Wednesday, October 18, 2017

 One of the first tasks undertaken by the board of deacons was to secure a more permanent place of worship.  They purchased a 175 feet by 75 feet lot from the Riggsbee Estate on Glendale Avenue which became the site for the first church owned building.  The members worked zealously to build a modest frame structure which was a great source of pride.  With the move to Glendale Avenue, the name of the church was changed.  Since the name North Durham Baptist was similar to that of another church in the vicinity, the congregation solemnly declared its new name to be Union Baptist Church.

The active movement of the laity played a significant role in the development of the early church.  They practiced their leadership with regularity and zeal.  Committed members, like Sister Martha Woods who laundered clothes to finance the purchase of the church's first pulpit, loved their church and worked unceasingly for it.  Other early church pioneers included Tom Thompson, Charity Turner, Jacob Jones, Martha Green, William Barbee, Lucy Hester, Harriet Prince, Nathan Lyons, Lizzie Roberts, Mary Farrington and Henry Neal. 

As the church membership grew to nearly two hundred, it became evident that a pastor was needed who could devote his full attention to the new church.   A call was extended to the Reverend Jerome Cozart who became the first fulltime pastor of Union Baptist Church.  Reverend Cozart was a large man with a great voice.  He was widely recognized as a forceful speaker with excellent pulpit skills.  Two of his favorite sermons were "The Judgment Day" and "The Prodigal Son."  During Reverend Cozart's ministry, the church grew in membership to over three hundred in about five years.  Unfortunately, Reverend Cozart became ill and was forced to resign his ministry.  The young church was saddened at the loss, but prayerfully began a search for a new pastor.

After a relatively short search, upon the recommendation of the deacons, Reverend John Sanford was selected as pastor.  Reverend Sanford was highly regarded for his oratory skills.  It was during his pastorate that Union Baptist began to reach out to the community in a systematic way.  One example of this was holding Sunday School at 3 p.m. rather than during the customary morning hours.  He admonished the congregation to have faith as it sought to do God's will.  Two of his favorite sermons were messages on "Daniel in the Lion's Den" and "Peter, Walking on the Water."  After four years of service, Reverend Sanford became ill, resigned his pastorate and moved to another city.  The Reverend James R. Baines was elected to succeed Reverend Sanford as pastor.  His tenure was very short as he died less than a year after assuming the position.

Once again the congregation undertook a search for pastoral leadership.  This time the mantle of the leadership fell to Reverend John A. Lewis.  Reverend Lewis was the youngest pastor to serve the church.  He, too, was a dynamic speaker in the tradition of the previous pastors.  The church continued to grow under his inspired leadership.  The membership was approaching four hundred.  At this time the plans involved moving to a larger site which would allow the ministry to continue to grow.  Though it was apparent that a larger building was needed, the planning caused some dissension in the church.  There were some who opposed the move to a new location.  These persons eventually left Union Baptist and joined another group that became Mount Gilead Baptist Church.  Under the leadership of Reverend Lewis, the planning for a new building continued.  Reverend Lewis, however, died before seeing the project completed.

After a brief period, the church extended the call to the Reverend Clarence Dunn to become pastor.  Reverend Dunn was regarded as a traditionalist.  He believed strongly in the power of prayer.  His favorite sermons were messages on "Job" and "Moses on Mount Sinai."  During the tenure of Reverend Dunn, the Usher Board and Missionary Circle were organized. The work of these two auxiliaries was felt both in the church as well as the community.  The planning continued for the relocation of the church.  As had been the case with his predecessors, Reverend Dunn also died before the relocation occurred.

The year of 1926 proved to be pivotal in the life of Union Baptist Church.  Having experienced the loss of its two previous pastors by death, much prayer was undertaken as a search for a new leader began.  This task was given to deacons William Rogers, Richard Rogers, Charlie Dunigan, George Thompson, Robert Walker and Callie Prince.  Reverend Ananias S. Croom of Salisbury, NC was recommended to the church. In September 1926, he was elected pastor.  Clearly Reverend Croom was a man with both intellect and character.  Reverend Croom was born in LaGrange, NC and educated in the public schools in Lenoir County.  His longing for education subsequently led him to Joseph K. Brick Agricultural and Industrial School in Bricks, NC.  The son of a preacher, Reverend Croom received the call to preach in 1902.  He matriculated at the School of Divinity at Virginia Union and was conferred the Doctor of Divinity degree by Livingston College.

Reverend Croom was an experienced pastor by the time he arrived at Union Baptist.  His previous pastorates included St. James Baptist, Whitakers, NC, Lisbon Street, Clinton, NC and First Calvary in Salisbury, NC where he was serving at the time of his call to Union.  He came widely regarded as a religious, civic and community leader.Reverend Croom was a man of great faith, strong convictions and indomitable courage.  A tremendous task faced him when he started his pastorate.  The church was $12,000 in debt, needed major repairs and also in need of a parsonage.  In order to overcome these challenges, Reverend Croom sought to establish an organizational structure within the church.  He reasoned with his membership that since laborers, in general, have the right to organize, Christian laborers, too, should organize.  Further, he convinced the congregation that more could be accomplished working together than through isolated efforts.

Dr. Croom's early efforts were affected by economic times.  He began his organizing efforts during the Depression.  He was instrumental in securing food, clothing and fuel for members of his congregation as well as for persons living in the community.  It was during this period that there was a substantial increase in membership.  As the membership grew, additional auxiliaries were organized.  The Ladies Usher Board was established under the guidance of Mrs. Minnie Ford Fikes.  The Boy Scouts were organized under the leadership of Malachi Hart and William "Pratt" Edwards.  The Deaconess Board, Junior Choir, Male Chorus and the WIC Circle were also formed in this time frame.

The Sunday School, the oldest auxiliary in the church, continued to flourish.  The Dorcas Class, Men's Bible Class and the Galeda Class were influential in the growth of the Sunday School.  Superintendents during this period included R. G. Rogers, George B. Russ and William "Pratt" Edwards.  The Baptist Training Union (BTU), which was held on Sunday evenings, provided somewhat of a social outlet for young people.  Leaders of the BTU included Reverend William H. Fuller, Samuel Walker, F. D. Pearsall, R. T. Tapp, Mrs. J. Quinn Rogers and George B. Russ.

Mrs. Mary G. Farrington organized the Senior Choir, one of the oldest auxiliaries of the church.  The choir played a vital role in the worship services of the church.  Other persons who contributed significantly to the development of the choir included John H. Fuller, Mr. & Mrs. Charlie Gattis, Johnny Pierce, Mrs. Emily Ford, Mrs. A. E. Reynolds and Mrs. Drucilla Fuller.  Mrs. Dorcas C. Reaves, daughter of Pastor Croom, served as organist.  Reverend Croom was able to lead the church in retiring its debt.  During the decade of the 40s, the church turned its attention to politics and social action.  W. P. Edwards challenged the church to take a greater role in the political and social life of the North Durham community.

The 50's were considered by many to be the golden years of the church.  After years of planning, ground was broken in 1954 for the building of a new church.  When Reverend Croom arrived as pastor, the church was located in a very muddy section of Glendale Avenue.  It was Dr. Croom's dream to move the church out of the mud and onto a main street.  This was accomplished in 1955 when the congregation moved into its new building on Roxboro Street.  A grand march from Glendale Avenue to the Roxboro Street site highlighted the occasion.  The new church was a state of the arts facility for its day and was the envy of the religious community.  In addition to a spacious sanctuary, the building included a comprehensive educational wing and a large fellowship hall with a kitchen.  Ample office space was also included.  The church was a source of great pride for the membership which worked diligently to repay the debt. In 1962, Dr. Croom became ill and offered to resign his pastorate but his resignation was not accepted by the church.  He died a year later and was buried on May 9, 1963.

Dr. Grady Demus Davis, Sr. was called as pastor of Union Baptist Church in 1964.  Dr. Davis was born in Pleasant Hill, NC.  He received the A.B. degree in Theology from Shaw University, the Master of Divinity degree from Andover-Newton Theological School and the Doctor of Philosophy from Boston University.  Upon arriving at Union, Dr. Davis found that there was much to be done.  The church's administrative structure had not kept pace with the growth of the church.  Under his leadership, the Deacon Board was expanded and a Finance Committee was organized.  The secretary's office was remodeled, a library established and the Board of Christian Education was organized.  Numerous organizations were added including the Hospitality Committee, Recreation, Young Adult and Senior Departments, nursery, additional choirs, the Youth Church, Alcoholic and Narcotics Anonymous.

Dr. Davis, recognizing the need to lift the morale of the congregation at large, instituted the slogan "Everybody is Somebody at Union Baptist Church."  He summed it up as follows:  "We are now involved in sensitivity training designed to update and make our programs, missions, messages, methods and ministries in a pluralistic changing society of what's happening now."  He believed that Union Baptist was a church "of the people, for the people, by the people and for God."  During Dr. Davis' tenure, the church's membership continued to grow.  Much of the growth related to his magnetic personality.  Dr. Davis never met a stranger.  He always had time for everyone.  As part of his commitment to outreach, the Good Samaritan Fund was established to assist persons who faced emergencies.  The church continued to have a strong voice in the political and social arenas of the community.

Under Dr. Davis' leadership, the facilities of the church were enhanced.  The pews in the sanctuary were cushioned, the Pearl Croom Lounge was remodeled and the sound system upgraded.  New office equipment was purchased for the secretary's office and an alarm system was installed.  A grocery store, service station, a house,  a bus and two vans were purchased. In March 1990, after having served for twenty-six years, Dr. Grady Davis was called from labor to reward.  The impact of his ministry was felt throughout the community and his death left a great void in the church and community.

After a period of mourning the passing of Dr. Davis, the church began the process of searching for a new pastor.  Much had changed since 1964 when the church last undertook a pastoral search.  On previous occasions, pastoral searches had always been spearheaded by the Deacon Board.  Now the laity was much more involved in this process.  As a result, a Pulpit Committee was elected to lead the search for a pastor.

Prior to beginning its work, the Pulpit Committee did a number of things.  First, it sought input from the congregation regarding the profile desired in a new pastor.  Second, the Committee identified the church's strengths and weaknesses.  Third, advice was sought from a number of sources including the General Baptist State Convention, regarding conducting a search.  With this information in hand, the Pulpit Committee began its work in earnest.

The pastoral vacancy was advertised throughout the state and nation.  Numerous candidates applied.  One of the last applications for the position was that of Reverend Kenneth Ray Hammond.  Reverend Hammond was invited to preach before the congregation in February  1991 and again in April of that year.  After several interviews with the Pulpit Committee, Reverend Hammond's name was submitted to the church and on June 5, 1991, he was elected as the ninth pastor of Union Baptist Church.

Reverend Hammond, who was formally installed as pastor on January 19, 1992, is a native of Winterville, NC.  He received degrees from East Carolina University and Shaw University.  Further studies were undertaken at Indiana University and North Carolina State University.

Under Pastor Hammond's leadership, the church is reaching new heights in ministry.  In fifteen years, over three thousand persons have joined or reunited with the congregation and the membership has grown  to a total of more than 4,500.  This growth has led to Union Baptist Church offering three Sunday services; 7:30 am, 9:30 amd and 11:15 am.  Additionally, a closed circuit system has been installed which allows the Fellowship Hall to be used for overflow seating.

Pastor Hammond believes in a holistic approach to ministry.  That is to say that the church must address the total needs of the individual and not merely the spiritual.   In this view, many new and creative ministries have been established under his leadership.  These include children's, teens, young adult and senior adult ministries, an expanded education ministry headed by a fulltime Minister of Education, recovery and prison ministries.  Other ministry areas have been broaden such as the women's ministry, the youth ministry which includes dance, step and drama, and the Men's Fellowship, which includes the Royal Ambassadors, a ministry to young boys.  With the addition of new ministries, the church has moved from a single to a multi-staff operation.

Pastor Hammond initiated a new members orientation and a discipleship program as a means of integrating new members.  A Deacon's Family Ministry has also been established to help maintain contact with the membership and to be more responsive to its needs.  The Bible study has been expanded to include a morning class as well as classes for the youth on Wednesday nights.  In addition, a family night worship and fellowship dinner has been implemented.

Numerous improvements have been made to the church's facilities since Pastor Hammond's arrival.  The church is fully computerized with an effective automated evangelism system.  Persons desiring information on the church can browse our website.  Union Baptist has become a "high tech church with a holy touch."  Other facility improvements include renovating the pastor's office, relocating the church office, installation of state of the art audio and video systems, improved interior and exterior lighting, protective covering for the stain glass windows , carpeting for the educational wing, new heating and cooling units, new piano and a computer lab.  Transportation has been enhanced through the purchase of three vans and a fully customized mini-bus.

Pastor Hammond has led the church to become a tithing church.  The budget has quadrupled and an endowment has been established.  Union Baptist has consistently been recognized as one of the leading churches in terms of mission support for the General Baptist State Convention, the American Baptist Churches of the South and the Lott Carey Foreign Missions Convention. It also contributes to the Progressive National Convention.

There is a new spirit of unity and cooperation among the congregation.  The church has been able to successfully bridge new disciples and their ideas with those who have been part of the congregation for some time.  Fourteen persons have acknowledged the call to preach and have been licensed to the Gospel ministry under the leadership of Pastor Hammond.

Union Baptist moved into its new worship center and administrative space on September 24, 2000.  In May 2001, the $3.5 million dollar worship center and a fully renovated educational building were dedicated. The new facilities provide an outstanding setting for ministry. Numerous changes have also been made administratively.  The church adopted a constitution which helped to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the church's administration and ministries.  The results have been a more effective and efficiently coordinated ministry. During his tenure at Union Baptist Church , more than 20 new ministries have been launched and the church has moved from a single ministry staff to a multi-ministry staff of nine and a volunteer staff of thirteen.  The church's budget has increased by more than $2 million dollars and an endowment has been established.

Building upon the highly success of Durham Scholar's Program, Pastor Hammond is leading the effort to erect a Kindergarten ~ 8th grade fully endowed private school, where children in Northeast Central Durham may attend tution free.  Ground was broken for the 47,000 square foot school in July 2006.

From the rental of the log cabin on Corporation Street utilizing borrowed talet, Union Baptist has become a bulwark for its disciples and the community.  For over 100 years, this congregation has stood the test of time.  Under Pastor Hammond's energetic and dynamic leadership, Union Baptist Church is poised to effectively meet the challenges of a new century and a new millennium!