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Members honor church’s founders

First Baptist on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard marks 170th year

POSTED: October 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Deshea Young leads the St. John Baptist Church Choir on Sunday during the 170th anniversary celebration at First Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

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Times were tough, especially in the beginning, but the church and its members endured because of an unwavering commitment to God.

Bobbie Cox spoke that message Sunday as First Baptist Church at 1810 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. celebrated its 170th anniversary.

"We cannot imagine what they had to overcome," Cox said of the black church’s founders and the era of slavery.

"They had very little control over anything, but what they did have control over was their belief and their faith in God."

Church members gathered for a special service that featured food, a recognition of members who have been at the church 50 or more years, a children’s presentation and soul-stirring music.

The Rev. Stephen Samuel, senior pastor of nearby St. John Baptist Church, delivered the program’s message.

In her comments, Cox reflected on the church’s staying power in the face of many struggles.

"We had faith, we had trust, we had abounding belief in God," she said, with members responding with "amens" and other affirmations.

Alluding to today’s economic crisis, Cox said, "The world’s in turmoil. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we can learn from (the church’s) forefathers. Are our times any more challenging than theirs?"

According to a written history of the church, little is known of First Baptist’s first 39 years "because of the absence of written records. When the oral records were given, they either went unrecorded or were lost."

About 1877, the Rev. Jack Nichols, a lifelong resident of Hall County and former slave, became the pastor.

The present-day white-brick church, which sits at the corner of E.E. Butler Parkway and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, was built in 1923.

The church, led by the Rev. Isaac Whitehead Jr., has about 300 members, said deacon vice chairman Robert Lee Hale, a member for more than 60 years.

In an interview before the program, Hale recalled a time when the church had 60 to 80 members but never a time when he wanted to worship elsewhere.

"I was born and raised in this church," said Hale, also the church custodian for 35 years.

He recalls the remodeling of the church as a significant event.

"This used to be a wooden building and then ... the older members decided to put brick around it," said Hale, 69.

Hall County Commissioner Deborah Mack has been a member for 57 years, serving in a number of roles through the years, including as trustee and Sunday school teacher.

"I can remember my parents bringing me here as a child," she said. "I got all of my Christian education here.

"I had teachers that taught me things that I remember to this day — not only about the Bible but ways of life, manners and how (to) present yourself."



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