August 20th, 2018 — 116th Anniversary Video, compiled by Carla Wainwright.
On August 24, 1902, a group of dedicated Christians under the leadership of Reverend W. H. Laughinghouse and his wife, Pamela Ann, met together in the home of J. T. (Tom) Abrams to form a new church in the town of Greenville, North Carolina. This meeting was on a Sunday night and the group of 26 members appointed the third Sunday of the month as their preaching day. Oral history says that this group met several years in the homes of members. During the time before the construction of the first church building, oral history states that the group of believers met in a two-room schoolhouse on the corner of Eleventh Street and what is now Forbes Street.
The small church was admitted to the Central Conference of Free Will Baptists on November 5, 1903, with a membership of 32. In 1903, Reverend E. T. Phillips was called to the pastorate of the Greenville Free Will Baptist Church. Under his leadership, the church purchased land on the corner of Eleventh and Cotanche Streets (which was eventually changed to Forbes Street). This land was bought from L. C. and Nellie Arthur on June 29, 1904. On September 4, 1909 the mortgage for the purchased parcel of land was paid off and in 1915 the construction of the building was begun. The pastor at the time was Reverend C. B. Jones. The church building was completed in 1916.
In 1927, an annex was added to the original church building. This annex was located on the Forbes Street side of the church and increased the sanctuary seating capacity to five hundred. In 1948 the congregation purchased a lot from W. G. and Margaret M. Ward and added Sunday school rooms to the rear of the sanctuary. Another building program was started after the church purchased adjoining property on Eleventh Street from Dorothy Taylor in 1954. An additional annex was added which included fourteen Sunday school rooms and enlarged the sanctuary. The groundbreaking for this third annex was held on December 12, 1956, and the project was completed in 1957.
On December 30, 1964, the name of the congregation was changed to Greenville First Original Free Will Baptist Church. After years of continual use, the building on the corner of Eleventh and Forbes Streets was deemed to be in very bad repair. As there was no room for expansion for parking and because of the need of many expensive repairs, the church members voted to purchase a five-to-seven acre tract of land on Highway 43 from Ralph and Ramona Tucker. The cost of the property was $22,000 with an interest rate of 6% and was to be the site of a new church building. The groundbreaking for the building was held early in 1973. The last service in the old building was held on March 10, 1974, and on March 17, the first service was held in the new facility. A dedication of the new and present church was held on May 19, 1974. On July 5, 1977, the name again changed. The present name of the church is First Free Will Baptist Church of Greenville.
The First Church has improved the building on Charles Boulevard since moving into the new structure. On April 7, 1976, the church in conference gave permission for a picnic shelter to be built beyond the parking lot. This was enjoyed for several years but was later turned into a garage to be used to house a church van and for extra outside storage. On April 8, 1987 the church voted to add a fellowship hall to the structure. When completed, it afforded the church a new kitchen, extra Sunday school rooms, two bathrooms, a Ladies’ Parlor and extra storage. A brick fireplace was included in the fellowship hall for members to enjoy on cold winter evenings.
In the late nineties, the church continued such renovations as enlarging the pulpit area, placing a stained glass window behind the baptistery, raising the piano and organ to be level with the pulpit platform, new pews, new usher chairs, and new choir robes. Also included was the installation of a portico with white columns at the back entrance of the building and a small portico at the front entrance. The vestibule was to be enlarged and redesigned by doing away with the folding doors at the rear of the sanctuary. Wall treatments and fresh paint were to be added at several locations. The church in conference also voted to replace the side windows with stained-glass windows to be donated by church members in honor or in memory of their loved ones. These changes were completed and dedicated in 1996. Soon thereafter, new playground equipment was installed to expand the youth program.
Music has always been an integral part of worship at the church. In 1925, a church choir was organized under the direction of E. D. Griffin. The first church organ was presented to the church by The Memorial Baptist Church. On October 21, 1948, Mrs. S. B. Hardee (“Miss Sophie” as she was affectionately known) presented a Hammond Electric Organ to the church. The organ was dedicated on March 20, 1949. Throughout the years, First Free Will Baptist has been the home of many wonderful musical groups to include male quartets, female trios and quartets, as well as mixed quartets.
The church continues its tradition of good music. Along with the adult choir, in recent years there has been a youth choir, a handbell choir, a Praise Team, and a Concert Band that has taken part in regular church services. In addition to its contribution to the regular worship services, the music program also produces musical dramas and cantatas, and has recently joined other churches in the community for joint presentations. The church is currently favored with several regular soloists and family groups. The music program is ever-changing and adding dimension to the services of the church.
There are many opportunities for service available here at the First Church. The deacons participate in the Shepherding Ministry. This ministry assists the pastor in leading the congregation in the work of the Lord. Each deacon is responsible for a group of church families. The deacon visits the families and is with them in times of celebration and sadness and shows the love and concern for the people that a shepherd shows for his sheep.
First Free Will Baptist Church offers many opportunities to study and learn about God’s Word and its daily application to the lives of believers. In addition to the 10 a.m. morning worship service, the pastor also teaches many Bible studies which are offered on Sunday nights, Wednesday mornings and/or Wednesday nights.
The associate pastor leads the Christian Education and youth programs, to include Sunday School for all ages, Vacation Bible School, occasional small group Bible studies, and weekly youth fellowships. The youth of the church are recognized as the future of the church. The congregation strives to provide the young people a place where they feel free to enjoy learning about and worshipping God in an atmosphere of support and love.
There are also many other organizations available for the adults of the church to serve in, such as the Woman’s Auxiliary, who support multiple denominational ministries and the men’s Laymen’s League, who are active in doing projects for the church, the shut-ins, and any others who may need help. The Primetimers is a group organized for senior adults who meet monthly to study and grow in God’s work and who enjoy fellowshipping and travelling on many day-trips. In addition, the Threads of the Heart is a group who meets monthly and shares an interest in knitting and crocheting. They collectively make prayer shawls, quilts, and throws and share them with shut-ins, hospital patients, newborns, and families during other special occasions or needs.