister or attended by at least two white people appointed by the white church. Thanks to this revision in the law, African churches could meet again, and in 1826, Zion Hill Church allowed Smart to preach. The African Church at Bayou Pierre joined the new Union Association after 1820, meeting as a separate congregation from Bayou Pierre church. In 1828, the African Church reported 75 members (its sponsor church at Bayou Pierre had 48 members). The African Church was tied with Clear Creek Church in Adams County for the largest church in the association.

Ukrainian Baptist leader speech to his churches

Speech by Valery Antonyuk (President of the Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine)

to ministers and churches on the occasion of war. (Translated into English.)

You can view his speech in Ukrainian on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCKqC8NNpPQ

Dear brothers and sisters, Church Ministers!

This morning, February 24, the war in Ukraine began. What we prayed would not happen happened today. And we, as believers, accept that we will have to go through the time of this trial.

The Bible says: “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,for you are with me,your rod and your staff will comfort me”

That is why we urge everyone to continue and intensify our prayers.

This is our weapon in time of war, our way of fighting. This is the first thing believers do. And we invite everyone, wherever you are, to seek the opportunity to do this in person, in your families, in your churches, on ZOOM, wherever possible, gather together and praise the Lord.

Secondly, it’s important that the Lord gives us His peace right now and that we don’t panic, fear, reckless actions, sudden decisions that can harm us personally and our min hysteria in the ukraine.

We invite all Church ministers in these first days to give a message of hope through God’s Word to all the faithful who have to stand in this gap today and pray for our country. We need to strengthen this time with fasting and prayer because this is the time the Church continues to minister.

We say to all Church ministers, elders, deacons: think about how to maintain hospitality in your church premises, in your headquarters, where you have the opportunity to receive people in need. People moving around Ukraine today and will be targeted, especially along the border areas. Please, it is important for us to organize ourselves so that we can accommodate people in need.

We have many unanswered questions and only by moving step by step can we figure out where we can take the next step. Therefore, we ask that we can organize this at the church level. Our communities must become centers of service, shelters, for our people in times of adversity.

We ask all Christians not to spread unverified information, but to share the information that you witness and know exactly the authenticity, to turn it into an occasion of information, testimony and prayer.

We also pray for the organization of our coordination center, because in the office here near Kiev, we continue to serve and organize all the work even now. We will get in touch with all associations and coordinate in time all those processes that will prove to be important for all the Ukrainian people.

We’ll keep you updated on the situation. From time to time, we will make such calls, report on the current situation, and pray that we will all be together, united in what the Lord is doing.

We believe that God, even through us, wants His Kingdom of peace to spread today, even in times of war. We pray for the protection of our country and firmly believe that God will bless Ukraine!

Therefore, let’s unite together, we serve even in these conditions. We begin a new phase, a new page of ministry that has never been written before. God who has blessed us by making us live peacefully and serenely for decades, but in this time our whole country needs a church that is the light and salt. The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want and he will guide us even in these moments.

God bless us as we pray for you as we serve the Lord together.

The first Baptist churches of Mississippi

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

   During the two decades prior to the Second Great Awakening that began about 1800, there had only been one Baptist congregation in the Natchez District, Salem Baptist on Cole’s Creek in Jefferson County, which met informally in the 1780s, then organized in 1791 under the leadership of Richard Curtis, Jr. But the triple blessings of religious liberty, population growth and spiritual renewal certainly aided in the formation of five new churches from 1798 to 1806. The second Mississippi Baptist church was on Bayou Pierre, which was the river near the town of Port Gibson in Claiborne County. This location was the same river where Richard Curtis, Jr. and his friends had first hid from Spanish arrest in 1795. How appropriate that in the same year of his return, 1798, Curtis, along with William Thompson, John Stampley, Benjamin Curtis, Jacob Stampley, Joseph Perkins and William Thomas assisted in the constitution of the new church on Bayou Pierre. It is interesting to note that most of the members of this committee were among the arrivals in the 1780s. The Bayou Pierre church was organized in the home of Thomas Hubbards. It is unclear whether Richard Curtis left Salem to pastor Bayou Pierre, or whether he preached at both churches.

In 1800, two more churches were organized: the third Baptist church was New Hope on Second Creek in Adams County just south of Natchez, and the fourth was Bethel on Bayou Sara, four miles southwest of the town of Woodville in Wilkinson County. The fifth was New Providence in Amite County in 1805, and the sixth was Ebenezer in Amite County, near the Louisiana line, started by Richard Curtis in 1806. Curtis was likely involved in starting many, if not all of these new churches, for the records show that after Curtis started Ebenezer in May 1806, he then turned over the pastorate of Ebenezer to a South Carolina friend, Ezra Courtney, in November 1808, and Curtis became pastor of New Hope until the year of his death in 1811. Ebenezer Baptist in Amite County is the only one of these churches that continues to exist to this day, making it the oldest continually meeting Baptist church in Mississippi.

Houses of worship: Tabernacle Methodist Church, Virginia Beach, Virginia

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This is the second installment in my photo blogs of houses of worship whose architecture I like. Tabernacle United Methodist Church is located in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

This sanctuary is a white wood design that was popular among many Protestants in the 19th century, particularly Methodists. (This building was built in 1830). I particularly like how the building has an entrance that juts forward and then continues upward into a steeple. This congregation has also kept their building spotlessly clean and carefully landscaped. This is one of most eye-catching country churches that I have ever photographed.

Houses of worship: Richburg Baptist Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

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Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

I love taking photos of houses of worship. Over the next few days, I will post some of my favorites, and share what I like about them.

I’ll begin with Richburg Baptist Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This is a classic red brick worship center, especially popular among Baptists. Like many in this style, it has red bricks, with a white column porch in front. Yet this congregation added some other nice touches to that basic design. Notice the stained glass, the cross cut-out in the steeple, and the arched bell tower in front of the worship center, with a cross on top. Simple, yet beautiful.