The History of First Baptist Church
First Baptist, the premier church for all Alamance County mid 1800 Negro churches, has a profound and unique history. It was the first church to be named First Baptist Church in the county. The legacy of these early churches still prevails with the teaching and spreading of the gospel throughout this community and neighboring counties.
First Baptist Church was founded in 1864 as the first church for Negroes in this area. It was founded by two black missionaries, Reverend Harry Cowan of Salisbury and Reverend Lewis Gibson of Greensboro. Reverend Cowan was referred to as the “father of Baptist preachers in North Carolina”. He organized forty-nine churches all around the state. Both came to Company Shops, which is now known as Burlington, and became associated with Spencer Thomas, a slave of Romulus Mitchell Saunders. Saunders was a prominent judge and a member of the House of Representatives. He sent Thomas to Company Shops to work for the railroad.
A master tinsmith and foundry man, Thomas opened his own foundry and tin shop after the Emancipation Proclamation. Thomas’s store was the first black-owned business in Company Shops. After meeting Cowan and Gibson, Thomas was baptized and helped the missionaries found the church. Reverend Walter Hodge served as pastor of the first Negro Baptist Church. Services were conducted in an old brick stable in nearby Graham until they moved to an old log schoolhouse in the southwestern Company Shops. The church was the only place of worship accessible to Negroes at the time. The church was occupied by Methodists and Baptists until the Baptists built a frame structure on Sellars Street.
Spencer Thomas became pastor in 1870. In 1878 the church erected a two story building. The first floor was used as a church while the second floor was used for lodges and general entertainment. Later, the church was remodel and the second floor was left off. Graham members withdrew and built their own church. He served as pastor of the Graham church also.
People from several towns attended church service and the membership increased. Many churches were formed due to the increase in attendance. The following churches, which are still in existence today, were founded during this time.
- Graham Baptist Church (now First Baptist of Graham) in Alamance County
- Brown Summit Baptist Church in Guilford County
- Locust Grove Baptist Church in Guilford County
- Baptist Church of Gibsonville (now First Baptist Church) in Guilford County
- Elm Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Rockingham County
- Jones Chapel in Rockingham County
During Reverend Thomas’ tenure Company Shops became Burlington, N. C. The church was named First Baptist Church of Burlington, N.C. Reverend Thomas pastored for twenty-six years.
From 1896 -1914 the following ministers served as pastors:
- 1896-1897 Reverend F. R. Howell
- 1897-1898 Reverend E. F. Pareham
- 1899-1900 Reverend M. A. Alexander
- 1900-1901 Reverend Beal Brown
- 1901-1902 Reverend Anthony Welborn
- 1903-1904 Reverend R. H. Harris
- 1905-1908 Reverend W. H. Harris
- 1909-1912 Reverend F. M. Davis
- 1913-1914 Reverend J. W. Bruchrum
Over the next 94 years, additional improvements enhanced the growth of a strong black church. Between 1914 and 2010, these pastors contributed the following:
- 1914-1916 – Reverend J. W. Croom added Sunday School rooms.
- 1916-1918 – Reverend A. Harris built the parsonage.
- 1919-1923 – Reverend W. A. Cooper rebuilt the bell tower and replaced the churches roof.
- 1923-1932 – Reverend J. E. Boykins bought a piano, added rooms to the parsonage, bought a lot in the colored section of town on Apple Street, and began to raise money for a new church.
- 1932-1952 – Reverend O. P. Foster moved the old church to the new lot and remodeled it.
- 1952-1953 – Reverend D. G. Speller installed new windows in the sanctuary. The building burned. Services were held at Jordan Sellars School on Apple Street while the church was being rebuilt.
- 1953-1973 – Reverend H. J. Cobb began a fundraiser for a new church. He erected the new church in 1963. In 1966, the church was unable to meet its financial obligations. This weighed heavily upon Dr. Cobb’s mind. He prayed and asked the Lord to show him the way to pay the notes and the spirit dictated to him to read the seventh chapter of Revelations. From this reading, the Tribe Rally was initiated to accumulate money for the building fund only. Members gave ten dollars each quarter in addition to their Sunday offering. He was also credited for instituting the Sunday School Six Point System, organizing the Missionary Department, the Youth Department, the Layman’s League, the Board of Christian Education and reorganization of the Finance Committee.
- 1973-2010 – Reverend Dr. R.W. Styles came to First Baptist Church in 1973. On October 26, 1975, he burned the mortgage. During his 37 year tenure many new ministries, such as the Tape, Lead by Feeding, Women’s’ Ministry, The Angel Tree, Hostesses and Beautification were established. The Laymen’s ministry was re-established. The Honor’s Committee was created to encourage students’ success in school. He also added the 8:30 a.m. Sunday worship service, Wednesday night Bible Study, and the youth minister. The male chorus began during his time. Two vans and a handicap van were purchased. Under his leadership a tutorial program, afterschool program, a computer training class, and the Back to School Bash were initiated and became a resource for the community. The church became involved and provided support for the Good Sheppard’s Kitchen and Allied Churches. Dr. Styles operated the Head Start for 14 years, built the Spencer Brown Thomas Homes, a 40 unit apartment complex for senior citizens and people with disabilities, purchased land for building expansions, and restored three houses for residential rentals.
- January 24, 2012 -August 18, 2013 – Reverend Dr. J. D. Ballard serves as interim pastor. Along with the Support of the Rowan Association, Reverend Ballard provides teaching, encouragement and Biblical guidance toward finding a pastor.
- On June 23, 2013 the members of First Baptist Church called the Rev. Dray A. Bland as the 20th pastor of First Baptist Church. The Rev. Dray A. Bland assumed the pastorate of First Baptist Church on Sunday, August 25, 2013 and was officially installed on Sunday, October 13, 2013. The membership and ministries of First Baptist Church continue to grow. First Baptist Church is currently embarking on its first major building project in 50 years to add additional restrooms, 2 large classrooms, a media room and a welcome center. In addition, the church Annex has been renovated and the Children’s and Youth Sunday School classrooms have recieved a facelift.
Membership is comprised of approximately 585 members. About 400 are active in worship and church activities. The congregation worships together each Sunday morning in two traditional services, 8:30 or 11:00. Various church activities and meetings are scheduled weekly or monthly.
Denominational Associational Affiliations
National – National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc
Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention
State – General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
District – Rowan Baptist Association