A Brief History of First Baptist Churchby Neal Cadieu and Rev. G. Carl Lewis
The Cartledge Creek Baptist Church dates its beginnings back to 1774. The church sponsored many other Richmond County Baptist churches including, on April 24, 1879 the Rockingham Baptist Church. By 1881 this church had its own building on a lot donated by Capt. William I. Everett, a member of the Rockingham Methodist Church. The property was on the corner of Greene and Randolph streets. The building was small, made of wood. Today that site is parking for the present church.
As Rockingham grew with the construction of textile mills, the Rockingham Baptist also prospered. By Easter of 1909, the congregation was in a new brick church on the same lot. The church boasted a new pipe organ. Coming to this church January 1, 1913 was Rev. Bruce Benton. He served, with time out for World War One duty, until March 22, 1944, a total of 31 years. This has never been matched, although Rev. G. Carl Lewis came close with 27 years of service from 1949 to 1976.
Ground breaking for the present sanctuary was Nov. 6, 1955. The church name had officially become First Baptist Church of Rockingham.
Following Rev. Lewis was Dr. William W. Leathers. His 19 years of service took the church to new horizons. They included the first woman elected to the Board of Deacons, hiring Rev. Don Bearfield as Minister of Education and his wife, Melissa, as church organist, overseas Mission trips to impoverished countries such as Jamaica and a unique relationship with a church in England whereby the pastors exchanged pulpits. The Easter, Christmas and other musical programs presented by the Bearfields filled the sanctuary to standing room only. The church staff included full time Ministers of Music, Education and Youth.
As Richmond County’s economy changed with the loss of textile and railroad jobs, and the subsequent loss of young people who moved to where there was work, church budgets and attendance were affected. First Baptist of Rockingham has not been an exception. However, it continues to offer services and programs for young and old, have a caring, helpful staff, and be able to fulfill budget requirements. First Baptist of Rockingham is ever-striving to love God and others more fully and seek ways to carry out its mission in this world.
FBC Senior Pastors
Rev. Trezevant Harrison served from October 31, 1880 to December 30, 1884. He was called from the First Baptist Church, Greensboro. During his ministry Mr. Harrison led the church to complete the church building which, in a short time, was paid for and a service of dedication held.
In the early years the pastors served several churches and the pastorates were brief.
Rev. J. W. Wildman came from a pastorate in Roanoke, Virginia, and served January 5, 1885 to November 22, 1885.
Rev. B. H. Phillips had the shortest pastorate of any of the fifteen men who have held the position. His ministry began December 6, 1885 and was concluded, to the deep regret of the congregation, May 9, 1886.
Rev. N. B. Cobb was pastor from September 26, 1886 to February 3, 1889. His ministry and influence were great in the church and in the larger community. He had great missionary zeal and led the church to establish a work which became the Roberdel Baptist Church.
The longest of the early pastorates was that of Dr. Livingston Johnson, who served from March 17, 1889 to July 6, 1895. He was a man of vision and great ability. He became one of the leaders of Baptist work in the State, and ultimately served as Editor of the Biblical Recorder.
Rev. Joseph G. Blalock was pastor from July 1, 1895 to April 16, 1899. These were years when the economy was depressed and social problems were outstanding, but there was some growth in membership and a slight increase in gifts.
Rev. Charles L. Greaves served from July 2, 1889 to December 1, 1901. This was the first pastorate of a very able man who was remembered for his outstanding ability as a speaker.
Rev. D. C. Britt served from November 24, 1901 to October 1, 1905. He stood firmly against social evils and demanded righteousness on the part of all members of the church.
Rev. Evan D. Cameron, uncle of Governor and Senator Cameron Morrison, served briefly as pastor, October 1,1905 to June, 1906. He resigned to become President of the Baptist University of Oklahoma. During this pastorate, on January 2,1906, the church voted to begin a “full time” ministry, with the pastor serving this church only.
Rev. Josiah Crudup, October 1, 1906 to April 28, 1912, led the church into new challenges, including the construction of a new sanctuary. This structure was built in 1908-1909, at a cost of $9,400.00 and was used until February 1957. In this period, under the leadership of Mrs. Claude Gore, a pipe organ was purchased.
The longest pastorate was that of Dr. Bruce Benton, January 1, 1913 to March 31, 1945. (Dr. Benton’s retirement date was January 1, 1943, but he continued to serve until a new pastor arrived). There were the years of World War I, the Great Depression, the buying of property, planning for the future. The entire community continues to remember Dr. Benton with appreciation.
Rev. Edwin F. Perry was pastor from April 2, 1944 to January 1, 1949. He had an outstanding ministry in leading the church to rapid growth, financial stewardship, and church building. His leadership led to clearing the property for future construction, building a pastorium, and the construction of the Education Building. He built strong foundations for the years ahead.
Rev. G. Carl Lewis served from April 1, 1949 to September 1, 1976. In this period the church grew in mission emphasis and support, became stronger in organization ministries, paid off the indebtedness on the Educational Building, built the new Sanctuary, and purchased a pipe organ.
Dr. William W. Leathers, III began his ministry in November 1976. Under his leadership the church enjoyed growth in membership, in stewardship, and in ministry. Indebtedness on the organ and church bus was paid, and the church found itself in the pleasant state of “free of debt.” Dr. Leathers resigned on Sunday, May 21, 1995 after 19 years of outstanding service and yet leaving a debt free church.
After a two-year search, Rev. David M. Jordan was welcomed as church pastor on July 27, 1997. He continued many of Dr. Leathers’ programs, serving for five years before resigning in late 2002 to join a large Charlotte church.
On February 8, 2004, Rev. T. David Phillips was installed as the new senior pastor. He remained until 2007.
Dr. James Nelson accepted the position of senior pastor on June 28, 2009, serving until his retirement on May 30, 2018.