Special thanks to Mr. David Ramsaur for compiling and writing this brief history.
When the Town of Lumberton was incorporated by the state legislature in 1852, the town lacked a Baptist church. In fact, Lumberton had been without a Baptist church for over eight years, since the Lebanon Baptist Church was dissolved in 1844. Most of Lebanon’s members joined Antioch Baptist Church, four miles southeast of Lumberton, and remained in service there for the next decade.
Some of the former members of the Lebanon Church, together with members of the Back Swamp, Mt. Elim, Antioch and other Baptist churches, found the need for creating a new church. On December 10, 1853, they met at Back Swamp Baptist Church and appointed a committee to collect funds and to build a Baptist church in or near Lumberton. A wooden building was completed in May 1855 at a cost of $475. On July 1, 1855, Elder Haynes Lennon, an itinerant missionary pastor appointed by the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, led the first service to convene and constitute the Lumberton Baptist Church, which was located near the intersection of Tenth and Water Streets. The church was lit by candlelight and did not have a stove for heat until 1859. Initially having services only one Sunday per month, the church had a bell that was rung at sundown on Saturday of every monthly meeting as a signal that there would be preaching in this church on the following day.
From these humble beginnings, the membership of this church and its Sunday School grew, so that in 1881, construction was completed on a new church building located at the corner of Fifth and Walnut Streets at a cost of $5,000. The following year, church services began to be held every Sunday.
After experiencing ups and downs over the next two decades, the church called Charles Henry Durham as pastor in 1900, and he served on two separate occasions a total of 37 years as pastor. Dr. Durham saw employees and their families living in villages adjacent to the new textile plants in Lumberton as mission fields “ripe unto harvest.” Our congregation eagerly organized Sunday Schools and missions in these villages, eventually beginning three new churches in East, West, and North Lumberton.
From an initial membership of thirteen persons in 1855, the church had grown to a membership of almost three hundred by 1910, when a new sanctuary was erected at the corner of Seventh and Walnut Streets at a cost of $42,000. The first services in the new building were conducted on Thanksgiving Day, 1910, and the following year, the church was renamed “First Baptist Church of Lumberton.” As the church and its ministries continued to grow over the next hundred years, the church campus at Seventh and Walnut was modified and expanded and new buildings were erected in order to assist it in its mission, which in 1997 was defined as follows: “First Baptist Church is a family of faith seeking to know Christ, worshipping together, and sharing his love through missions and ministry.”
Our congregation’s missionary focus through the years has helped expand the Baptist cause throughout the Lumberton area (through the establishment of other churches called Sandy Grove, Godwin Heights, Forest Acres, and Iglesia Bautista Hispana Bet-El) and throughout the world, as we have sent young people and others on summer missionary trips all across the United States and beyond. Through these, the ministry of this church has gone outside of the four walls of the church to spread the gospel message.
What Dr. Durham was to the first half of the twentieth century, Dr. Russell T. Cherry, Jr. was to the second half. For twenty-two years, Dr. Cherry served our church faithfully and well, leading our church to both record membership and concentrated mission efforts both locally, nationally, and internationally. The Early Childhood Ministry was developed during his pastorate and has blessed literally thousands of children and their families since 1977. In 1990, Dr. Cherry was in attendance for the first meeting of what became the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Through changing denominational times, like Dr. Cherry, his successor, Dr. William Powell Tuck, led our church to pursue new ways in doing cooperative missions through involvement with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the North Carolina CBF. Dr. Tuck also led the community in the formation of the Boys and Girls Club of Lumberton and the Robeson Family Counseling Center.
In 2005, under the leadership of Dr. R. Kevin Head, First Baptist’s youngest pastor in over half a century, the church began a contemporary worship service to meet the needs of our members desiring contemporary worship as well as others in our community, a service which has been well-received and attended. First Baptist has remained vigilant in meeting the needs of more and more people in our community as our current pastor, Dr. David Elks, has led the congregation through a visioning process in 2012, as we seek new ways to be the presence of Christ in our community in the twenty-first century.
Building on the enthusiasm, fidelity and diligence of those who have gone on before us, and recognizing our responsibility as the salt of the earth and God’s light to the world, this family of faith eagerly embraces God’s future for us. This commitment – loving one another, supporting one another, and encouraging one another as we seek to know, love, and serve Christ, is what unites us and binds us together as a church family. It is what makes us First Baptist Church of Lumberton.