THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
595 New Street
Macon, Georgia 31201
The First Baptist Church on Cotton Avenue was established by African-Americans more than a quarter of a century before the adoption of the
Emancipation Proclamation, which called for the freedom of all slaves on United States soil. Its origin was in the Baptist Church of Christ
at Macon. For the first eight years, whites and African-Americans worshipped in the same building. Records indicate that at the time, there
were two hundred eighty-three African-Americans and one hundred ninety-nine whites. In 1835, E.G. Cabiness, an early historian, wrote: "It's
thus seen that a majority of the church are slaves." As members of the racially mixed church, the African-Americans were to a great extent,
a distinct body. Alternate services were led under the direction of a licensed minister and deacons of their own color. Members exercised
authority to receive and exclude persons as members of their church body. The ordinances, however, were administered by the pastor of the
whole church. On March 1, 1845, land and building were deeded to the colored portion of the Baptist Church at Macon, "for religious services
and moral cultivation forever."
On October 5, 1860, the congregation called the Reverend Robert Cunningham, a white minister, to serve as their spiritual leader. His annual salary was One Hundred Fifty dollars ($150.00). The first ordained African-American minister of the church was Reverend Milton Tillinghast, who served for one year, 1866-1867. Succeeding pastors were Reverend Milus Wilburne and Henry Williams, 1878-1886. During Reverend Williams' administration, the church became a charter member of the National Baptist Convention.
The Reverend T.M. Robinson, who served 1887-1895, led the First Baptist Congregation into the building of the first unit and the laying of
the corner stone. Following Reverend Robinson's death, a dispute emerged among the congregation regarding the selection of a pastor. The
dispute resulted in the church being closed by court action in November, 1896. A settlement was reached with a split of membership. The
split gave rise to the birth of another church, Tremont Temple Baptist Church.
On December 27, 1896, the First Baptist Church called the Reverend W. G. Johnson as pastor, and the keys to the church were turned over to
him. The sanctuary was completed and the first worship service was held there on November 21, 1897. The building was paid for by 1903. Reverend
Johnson led in the formation of the Baptist Young Peoples Union (B.Y.P.U.), the installation of the city's first pipe organ in a "colored"
church, and witnessed the church membership grow to over one thousand nine hundred. Reverend Johnson was called to rest November 13, 1914.
Succeeding Reverend Johnson as pastors were Reverends T. L. Ballo, 1916-1917; S. E. Piercy, 1919-1925; G. L. Harris, 1926-1927; E. G. Thomas,
1928-1932; Sandy F. Ray, 1933-1936; Ronald Smith, 1936 and F. N. Marshburn, 1936-1940. The Reverend Earl Penn took the helm in 1941, paying
off the church's indebtedness of two thousand ($2,000.00) dollars. He resigned to enter the United States Army in 1945.
The Reverend H. J. Sherard served from 1946-1947. The Reverend A. F. Tyler was called in 1948 and served until 1953. He was followed by the Reverend Charles W. Ward in 1954. Under his leadership, two hundred four persons were baptized into the fellowship, and the Youth Fellowship, the Calendar Club, the Junior Ushers and the annual Bible School were organized. A new gas heating system, roof, lighting and rewiring of the entire building are some of the major accomplishments of his leadership which ended in 1959.
Reverend Van J. Malone assumed the pastorship in 1959. Under his leadership, one hundred seventy-six members were baptized into the membership. Boy Scout and Cub Scout Troops were chartered and the Progressive Club was organized. Reverend Malone led First Baptist in improving the first unit of the church building, the carpeting of the sanctuary, the constructing choir stands and installing an electric organ. His service as pastor ended in 1965, and the Reverend Marshell Stenson was called to lead the church. He served from 1965-1969. His labor was noted with extensive renovation of the first unit of the church, providing classrooms and a ladies lounge.
In 1970, the Reverend Julius C. Hope was called as pastor and served from 1970-1978. Under his administration, a new parsonage was built and paid for. Eleven acres of land were acquired at the price of one hundred thirteen thousand ($113,000.00) dollars for the relocation of the church and new church facilities. The Birth Month Club and the J. C. Hope Ushers were organized. Reverend Hope's love for the youth of the church led the way to the reviving of the youth department. Reverend Hope resigned to become the Religious Coordinator of the NAACP.
On May 1, 1979, the church called the Reverend John P. -Harris from the Trinity Baptist Church, Columbia, South Carolina. He served until
November 30, 1982 and was followed by Dr. Ronald E. Odom. Reverend Odom assumed his duties as pastor on March 13, 1983. During the period
that Dr. Odom was at First Baptist Church, additional organizations came into being which included the institution of Monthly Sheepfold,
Annual Family Day, the Voices of First Baptist Gospel Choir, Bible study classes, a Nurses Guild and the reorganization of the Youth Usher
Board. A radio broadcast ministry, known as The Lifeline Hour, began to serve the needs of the home bound, and a very successful Ministry for
the Deaf was instituted. Most notably, a renovation project for the exterior of the building was completed at a cost of two hundred thirty
thousand ($230,000.00) dollars. His service to the church came to an end on September 24, 1985 with his sudden death.
On October 12, 1987, the Reverend Carl K. Rolle was called as the twenty-fifth pastor of The First Baptist Church. The church was blessed with the brief and successful pastorate of the young Reverend Rolle. He made a lasting impact upon Macon and the Church. First Baptist witnessed growth in its fellowship. Changes were seen in its physical structure with the installation of an elevator. Reverend Rolle was a pastor noted for "lifting the hearts and lives of the people." He died while serving the Church on Sunday, June 18, 1989.
On January 7, 1990, the congregation met and followed the will of God by agreeing to extend an invitation to the Reverend Benjamin E. V. Lett, of Alabama, to take the helm as Pastor. In a few years, the church saw growth spiritually, financially and numerically. Members recommitted themselves to the kingdom building program at First Baptist Church. Evidence of this re-commitment was seen in greater worship attendance, increase of financial gifts, and an accelerated effort to render service in the giving of time and talents to the Lord. Extensive renovation was done on the first unit and grounds of the church. Special needs ministries were added to the church, such as the Singles Ministry, Couples Ministry and the Sisters-in-Christ. Other departments were revitalized. Notably, in 1997, the church started a Meal on Wheels ministry to feed those who are shut-in in the community. Twice a month over one hundred meals are prepared and delivered by the church. The congregation anticipated paying off a fifteen year indebtedness in 1999. Reverend Lett resigned and moved to Athens, Georgia to become the Director of Christian Education.
On March 28, 2004, the congregation called the twenty-seventh pastor, Reverend James W. Goolsby, Jr. of McDonough, Georgia to lead the congregation. Reverend Goolsby preached his first sermon as pastor of First Baptist Church on Sunday, April 4, 2004.
The First Baptist Church of Macon will continue to move forward under God's guidance as a church appointed and anointed to do His work.