When the Baptist denomination divided into pro-missionary Baptists and anti-missionary Baptists (called Primitive Baptists) in the 1820s, a small band of mission-minded members pulled out of the Red Banks Primitive Baptist Church and organized the Greenville Baptist Church, later renamed The Memorial Baptist Church.
Constituted on 2 July 1827, the Greenville Baptist Church was the first Baptist congregation in Greenville. Within three years, this small church in the small hamlet of Greenville would make an indelible mark on its journey of faith and secure its place in the history of North Carolina Baptists. In 1830, the infant church hosted the organizational meeting of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Over the next six decades, the Greenville Baptist congregation purchased a lot at Fourth and Greene Streets and constructed two church buildings. The first was a “little white wooden building with a picket fence.” In 1883, construction began on the second house of worship on the same lot and was completed seven years later. The “magnificent” church building was dedicated as a “memorial to the Baptist denomination” in commemoration of the founding of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in Greenville 60 years earlier. This new church house took a new name: The Memorial Baptist Church.
The new church with the new name remained at Fourth and Greene Streets through two twentieth-century world wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In 1973, the congregation moved from the downtown location that had been home for more than 140 years to a new ten-acre suburban site on Greenville Boulevard on which stood the newly constructed American colonial style sanctuary and adjoining educational wing. Within two decades, the congregation entered into a $1.5 million expansion program that included the addition of a children’s wing, fellowship hall, kitchen, office suite as well as a newly renovated music suite and church library. Tragically on January 13, 2007, an intentionally set fire destroyed the children’s wing and education wing and badly damaged the sanctuary. An outpouring of help from other churches as well as countless others enabled the church to continue to hold services and to begin immediately rebuilding the badly damaged facility.
Although the erection of church buildings is an important chapter in the church’s faith story, Memorial’s journey of faith is much more than bricks and mortar. On the journey, The Memorial Baptist Church has given birth to Immanuel Baptist Church and Oakmont Baptist Church and has partnered with Immanuel to birth Arlington Boulevard Baptist Church. Also, oral tradition holds that Memorial is the mother church of Sycamore Hill Baptist Church, an African American church.
Memorial’s missions ministry is under girded by a strong commitment to the mission of “Loving God and Our Neighbors from Greenville to the ends of the earth.” And its journey of faith is guided by a set of ministry core values identified by the acronym LOVING, the first word in the church’s mission statement. These values are life-sharing fellowship, outreach to the unsaved and un-churched, vital congregational worship, intentional disciple-making, needs-focused missions and ministry, and gift-based stewardship. With its rich inheritance from the past and its resolute dedication to these ministry core values, The Memorial Baptist Church will, no doubt, continue its journey of faith as a missional church far into the future.
Dr. Hugh Wease
Professor Emeritus; ECU Greenville, NC; Dept of History
Author of: A Journey of Faith, The Memorial Baptist Church 1827-2002