First Baptist Church Natchez celebrates 200 years
Published 12:39 am Sunday, April 23, 2017
The year 2017 has been a year of significant birthdays: Natchez, the oldest city on the Mississippi River, celebrated its 300th birthday; On Dec. 10 Mississippi will mark 200 years as the 20th state in the Union and on April 30 First Baptist Church of Natchez will celebrate 200 years of ministry!
Yes, Natchez and First Baptist Natchez are older than the state in which they reside. Such a significant milestone demands that we pause and acknowledge God’s Providence, provision and protection as well as His grace, guidance and guard over His body of believers and their work for Him over these 200 years. How thankful am I that long ago, God gave determined individuals a vision to build a body of believers into a church who would bring the love of Jesus to this community and around the world. As 21st century members, we are committed to carrying the torch lit by these Baptist pioneers for the glory of God.
Led by Richard Curtis Sr. from South Carolina, these earliest Baptist settlers arrived by flatboat in the Coles Creek area about 1780. After the senior Mr. Curtis died in 1784, Richard Curtis Jr., a licensed preacher, became their pastor of the Salem church. This mother church was instrumental in starting a number of churches in the surrounding area, including the Baptist church in Natchez. Assembled at the home of John and Sarah Richards on Jefferson Street, nine persons formed the nucleus for the formation of this church in April of 1817. The first pastor was Benjamin Davis, a local schoolteacher.
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The church has been known by several names and in four locations. Following a church dispute, the Rev. T. G. Freeman and about 20 members left and formed the Wall Street Baptist Church and erected a new building in 1852. The former church dissolved a couple of years later. The congregation grew, and, as most churches of the day, was made up of both white and black members. The church purchased a lot from the Natchez Railroad Company and built a church for the blacks, known today as Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church.
In 1909, the church voted to change its name to First Baptist Church and later built a new building on the corner of Main and Rankin in 1924. True to the church’s heart for missions, the South Canal Street Mission was begun in 1954, and later constituted into the Briel Avenue Baptist Church on May 11, 1957.
Under the leadership of Rev. Odean Puckett, the dream became a reality when in 1976, plans were made to relocate the church to its current location at 150 D’Evereaux Drive. The Family Life Center was completed and occupied in April of 1979 and the Sanctuary building was built and dedicated September 9, 1984. Thirteen stained glass windows represent historic events from the Old and New Testaments, as the depiction of the resurrected Christ towers over the baptistry. It truly is a beautiful sanctuary dedicated to the glory and worship of God.
The church has continued its focus on missions as it has organized mission trips to Bolivia, Honduras, China, Ukraine, Colorado, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming under the leadership of Bro. Puckett, Bro. Dan Robertson, Dr. Bill Hurt, and Dr. Doug Broome. Church members participate in state missions through Disaster Relief and other state Baptist projects. Local mission work is also a priority, such as Missions Day and Iron Men projects. “Who is the church,” you may ask. “We” are the Church, as the hands and feet of Jesus, here at home and around the world.
In conclusion, my friend, Sonya, so aptly writes, “As we celebrate this historic and meaningful occasion in the life of our church, first and foremost, we offer our praise and gratitude to our great and mighty God. We also remember those faithful who have gone before us, whose footprints we follow, and on whose shoulders we stand. In the Hebrew language, “remember” can literally mean to act on someone’s behalf. May we remember both God’s sustaining grace and these faith warriors by keeping the faith and continuing, unwavering, in His work.” As in the words of the contemporary songwriter, Steve Green, “…Oh may all who come behind us, find us faithful.” May we truly be “In covenant 200 years “from now and forever.”
Please join us for our Bicentennial Celebration Weekend events scheduled for April 29 and 30. From 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, there will be a reception and exhibits. Sunday morning worship will be at 10:30 am. Come hear our reunion choir, made up of former and current choir members under the direction of the Rev. Ken Miller, former minister of music for 25 years. Our own Dr. Ronnie Falvey, Pastor of First Baptist Church Madison, will deliver the message. It will be a great day!
For more information, you can also visit our website: www.fbcnatchez.org or our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/FirstBaptistNatchez.
Denise Geter is a member of First Baptist Church Natchez.