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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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