As a community bank, we are fortunate to be a trusted partner in making a lot of dreams come true. The dream of home ownership, of starting a new business, expanding an existing business, or in this case – rehabbing an existing organization. Today we are excited to share a tender story about a long-time customer, Greater Norris Chapel Baptist Church.
If you’re not familiar, Greater Norris Chapel Baptist Church sits on the corner of Washington Street and Julia Street in Henderson, KY’s East End. A tall building with lofty white walls that make you wonder what stories they have to tell, “if only the walls could speak.” The church has been a community pillar that Pastor Charles Johnson refers to as “the compass in helping families from all walks of life stay on the road that leads to Christ” for the last 147 years.
We have been fortunate to learn about this building’s rich history. Because it is Black History Month, we want to honor the history of how Greater Norris Chapel Baptist Church came to be the community symbol it is today by sharing details of its history and dedication to the Henderson, KY community.
Throughout the church’s 147-year history, there have been tough times, joyous times, and times that clearly fortify the glory of their mission. With the help of current church members, we’ve compiled a timeline of important events that highlight their journey, starting with the humble beginnings in 1840:
-the African Baptist Church organized in the basement of the First Baptist Church on Center and Elm Street. It is important to note that during those times, people of color had previously worshipped in secluded places and fields. They were now allowed into the building at a local Baptist church which at the time, housed an all-white congregation.
-the African Baptist Church developed into the First Baptist Church for the African Community.
-the leadership of the city of Henderson issued an order that the Black community was allowed to hold their religious services on Friday nights until 10 pm and every Sunday until sundown.
-the church followed these orders until they were repealed on July 27th of that same year, when they were only allowed Sunday services.
-soon, the congregation would find themselves without a house in which to even worship. For 21 years, the Black and White community members worshipped together until ties were severed after the Civil War.
-the African Baptist Church was made to leave the basement of the First Baptist Church on Center and Elm Street and asked to rely upon their own resources. Without a dollar to sustain them, the church had nowhere to hold their worship services.
-a committee was appointed in January 1866 to secure a place of worship for the church.
-on February 8th of that same year, a contract was signed with the old Methodist Church at the corner of Elm and Washington Street. This contract was to allow the African Baptist Church to hold their services in the building. They were now to be called the First Baptist Church.
-Rev. Lewis Norris was called to be the pastor of the church on October 23, 1867, and served for eight years. He resigned from his position in the church after internal division arose.
-Rev. L.B. Evans and some forty-four members of the First Baptist Church decided it was time to leave the church in hopes they could begin their own. With letters of membership dismissal from the First Baptist Church and a few hundred dollars, their church came to be known as the Fourth Street Baptist Church in Henderson. Rev. Lewis Norris, who had remained in Henderson, became the pastor.
-the Fourth Street Baptist Church purchased a corner lot on First and Adams Street and services were held there until the church burned in 1884. Only three cushioned pulpit chairs were saved.
-the Fourth Street Baptist Church burned in 1884. Only three cushioned pulpit chairs were saved.
-after the fire, members of the church worshipped in Turner’s Woods by candlelight and then in various member’s homes until they found a new place of worship; the Old Pollard building on First and Green Street.
-shortly after their move to the Old Pollard Building, a new pastor was called to serve, Rev. Tobe Gardner. Rev. Gardner stayed as pastor from 1885-1887.
-the present ground that Greater Norris Chapel Baptist Church now stands on was purchased for $80.00.
Fast forward over a century to 2018 when the church began to renovate its beloved sanctuary. The first step of a major renovation project took place with the restoration of the stained-glass windows in the sanctuary. The second phase, which took place in 2019, saw the replacement of the windows in the remainder of the church. The third phase began in 2020 with the outside of the church building being cleaned, repaired, and painted. The inside of the building is currently being renovated and they anticipate the renovation being completed in 2021.
Greater Norris Chapel Baptist Church has seen 22 pastors be called to serve and each made their mark on the church. Those leaders were not only spiritual leaders in the church but have served both in community and civic roles. The church continues to impact and revitalize the community by reaching out and offering ministries to the greater community of Henderson. We wanted to highlight some of the great and often thankless work that they do to Build Community.
Currently, they are the only Black church in Henderson to participate in the Meals on Wheels program. They serve and deliver hot meals to church members who are sick and shut-in and even deliver to non-members when requests are submitted.
The church also partners with Henderson Community College and other local African-American churches to help host Super Sunday at the college. This yearly event increases awareness about college opportunities for students of color. They have and continue to receive deserved accolades and recognition for their community work from the Henderson Community College.
Each year the church hosts a special program for those who have graduated high school and college called “Month of May Salute to Our Graduates” where they honor the outstanding academic achievements of graduates in their church congregation.
They also participate in the neighborhood Trunk-or-Treat with other local churches each October.
The church was instrumental in the naming of a local school building – the Thelma B. Johnson Early Learning Center – after one of their adored church members. Ms. Thelma B. Johnson, who passed at the age of 103, made a large impact on the Henderson community and our Commonwealth. She called Greater Norris Chapel Baptist Church her place of worship.
There is no doubt the church has seen blessings and hardships during its 147 years of existence. But they remain steadfast – fight the good fight – and have come out on the winning side many times.
Our community is better because of churches like Greater Norris Chapel Baptist Church. While our community may have failed to recognize that in past times, we take a moment during Black History Month to share with you all the good they have done and are continuing to do for all of us.
With each church service they share this message:
“Our history is rich, our present is bright, and future looks promising. The same God that has brought us this far is able to keep us. To God Be the Glory as we ENTER INTO THIS BUILDING TO WORSHIP AND DEPART TO SERVE”
And boy, do they ever fulfill it. Field & Main Bank is thankful for the hard work and dedication of the members of Greater Norris Chapel Baptist Church. We have had many opportunities to serve our community alongside them and their dedication to Build Community is extraordinary. We are lucky to serve in a community where churches like theirs exist.