The 150th church anniversary of the historical First African Baptist Church begins this week; they have been planning and preparing for this historical occasion for months.
Several months ago, a large banner announcing the 150th-year celebration prominently was displayed on the church’s ground. A commemorative souvenir booklet also has been prepared.
Members of the Riceboro church will celebrate 150 years beginning at 7:30 nightly Monday, June 13, through Friday, June 17, and culminating at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 19.
“This is just the beginning. Our mission has not changed,” Pastor Neil Dawson said. “We still have a harvest that is plenteous, but few laborers. We are celebrating, yet focusing on the original mission.
“We acknowledge the forefathers — those who set the standard and passed the mantle. We acknowledge their contribution,” he said.
First African had its beginning in the North Newport Baptist Church, founded in 1809 in Sunbury. Both black and white members attended the North Newport Baptist Church.
In 1818, the North Newport Church purchased the present site and erected a church. The congregation was composed of both black and white members, and there was a balcony for the slave members.
The last white pastor was the Rev. Joshia S. Law, who died in 1853. A monument was erected in his honor.
In 1854, the North Newport Church moved to Walthourville; however, blacks continued to use the old building. In 1861, some members were able to form their own church. They named their church First African Baptist Church.
The Rev. Charles Thin was the first pastor. Since its humble beginning, First African Baptist has undergone many changes and has seen many new members added to its church roll.
On July 20, 1878, the North Newport Church sold the building and the property to Deacon A. M. McIver on behalf of the church. The building and property were purchased for a generous fee of $225.
Three other local churches have their roots in First African Baptist, including First Zion Baptist Church in Riceboro; First African Baptist Church in Jones; and Baconton Missionary Baptist in Walthourville.
The anniversary theme is “Still Proclaiming the gospel throughout all the land” (Leviticus 25:10).
“We are looking to impact the community as a body of believers,” Dawson said.
Speakers scheduled for the celebration include Pastor Frederick McIver of First Zion Baptist Church on Monday; Pastor Hermon Scott of Baconton Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday; Pastor Willie Delmar of First African Baptist on Wednesday; Bishop Julian Jones of Mt. Carmel Holiness Church in Riceboro on Thursday; and Pastor J. J. Thomas of Elm Grove Baptist Church in Meridian on Friday.
Closing services will be at 11 a.m. Sunday, June 19, with the Rev. Juance Wilson of Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist in Folkston and the Rev. Mark Baker of Greater Works Than These Ministries in Brunswick at 3 p.m.
“In celebrating our anniversary, we are planning more outreach to the community,” Dawson said. “We had a health-day special with various activities and organizations to include dietary information, a dental hygienist and materials on dealing with a greener America. We also had a women’s tea, which addressed women’s issues. With our men cook-off, we are trying to be more healthy in our eating. We also had a youth-explosion career day, with a focus of helping to prepare the children for college.
“There is a lot of love at First African,” Dawson continued. “The spirit is very uplifting and the people are very encouraging, loving and transparent. We love the people of Riceboro and love how the churches support one another. Come rain or shine, they will support one another. We love being a part of the Riceboro and Liberty County community.”
For more information about the church or anniversary, call the church at 884-2838.