Reflections: Celebrating 150 years of worship at Sumter's First Baptist Missionary Church

By SAMMY WAY
Posted 11/18/18

Reflections celebrates 150 years of worship with First Baptist Missionary Church on the corner of Washington and Dingle streets. According to Cassie Nicholes in Historical Sketches of Sumter County, this house of worship is often referred to as "a …

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Reflections: Celebrating 150 years of worship at Sumter's First Baptist Missionary Church

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Reflections celebrates 150 years of worship with First Baptist Missionary Church on the corner of Washington and Dingle streets. According to Cassie Nicholes in Historical Sketches of Sumter County, this house of worship is often referred to as "a monument to the dedication of those who had the vision and faith to begin a church that today is a tower of strength for its members and for the entire county." The ensuing article was composed using data and photos from The Sumter Item archives, the church archives and was enhanced by the writings of Nicholes.

Research states that the original church began under a brush arbor with the Hebrew name of Shiloh in 1868. The first facility was initially located on South Main Street before a white frame structure was constructed on the west side of Main between Oakland Avenue and Bartlette Street. However, in 1910, the membership built a brick sanctuary on the present site. It was noted by Nicoles that "a bell tower, vestibule and front steps were later added, enhancing the beauty and usefulness of the edifice. Then on Sept. 13, 1931, the name of the church was changed to First Baptist."

It was shortly after the renaming that the church faced extreme adversity when the parsonage burned, adding to the financial burden on the membership. The pastor and his family were taken in by the membership until the parsonage could be rebuilt. The church was also expanded with the sanctuary basement, converting it into "Sunday school rooms, church offices, an assembly hall and a kitchen."

On Jan. 14, 1962, a disaster struck as fire destroyed the church. The membership sought and was granted permission from the Sumter School District 17 School Board to hold services in the Lincoln High School building. With money received from insurance and funds given by the membership and friends of the church, plans were soon in the works to rebuild. With staunch determination the church sanctuary was finished, and services began again on Dec. 16, 1962.

The Rev. Ben Lawson became the first pastor to lead the church. He was described as "energetic and faithful," serving the membership for over 30 years. The Rev. J. A. Pinson arrived in 1905, and it was under his leadership that the new building on the corner of Washington and Dingle streets was constructed. He remained with the church until 1915 when he accepted the call to head a church in Philadelphia. He was followed by the Rev. I. W. Williams, who remained as pastor until his death in 1932. There were numerous interim pastors until the arrival of the Rev. W. Randolph, who became the regular pastor on Oct. 7, 1960. The Rev. Randolph came from Anderson, and following his graduation from Morris College, he attended the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbia. He became very active in both church and community activities. "In 1967, First Baptist was the meeting place for the Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention (90th). The welcome was given by the Rev. Randolph, and it set the theme for the meeting."

Historian Porcher Myers notes that the church remains on the National Historical Register. According to church records, because of the severe deterioration of the old structure it was demolished, and a new building was soon started. When the new building was completed the Rev. Randolph noted that the "membership marched into the new sanctuary in November of 1977." Church records state that the building "was not only designed by the Rev. Randolph but constructed by his company." Shortly after the congregation entered the new sanctuary, they voted to change its name to First Baptist Missionary Church. The church later undertook a massive building project in 1981 with the construction of Shiloh-Randolph Manor, a 72-unit senior housing complex. The cost of this construction was $2,486,000 and was built under auspices of HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development).

In 2007, the Rev. Randolph retired after serving "47 years of committed and faithful leadership to the church." He also served as mayor pro tem of City Council for 19 years. The church is currently guided by the Rev. George P. Windley Jr. The future of the church was aptly described in a bulletin published during the 101st anniversary of its inception: "First Baptist shall work and look forward to a greater and more eventful future because of greater harmony and greater and more persistent efforts for the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God and a richer and fuller Christian life for ourselves."