The First Baptist Church of Wilson, NC, was organized on May 6, 1860 in the Wilson County Courthouse with the help of Baptist pastors in the region (then called elders): Leir Thorne, J. B. Solomon, J. G. Barkley, and L. H. Lacy. There were ten charter members. Thomas R. Owen, a Greenville attorney who had become an area missionary for Baptists in that region, had been instrumental in beginning the congregation.
The effects of the Civil War on communities and families made it hard for the Church to make much progress in its early years. Members met in a house of worship near the corner of Green and Lodge Streets, a stone’s throw from the Wilmington to Weldon Railroad, which was the “information highway” of its era. Troop trains carried eager soldiers up north, then returned with the wounded and dying. Later William Hooper became the first full-time pastor. Thus far at least 31 pastors have served, either part-time or full-time. The two longest-serving pastors have been Clyde E. Baucom (1943-1961) and William R. Bussey (1962-1988). “Mr. Bussey” is our Pastor Emeritus. Our current pastor, Dr. Douglas E. Murray, has been pastor since 1995.
Wednesday night prayer meetings began in 1870 and continue to this day, with the addition of a fellowship supper and programs for children and youth. Conferences were held on Saturday evenings, when new members were received and other business matters were conducted. (Our business meetings are now quarterly.) Early baptisms were held in creeks and streams, but a baptistery was soon constructed. Around 1880 a system of collection baskets was implemented, a choir was started, and a Sunday School was established. Members who missed services were noted on attendance rolls and later asked to give account for their absence!
In 1894 the Church relocated to its second facility on the corner of West Nash and Pine. A new sanctuary facing Nash Street was constructed in 1905. Membership soared after the move to this location. Membership in 1888 was 165. Membership as of early 2013 is just under 800.
In 1915 the church voted to establish a Sunday School in the Five Points neighborhood, where a store was rented. That ministry evolved into the Second Baptist Church, which became Five Points Missionary Baptist Church, which now is Forest Hills Baptist Church. First Baptist and Five Points joined hands with New Hope Baptist Church to begin Grace Baptist Church on Kincaid Avenue in 1954. After a number of years of serving migrants and Spanish-speaking people in the county, FBC began a Spanish Baptist Mission (Mision Bautista Hispana) in 1987. Mr. Juan Barbosa serves as the mission’s lay pastor.
The third site for First Baptist Church, the corner of Nash Street and Park Avenue, was purchased in 1947 from Silas Lucas. The building was formally dedicated on December 21, 1952. A fifty rank Reuter pipe organ was installed in 1969. A new fellowship hall, kitchen and choir room were added and dedicated in 1992. Across the years, adjacent lots were purchased until now the Church facilities stretch across the entire block, save for two lots on Broad Street. In the first decade of the 21st century, further building renovations and improvements were made, including a youth ministries suite on the third floor and the construction of a columbarium for the inurnment of ashes of deceased members.
Other notable events: the election of the Church’s first female deacon in 1980; the ordination of its first female minister, Raygina Beale, in 1993. In 1996 and 1999 Wilson was struck by two strong hurricanes. The latter strike by Hurricane Floyd flooded hundreds of homes. First Baptist Church became a regional center for aid, staffed by the American Red Cross and Kentucky Baptist Men Disaster Relief. Those experiences inspired our Baptist Men (and Women!) to receive training in Disaster Relief. They have served in a number of areas struck by natural disasters, including Gulfport, MS following Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, members have served on mission trips to Africa, the Middle East, India, Mexico, and Honduras.
Our congregation, led by the Long Range Planning Committee, has adopted a “future vision” for the church, Vision 2020, which can be found elsewhere on this web site. We are continuing to seek God’s guidance as to what specific steps to take in pursuit of this vision.
The Church celebrated its 150th anniversary in May of 2010. FBC member Dr. Roger Bullard, retired Professor of Religion at Barton College, has researched and written a wonderful history of the church, The Life and Times of First Baptist Church, Wilson, North Carolina: 1860-2010, which was published in the spring of 2010. The “dean” of Baptist historians in the southern U.S., Walter Shurden, named this history as one of the 3-4 best he has ever read. It is now required reading for a course on church history writing at Campbell University. You may purchase copies at the church office.