First Free Will Baptist Church History
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
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
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 11 a.m. morning worship service, the pastor also teaches many
Bible studies which are offered on Sunday nights, Wednesday mornings and/or
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.
The motto of the First Free Will Baptist Church of Greenville is “Finding
Faith with Family and Friends.” In keeping with this motto, the church
family endeavors to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom
throughout the area, striving to win the lost to Christ. We have long been
proud of the talented and dedicated Christians that have been a part of the
church. Our prayer is for God’s blessings upon this congregation of
believers, as we continue to look to Him for His leadership, guidance, and
care. We pledge that the actions of this church be for the Glory of our Lord
and Savior, Jesus Christ, and will honor Him in all we say or do.
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