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WE, THE MEMBERS OF MAIN STREET BAPTIST CHURCH HOLD THESE HISTORIC BAPTIST BELIEFS AND PRINCIPALS:
- The Lordship of Jesus Christ
- The authority of the Holy Bible
- The priesthood of every believer
- The autonomy of the local church
- Religious liberty and soul freedom
This Church exists to celebrate, proclaim, and advance our redeemer's kingdom within the church fellowship, throughout our community and around the world. To that end we will worship, minister, witness, study, and live in keeping with his will and command.
To better fufill this purpose, we will join in voluntary cooperative effort with other churches for Fellowship, Mission, and Ministry. Our cooperative ties may include: The Petersburg Baptist Association, The Baptist General Association of Virginia, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. We will cooperate with fellow Baptists and with Christians of other denominations within the bounds of conscience and to the extent that these help, not hinder in doing the Lord's work.
Main Street Baptist Church was created on July 24, 1839, by John R. Chambliss, Joseph Turner, Edward Fisher, and Rebecca Goodwyn and originally named Hicksford Baptist Church. It was not until 1845, however, that it built its first sanctuary on a two-acre lot donated by Alexander Thomas Belfield Merritt near the present intersection of Brunswick Avenue and Ashby Street. Even before it had built this first sanctuary, the church was sponsoring the Zion Mission and had a membership of twenty-six whites and five blacks. By 1846, the church was conducting a Sunday School, which was attended by all of the pupils of a nearby boarding school. In 1872, the old wooden sanctuary was moved to a new location donated by Dr. John A. Smith on Main Street just north of the present sanctuary site. In 1873, the Cato family gave the church a 25’-wide portion of the neighboring lot to the south where James R. and William W. Cato had operated a blacksmith shop and coach-making business. In 1903, with the hiring of its first full-time minister J. M. Dunnaway, the church built its first parsonage on this “Cato property” (purchasing an additional 15’-wide strip adjacent to it in 1905) and the two-story wooden home stood until 1958 when a new brick parsonage was built on Church Street. That portion of the “Cato property” that formed the backyard of the original parsonage is now the site of the church’s Prayer Garden.
On September 6, 1906, Hicksford Baptist Church changed its name to Main Street Baptist Church. In 1912, the church exchanged land with Gordon Linwood Vincent, who lived adjacent to the church in the house we remember today as the home of his daughter Virginia Saffelle. By this exchange, Vincent acquired the land on which the church sanctuary stood, and the church acquired the lot south of its parsonage known as the “Academy Lot” because it was part of a larger tract that had once belonged to Belfield Academy. The purpose of this exchange was to provide the church with sufficient land for the construction of a larger brick sanctuary, which was begun the following year. The 1913 sanctuary stood at the southeast corner of the present sanctuary. In 1955, more land was acquired through gifts from R. L. Saffelle and R. J. Green in order to build the Educational Building behind the old parsonage. Land was also purchased from Howard T. Fox in 1955 for a parking lot and again from Mr. Fox in 1958 for a new parsonage. In 1964, additional parking space was purchased from Anna C. Green. In 1976 the church embarked on its most ambitious building project when it demolished the old brick sanctuary to make way for the present sanctuary, which was completed in 1978. In the interim, services were held in the Educational Building. In 1998, the church acquired through a gift from Lucille Goodwyn the remainder of the old “Academy Lot” extending to the corner of Church Street, and in 2002, it purchased the Vincent/Saffelle property extending from Main Street to Ingleside Avenue, including the site of the old wooden sanctuary that the church had previously owned from 1872-1912. This continual growth in the church property throughout its history denotes not so much the size or affluence of the congregation at any given time, but is rather a testament of God’s blessings and the faith the church has always had in its potential to serve the community in ever expanding ways in the future.
The history of the church’s property underscores the truism that life, even the life of the church, is under constant change. Main Street has had to adapt to changes in its affiliations as well as its physical make-up. In 1843, it sent its first delegates to the Portsmouth Association meeting, but in 1907, the association was divided and Main Street was moved to the newly created Petersburg Association, where it remains today. A more voluntary change was made in 1994 when the church moved its affiliation from the Southern Baptist Convention to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The life of a church also offers moments to celebrate. Though there are too many such moments to list here, a few that stand out, in addition to those already mentioned, are the purchase of our first organ ca. 1879, purchase of a tower bell in 1895, installation of electric lights in 1902, the first Vacation Bible School offered in 1930, and the first female deacons elected in 1977. Major celebrations have been the Centennial Celebration of 1939, the 135th Anniversary Celebration in 1974, the 150th Anniversary Celebration in 1989, the 165th Anniversary in 2004, and the 170th Anniversary Celebration in 2009.
From its inception, Main Street Baptist Church has served the community with an emphasis on missions. Though Zion Baptist Church near Skippers existed prior to the creation of Hicksford Baptist, from 1843 to 1968, it functioned as a mission of Hicksford. In 1906, Hicksford Baptist started a mission on Park Avenue that soon became the independent Park Avenue Baptist Church before moving to North Main Street in 1927 and changing its name to Calvary Baptist Church. Main Street Baptist and Calvary Baptist continued to share ministers until 1947. In 1957, Main Street and Calvary jointly sponsored a mission on Deal Street, and in 1963 Main Street sponsored a mission on Brunswick Avenue. Today, the church provides support for missions throughout the world.
Main Street Baptist Church has had a total of thirty-seven ministers, as well as a number of supply and interim ministers, youth ministers, and associate pastors. The church has also produced a number of ministers from its own ranks. Since 1950, at least eight individuals who were active in the church during their youth have attended seminary and pursued some form of Christian ministry. These include George Braswell, William Blalock, Clifton Collings, Kirkland Lashley, Wayne Grigg, David Hallingshead, Jeremy Slagle and Matthew Roberts. Today the church continues to encourage its young people through such programs as the acolyte program, annual mission trips, and the awarding of three annual college scholarships: the Dr. George W. Braswell Scholarship. The Margaret Grace Lifsey Scholarship, and the MSBC Memorial Scholarship created in memory of Dr. Jerry Niswonger, Angie Harris, and Keith Michael. Programs for adults include Baptist Brotherhood, Women on Mission and Young at Heart ( for adults ages 55 and up).
During more than 176 years, Main Street Baptist Church has experienced many changes. It has enjoyed good times and invested the gifts from those times in Christian service to the community. It has also overcome many challenges, emerging from the dark days hopeful and stronger and with faith that God’s plan for the church cannot fail. We celebrate this history as a prelude and an inspiration for renewed vigor and many more years of worship and service to Christ.
We are a caring family of faith, sharing a commitment to help persons discover and grow in their relationship to the God of Love and each other, touching lives here and around the world.