A Brief History of First Baptist Churchby Reverend G. Carl Lewis
At last, a Baptist ministry in Rockingham! It was 1875, and Cartledge Creek Church sponsored a mission Sunday School which met in the courthouse. It was led by John B. Covington and a new resident, R. A. Johnson. On April 13, 1879 Rev. Frank M. Jordan, assisted by his son, Rev. William T. Jordan, began a revival meeting in the courthouse. The early result was that on April 24, 1879, the Rockingham Baptist Church was organized, with the nucleus coming from Cartledge Creek Church. The first pastor was William T. Jordan. By the end of the year the membership was 49. In 1880 and 1881 the church was busy constructing its first building on a lot, 75 x 75 feet, at the corner of Randolph and Green Streets. The lot was a gift from Captain William I. Everett. The cost of the first house of worship was $2,485.84. Mr. Jordan, who had served three churches, resigned, effective October 31, 1880, in order that he might give full time ministry to the church in Lumberton.
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.” The future is bright and challenging.
(The above article was written in about 1988.)