Saint John Baptist Church History
Saint John Baptist Church History Highlights
The history of Saint John Baptist Church is a testimony to God’s provision, preservation, and fulfillment of God's purpose. Saint John traces its beginnings back to 1874 when a Sunday school was organized in an area of York County, Va., known as Black Swamp Hill (the current location of the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station). Humphrey Payne served as the first superintendent. Classes were held each Sunday, except the first Sunday, when the group would attend First Baptist Church-Williamsburg, to worship and receive Holy Communion.
In 1879, a group of worshipers from the Black Swamp Hill began discussing with a peer group known as the Queens Creek Wing to consider establishing a church. Deacon John Roberts led the Black Swamp Hill Wing, and Brother Jacob Holmes led the Queens Creek Wing. Both men were members of First Baptist Church, Williamsburg. The Wings consisted of approximately 53 members.
A petition was made to First Baptist for permission to establish a church in York County, Va. The petition was granted, and the church formally organized. A committee of seven persons was appointed to suggest a name for the church. A proposal by Deacon John Roberts, Sr., to name the church "Saint John Baptist Church" was adopted.
The newly formed body then called a recognizing council composed of the following area ministers: Rev. John M. Dawson (First Baptist Church, Williamsburg), Rev. L. W. Wales Sr. (Mount Ararat Baptist Church, Williamsburg), Rev. Edward Cheeseman (Shiloh Baptist Church, Yorktown), Rev. Charles H. Green (Grafton Baptist Church, Grafton) and Rev. Thomas Wright (Rising Sun Baptist Church, Lackey). The council recognized the body as an independent church in 1884, and Rev. John M. Dawson served as the first pastor. The first deacons were John Roberts Sr., Andrew Randall, Jacob Holmes Sr., John Banks, Thomas Hardy, Isaac Wynne, and Monroe Lee.
In July 1886, the Board of Trustees secured a parcel of land situated in the county of York that contained approximately one-half acre. A deed was made between John Roberts Sr. and Margaret Roberts, his wife (members of St. John) and John Roberts, Jacob Holmes, and Andrew Randall, trustees of Saint John, in consideration for the sum of Eight Dollars ($8.00). The first church was built on this property. Since the late 19th century, this area had been locally known as "the Reservation."
In 1911, Rev. William Green was elected pastor. He died after serving only three months. Rev John Dawson returned to serve as interim pastor until the election of Rev William Knight, who served 1911-1912.
Rev. James H. Edwards of York County, Va., was called the fourth pastor in 1912. A presidential proclamation was issued during his pastorate, giving the U.S. government the right to acquire the church's property by eminent domain.
On November 1, 1918, everyone who owned land was ordered to "abandon such land within thirty days; just compensation to be worked out later." On November 15, 1918, a petition was signed by 80 families from the community, asking that they be given until the spring to find adequate housing. The date was extended to April 1919.
St. John's congregation eventually agreed to accept and receive from the United States government the award of Four-Thousand-One Hundred and Sixty Dollars ($4,160.00). The trustees - Walter Roberts, Joseph Hundley, Samuel Taliaferro, Moses Lee, and James Payne, Sr. - were able to secure a parcel of land situated in the County of York (Bruton District) containing approximately five acres. The land was purchased on Penniman Road for $375.00, and a new building was completed by 1922.
Though going through a difficult time, membership grew to more than 100, contributions were made to Home Missions and Virginia State College (now Virginia State University), and the church became affiliated with Tidewater Peninsula Baptist Association. As Rev. Edward's health failed, Rev. Daniel Davenport, a member of St. John, was used as supply minister, as were other ministers from the area. Rev. Edwards passed in 1938, having served faithfully for more than 25 years.
Following Rev. Edwards was Rev. George T. Hall (1940-1949), Rev. E. L. Alexander (1949-1951), and Rev. Oscar E. Davis (1953-1957). The church prospered, new ministries were organized, and the gospel continued to be proclaimed.
In August 1958, Rev. Solomon M. Wesley became the eighth pastor of Saint John Baptist Church. Rev. Wesley was only 25 when he accepted the leadership of the church, but the congregation quickly took on new energy, as he had the unique ability to motivate the old while inspiring the young spiritually. He initiated the change that morning worship services be held each first through fourth Sunday and the organization of several auxiliaries. Ministries organized were: The Men's Chorale of SJBC (later became the Men's Chorus), Junior Usher Board (1/17/1960), Nurse’s Aide (5/11/1961), Boy Scouts (5/11/1961), Busy Bees, Hospitality Committee (now Hospitality Guild), and Altar Guild.
Growth during the next five years created the need for additional space. Plans were made to construct a new building that would meet the needs of the increased membership and new ministries. Members committed to a campaign building plan; God provided, and on June 1, 1969, the new edifice was dedicated. Improvements continued during the next few decades, including a $350,000 expansion to provide additional classrooms and meeting space.
Rev. Wesley retired in August 2004 after 46 years as pastor of Saint John. In appreciation of his faithful years of leadership and service, the church conferred upon him the title of Pastor Emeritus.
A search committee was appointed to begin the process of selecting the next pastor. Deacon Brady Graham ably led the congregation during the interim. Though we were without a pastor for more than two years, God continued to add new members. In addition, four members were ordained and licensed: Associate Minister Alverita Mack was ordained in 2005; three sons of the church were licensed to ministry: Minister Rex Ellis (2005), Minister Raymond Palmer (2006), and Minister Quinzel Chestnut (2007).
Rev. Walter Hudson became the ninth pastor of St. John Baptist Church in June 2007. Under his leadership, the congregation was called to spiritual growth through Bible study and greater community involvement in evangelism and outreach. Ministries organized to help carry out our mission are Jail Ministry (2007), Family and Friends Fellowship, Culinary Ministry, Junior Missionaries (2009), Intercessory Prayer Ministry, Children's Ministry, Marriage Ministry, Health Ministry, and Praise Team Ministry, Warm Nights (a partnership with others in the Community of Faith Mission to provide shelter for the homeless), and the Magruder school "Good News Club" (evangelism program to reach unchurched elementary students).
Ministers licensed and ordained during Rev. Hudson's tenure include the Rev. Lynn Spratley, Minister Melvin Habersham, Minister Patricia Habersham, Minister Marlon Spratley, Minister Carla Payne, Rev. Carlon Lassiter, and Min. Wendy Muse.
We are privileged to be a part of this history, and we are thankful for the hand of God not only on those who came before us but upon us in our day. TO GOD BE THE GLORY, GREAT THINGS HE HAS DONE!
October 18, 2015