Sumter church celebrates 150 years of ministry

janderson@theitem.comJune 15, 2013 

— During its 150 years on a little hill in Rembert, Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church has seen a number of changes.

Starting Monday, church members will gather at Mount Pisgah for a week of anniversary celebration services. Many of the scheduled speakers are “sons of the church,” men who came through the church and were ordained there.

The theme this year is “Celebrating the past, and marching toward the future in Christian fellowship.”

The public is invited.

“Church anniversaries are fun,” said Martha Wright, church historian. “Furthermore, they provide excellent opportunities not only for reviewing and honoring the past but also for evaluating the present and planning the shape of the future.”

MARKING THE PAST

Records show the church began as a single building set up on “chalk hill” under “bush harbor” in 1863, Wright said, about where the cemetery is now located. It cost $300, and a communion set was $19. There were 12 members, she said.

The current building is about the fourth incarnation with the sanctuary portion having been completed in 1959 and the fellowship hall added in the 1970s.

Naomi Sanders will mark her own milestone of 74 years at the church later this month.

“I was born in this church,” said the county council woman. “I have seen changes for the better, and I’ve seen some bad times that have made us stronger.”

Her father, the Rev. Abe Dennis, was the church’s pastor for 52 years.

Deacon Robert Parker remembers the pot belly stove and large fans in the third version of the church. He was about 12.

The roof was remodeled during this time, and Sanders said the steeple area looked like a bird house.

Deacon Jerry Wilson recalls baptisms in the creek across the road. Like many others, he grew up going to Mount Pisgah but in adulthood moved out of state. When it was time to retire from New York about six years ago, he headed back South.

“This is my home,” said the chairman of the deacon board. “I came back because there is no place like home.”

Then there is the hard period. In 1996, the deacons voted to fire the preacher, a move that divided the church. A few times, the reverend returned to the pulpit, but some deacons refused to welcome him. Sheriff’s deputies were called to the church on several occasions, and one member’s home was even vandalized. A judge even ordered the church closed that Christmas.

The pastor’s supporters sued the deacons for the building, the grounds, the bank accounts and financial and membership records. But eventually, the two factions parted ways with the preacher and his supporters starting a new church.

Nearly 16 years ago, current pastor Anthony Taylor Sr. took the helm.

“We needed a very humble pastor,” Sanders said. “I prayed and asked God to send us one.”

He was raised on Broad Street and graduated from Sumter High in 1980, the same year the church added Wednesday night services.

“It’s a great blessing,” Taylor said about the 150th anniversary. “A church, as with anything, has a story. It’s not all good, but it’s unique to them and their history. It needs and ought to be celebrated.”

In 1997, the church began meeting every Sunday instead of alternating services with Rafting Creek Missionary Baptist Church.

LOOKING AHEAD

Each member has an area in the church where he or she would like to see growth.

Wright said she’d like to see a more active membership.

“They need to be strong in their belief,” she said. “There is training on how to operate in a church but not a lot of them take advantage. I’m not a preacher, but I know what one is supposed to do. I know what a deacon and a clerk is supposed to do.”

She’d also like to see the church purchase more property and expand.

Parker would like to see financial growth and a stronger adult Sunday school. He was previously a superintendent of Sunday school.

He’d also like to see more young people become active in ministry.

“People didn’t used to send their children to church,” Sanders said. “They took children to church.”

Parker said he’d like to see some more safety measures around the curve the church is situated on, too.

“My concern is always a spiritual concern,” Taylor said. “I’d like to see the love of the church and of God to expand and flourish. I’d like to see them in Bible study and see Sunday school grow. Sunday school and Bible study gives you the opportunity to ask questions. If you are only coming every Sunday, you can’t learn all about the God we serve and how He thinks and what He wants of us.”


SCHEDULED ACTIVITIES

The week of fellowship will kick off at 7 p.m. Monday night at the church, 7355 Camden Highway, Rembert, and will be held at that time all week. The culminating service will be at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

Monday: Welcome Reception, Mt. Pisgah Praise Angels will perform, a slide show of church events will be presented and light refreshments will be served.

Tuesday: The Rev. Edward Sanders will preach and his churches, Mt. Joshua Baptist, Camden, and Calvary Baptist, Pinewood, are invited

Wednesday: The Rev. Willie Dennis will preach and his church, Union Baptist, is invited.

Thursday: “An Appointment With History,” a dramatization of the church history will be performed.

Friday: The Rev. Eugene Dennis will preach and his church, Joshua Baptist, is invited.

Sunday: The Rev. Frederick Crawford will preach and his church Union Grove Baptist, Bronx, N.Y., is invited.

Reach Jade Anderson at (803) 774-1250.

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