Petersburg church plays big role in American history

PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - There are a lot of interesting facts about the 140-year-old building that is home to First Baptist Church in Petersburg.

"There are no nails or anything that is holding that ceiling together. It is wood pegs," said church historian Julian Greene.

However, if the church's old ceiling, the pews, and the chandelier could talk, they would tell you that the importance of this church is not in the structure, but in the people who started it.

"We existed before there was a George Washington, president of the United States. We existed before there was a constitution of the United States. Before there was a Declaration on Independence, before there was a Continental Army, First Baptist Church existed," said Greene.

It came into existence through slaves back in 1756, quietly worshipping on plantations in Charles City, Prince George, and Lunenburg counties.

"They felt that in order for it to have meaning and to have knowledge and to have expansion, they needed to come together," said Greene.

They did, and they were known as New Lights.

Eighteen years later, the group grew and evolved into First African Baptist Church - and later, First Baptist Church- which would become the oldest Black church in the nation.

As the church historian, Julian Greene has the task of keeping hundreds of years worth of history alive.

It is quite interesting - from the stories found in the official church record book in 1876 to the inspiring life story of Rev. Leonard Black.

"He would go into the woods, escape and go into the woods and preach to the trees. But what he was preaching was what he had heard , not what he had read or knew about," said Greene.

Years later, First Baptist Church played an even bigger role in history, hosting prominent figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as organizing Peabody High School- the oldest black high school in Virginia.

Today, the church is still going strong with close to 2000 members.

Greene says its humbling to think this church has made such a national impact, thanks to a faithful few.

"This is what they left for us. We have the moral obligation to maintain for those that are going to be coming after us," said Greene.

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