In 2006, First Baptist celebrated its 150th anniversary. For centuries, the ship has stood as a symbol for the Christian church and was adopted by First Baptist as an appropriate symbol for our 150th celebration. Like a well-built ship, First Baptist has weathered many storms and found itself forging ahead into new waters.
First Baptist was organized as Henderson Baptist church in 1856 under the leadership of Professor W.T. Brooks of Wake Forest College. The first church building, a wooden structure located where Henderson Middle School now stands, was built on a lot purchased in July of 1858. A second building was constructed on the same site in 1886. By that time, the church’s membership had grown to eighty-six and the church had called its first full-time pastor.
During the church’s early years, several new churches were started. In 1896, twenty-three members of Henderson Baptist Church left to organize Carey Chapel Baptist Church. Between 1896 and 1903, the North Henderson Baptist Church and the South Henderson Baptist Church (now New Life Baptist Church) were organized as missions of Henderson Baptist Church.
The present site was purchased in 1914. Plans for construction of the present sanctuary building were delayed by World War I. On March 7,1917, the congregation officially changed the church’s name to The First Baptist Church. The congregation entered the Sunday School portion of the present sanctuary building in the spring of 1921, and the sanctuary itself was occupied September 23, 1926. Many wonderful stories are told about the construction of our sanctuary building and the sacrifice of members to pay off construction debt during the Great Depression. On more than one occasion, a train would arrive with construction materials and members would go knock on the doors of other members to raise enough funds to purchase the materials and have them taken off the train. During this period, the congregation swelled to about 700 members. When the debt was paid off in 1936, the membership was 868 and the Sunday School enrollment was 681. In 1966, the sanctuary was renovated and the present Moller organ was installed in 1968. In 1976, a swinging peal of four bells was dedicated and installed in the tower of the sanctuary building. In 1979, the peal was expanded to a sixteen-bell chime.
In 1948 the church took the first steps toward the building of the present educational building and the work was completed in 1956. That same year, the Raleigh Road Baptist Church was constituted as a mission of First Baptist on Easter Sunday.
In recent years the church has seen changes in denominational identity and leadership. We have been leaders of a new day in Baptist life within North Carolina through our partnerships with both the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina. In the opening years of the twenty-first century, we celebrated the retirement of Dr. Marion Lark after 29 years of ministry as Senior Minister and Dr. Philip Young after 45 years as Minister of Music. Both ministers, along with Paul Baxley, who served the church for over fifteen years as both Associate Pastor and Pastor, and Mary Lou Young, who served as Organist and Associate Minister of Music for almost 40 years until her death in 1998, made lasting impressions on the life of our church and community. Since their retirements and departures, the ministerial staff has expanded and a new generation of ministers have been called to serve the congregation, including the calling of Ronald S. Cava as Senior Minister in 2012 and the calling of Amy Starr Russell as Associate Minister in 2013.
Now, as First Baptist enters its next 150 years, a rejuvenated congregation and an energetic young staff are poised to move forward in both traditional and creative new ways to worship God, and to carry out kingdom missions in the local community and beyond.