Archive for January, 2020

By Jim and Wendy Norvelle

For Lewis and Toni Myers, the road that winds from their childhood homes in the flat Mississippi delta to missionary and family life in Vietnam to retirement days in Richmond includes a very important bench outside a girls’ dormitory at Mississippi College in Clinton.

Day after day, Lewis patiently sat on the bench and waited for Toni to exit Jennings Hall so he could catch her eye. He wanted to make sure that she saw how serious he was about her—about marrying her.

“Every time I came out of my dormitory he was sitting on that bench, waiting for me,” Toni said, her eyes twinkling. Lewis smiled an impish grin, remembering that he would sit on the back of the bench and put his feet in the seat. He didn’t want her to miss him.

Lewis and Toni have been married for 65 years. For 42 of those years, they partnered with the International Mission Board, including 17 years in Vietnam. They arrived in Saigon in 1960, a couple in their mid-20s with their three children. One more child would be born there.

Lewis is from Skene, Mississippi, a delta crossroads community among cotton fields with a general store. Toni is from Boyle, Mississippi, about four miles away on Highway 61.

“It was helpful to be from a small rural area when we went to Vietnam,” Lewis said. “We went with the mindset to build close relationships as we were accustomed to in Mississippi. Vietnam was just opening up as a new mission field for Southern Baptists, and we thought the new work there would fit us well.”

The same could be said for their marriage—it fits them well. Many times during the interview they either began each other’s sentences or they ended them.

What’s their secret?

“We both are of one accord,” said Lewis. Toni nodded in agreement. “Sometimes I have a good idea, and sometimes she does. Our faith has deepened over the years. We have a togetherness. We are not running off and doing many different things.”

The ending of their time in Vietnam did present a challenge. They were back in the United States on furlough in 1975 when South Vietnam fell, ending the long civil war. Eventually Lewis joined the staff of the then Foreign Mission Board in Richmond.

“It was tough when I came to the board and, for the first time, we were not in ministry together on the field,” Lewis said. Toni found her mission field at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, getting involved in the college ministry and Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) as well as serving as a volunteer interpreter for Vietnamese refugees, especially at the City of Richmond Health Department.

For Toni and Lewis, their marriage and their faith have always been intertwined.

“I made a good choice,” Toni said. You could say that it was like two parts of the same bolt of cloth or two sides of the same coin.

“I don’t know how to pull our faith and our marriage apart,” Lewis echoed. “We’ve made a faith commitment to each other and to the Lord.”

Their routine is a key, they said. They rise early, share a daily devotional time, enjoy a cup of coffee and read the newspaper. A morning walk is usually next. Faithful church attendance is a given. They return to Vietnam each year for Lewis to teach in the Vietnam Baptist Bible Institute. Toni counsels students dealing with long classes and final exams.

The road continues for this loving couple who started in Mississippi, heard the call to serve God while in seminary, preached and witnessed in Vietnam, and today teach a Bible study class, work with the WMU and sing with the choir on Sunday mornings at FBC. Together. Intertwined.


Jim and Wendy Norvelle met at First Baptist Church and were married in 1983. Jim sings in the choir and serves as president of the Endowment Fund. Wendy serves as a deacon. The Norvelles have two daughters, Laura and Kate, and two grandchildren to spoil.

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By Virginia Darnell

Richmond’s First Baptist Church is a good example of the truth that from a single seed multiple plants can grow given loving care. First Baptist Church was organized on a June evening in 1780 by Joshua Morris at a prayer meeting in the Church Hill area of Richmond, with fourteen members. The church met in homes, in Henrico Courthouse and in Mason’s Hall. Prayer meetings were held in homes during the week at various locations in the city.

Sunday school was beginning to be established in many areas and First Baptist had classes in the church on Sunday afternoon. There were four teachers. The Pastor decided that Sunday school should not meet in the church which led to a division among members. On April 14, 1820 Second Baptist Church was constituted as a result of the controversy over whether to support the Sunday school movement and several members from First Baptist left to be a part of the new church which decided to have Sunday school meet in the church. The group that left First Baptist included the William Cranes, David Ropers, Herbert Thompson and other leaders of the Sunday school as well as other areas of the church. Three original teachers of the Sunday school remained at First Baptist and they persuaded the ministerial staff to continue the school. We are grateful it remains a part of us today.

In 1832 seventy members of First left to form the Sycamore Church, the first to be established in Richmond by followers of Alexander Campbell. Later this became the Seventh Street Christian Church, the first of that denomination to be formed in Richmond.

In 1835 New Bridge Baptist Church in Henrico County was formed by thirteen members of First Baptist, one of whom was licensed to preach and one an ordained preacher. The church was dissolved in 1841 but was reorganized the following year.

In October 17, 1841 three hundred and eighty-seven white members of First Baptist moved into their new church at 12th and Broad Streets. The old church at College and Broad Street was purchased by the colored members of First Baptist, with help from some members and “friendly citizens of Richmond.” They became the First African Baptist Church and Dr. Robert Ryland, President of Richmond College, became their preacher.

Daughter Churches

Leigh Street Church

Several years later, members of First Baptist residing in the Church Hill area expressed interest in holding church meetings there. A group from First led by Elder Reuben Ford was authorized to hold church meetings. In June 1854 they reported a fund-raising program to build a church in that area. As a result, Leigh Street Baptist Church was organized. First Church dismissed eighty-four of its members to join with nineteen members of other churches in the constitution of this church.

Members of First Baptist lived all over the city and getting around was not as easy as it is today. Frequently groups who lived in an area near each other would hold prayer meetings and sometimes Sunday school. Such was true in 1857 when the Sydney area was approved to be a Conference and called “The Sydney Section.” This group later became known as Grove Avenue Baptist Church.

Daughter Churches

Venable Street Church

We do not know when the Venable Street Mission was organized, but in 1874 the Venable Street Baptist Church was organized and much of their support came from the ladies of the First Church Sewing Circle (they paid the pastor’s salary for some time).


Daughter Churches

Woodland Heights Church

The Young Men’s Missionary Society was a group that had been instrumental in organizing, funding and leading missions and Sunday school groups all over the city. In 1905 the name of this group was changed to the Men’s League. In 1907 Northside Baptist Church was established as an outgrowth of a mission Sunday school supported by the League. Woodland Heights Baptist Church was established in 1910 from a movement launched by Dr. McDaniel, Pastor of First Baptist, and the Men’s League.

Daughter Churches

former Oakwood Memorial Church

A tent meeting was also held near Oakwood Cemetery, where a number of persons were converted and expressed a desire to unite with First Church. Eighteen were received by baptism and seven by statement. In January 1916, Oakwood Baptist Church was constituted and Dr. McDaniel was asked to serve as moderator of the council which met for that purpose. We wonder if the twenty-five then joined the new church!

The Fourth Street Baptist Church was established in 1940 and fourteen FBC members joined in to help organize that church. While we don’t know much about what happened, the church seemingly struggled along and finally disbanded. Most of the fourteen original members returned to FBC. The church eventually became what is today known as Immanuel Baptist church.

Daughter Churches

River Road Church

In response to a request from a group in the Westham neighborhood of Richmond, First Baptist voted to “sponsor the organization of a chapel in the Westham area, with the expectation that it will, in time, become an organized Baptist church.” One thousand dollars was appropriated from church reserve funds to assist in the purchase of a lot on the northwestern area of River and Ridge Roads. The Baptist Council and local committee of Westham residents added enough to complete the purchase price. Within three months the University Chapel Branch adopted a budget, called a pastor, began regular services and other activities and took steps to form an independent body. In 1945 it became River Road Baptist Church.

Daughter Churches

former Sunset Hills Church

In December 13, 1949 First Baptist agreed to sponsor a new chapel at Patterson and Horsepen Roads. In November 1950 First Church paid the Baptist Council $8,400 for the property purchased by that organization one year previously and the new church was organized as the Sunset Hills Baptist Church. Several members from First became leaders in the new church.

The Fulton Chapel was established in 1951 with C. Lawrence McRae, a student at Union Theological Seminary and a member of the First Church Forum, serving as pastor. Members of the Forum at First did “everything from sweeping the floor to leading the services.” The Forum was a Sunday evening group that was established by two deacons and those who attended the group were mostly young people. They met for a snack supper and had a speaker. Their meeting was held before the Sunday evening service.

In addition to the above, First Baptist Church aided in the organization of the following churches:

North Run Baptist Church (Brook School House) 1834
Pine Street Baptist Church (Belvidere) 1855
Bainbridge Street Baptist Church (Manchester) 1857
Montrose Baptist Church (Fulton) 1870
Calvary Baptist Church (Clay Street Mission) 1977
Raleigh Forbes Memorial Baptist Church 1919
Ebenezer Community Church, Brooklyn, MN 2016

Daughter Churches

Ebenezer Community Church

There is not a direction in the City of Richmond today that you do not find a Baptist church. And from the above you can see what a tremendous impact our church has had in the birthing and support of so many of them. In 1843 Pastor Jeremiah Bell Jeter gave a lengthy history of the church and concluded with remarks about the future, saying “A solemn responsibility rests upon us. We occupy a prominent place in the metropolis of the Old Dominion. Let us be true to ourselves—the position we occupy—to the principles we maintain—and to Christ our great Captain.” Does this not speak to us today?

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