History of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church
1912 – 2014
The history of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church is linked to that of the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church. A chain of events took place in 1910 and 1911 at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church which led to the establishment of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church on July 12, 1912. A group of twenty-three men and Women withdrew their membership from The Vermont Avenue Baptist Church and faced the problem of finding a place in which they might hold their services. They met in the homes of various members of their group.
Later, they organized themselves into a group that they named The Excelsior Circle. They moved to Wínslow’s Hall, at Twelfth and R Streets, N.W., where, on July l2, 1912, at 2:00 pm, our church came into being, formaally organized by the late Reverend W. Bishop Johnson, Pastor of The Second Baptist Church of Washington, D.C.
The founders of our church were Sisters Frances Roots, Margaret McCorbin, Ida Brown, Martha Harris, Susan Langhorne, Lucille Bobbitt, Mildred Towles, Lillie B. Gibson, Annie Barnes, Annie Woodrow, Lucy Jackson, Fannie Holmes, Sadie Walker, Lula Davis, Ella Bowler, Alice Neal, Marie Snyder, Carrie McIntosh and Cleo Johnson; Brothers James Jackson, Charles Roy, William Bush and Henry Snyder.
Soon after its organization, approximately two hundred people joined the infant church. These members, with the founders, worked untiringly in the young church. Officers were elected, a sexton was appointed, and church clubs were formed. The Verbena, the Fleur-de-lis, the Progressive, the Reapers, and the Eureka Clubs were organized. None of these clubs are in existence today.
A search began for a permanent place of Worship. A church, then known as the Gurley Memorial Presbyterian Church, was for sale for $25,000. An initial payment of $2,000 was required. Each member cheerfully contributed, and on the fourth Sunday in December 1912, the first service was held in the newly acquired edifice, under the name, The Florida Avenue Baptist Church.
The next step was to call a minister. In Newport News, VA, a brilliant young clergyman, Rev. William A. Taylor indicated his interest in pastoring this energetic group. After intensive prayerful deliberations, Rev. Taylor was selected from the group of candidates to become the first minister. He accepted the call in April 1913.
The church progressed during Rev. Taylor’s 24 years of service. The church was enlarged, other clubs were organized, several sons of the church were prepared for theministry and the building was beautified. The impact of Rev. Taylor’s work was felt throughout the city. His ministry ended with his death in April 1937.
In November 1937, Rev. Robert L. Rollins, a son of the church who was pastoring the Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Arlington, VA was called as the second pastor of our church. He preached his first sermon in January 1938.
The church entered into the life of the community. New members joined the church, new clubs were organized, several singing groups were formed and young people’s groups took on new enthusiasm and vigor. Under Dr. Rollins’ leadership, the church was renovated and expanded. The mortgage on this renovation was burned in 1947′ by the late Deaconess Mildred Towles and the late Deacon Lindsey Jones.
Dr. Rollins was not only a dedicated leader but also a man of vision who saw the need for a new building that would house a growing congregation. The members eagerly accepted the challenge and decided the new church and education building would be erected on the site of the old one.
Our last Communion Service in the old church was held on Sunday, July 15, 1962. Final Prayer and Testimonial Services were held on July 17, 1962. After much hard work the cornerstone for our present building was laid on November 7, 1964 and combined dedication and anniversary services were held from October 25 through November 16, 1964. The new building was dedicated on Sunday, November 15, 1964. We were able to burn the mortgage on our present edifice and the Robert L. Rollins Educational Building on July 15, 1971. Dr. Rollins, having worked hard and accomplished many goals,
departed this life on March 14, 1972.
Our leaders and members kept the church moving onward and upward and in July 1973, Rev. Everett E. Smith, Jr. was called to be our third pastor. He assumed pastorate of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church on October 14, 1973.
During his tenure, Rev. Smith demonstrated innovative leadership in three main areas of our church life-church facilities, social services and worship. Innovations of his leadership in the area of facilities led to the purchase of two buses, a van, remodeling of the choir loft and pulpit in 1987 and the installation of the elevator in 1992. Social services innovations included the Feeding the Hungry Program, a clothing ministry, Share Program, board and church retreats, implementation of the LEAP program for boys ages 9-12 and organization of the Birthday Circles.
Rev. Smith’s innovations in Worship included a Tape and Radio ministry, monthly newsletter, the Voices of Praise, the Celestial Trinity Choir, the Minister of Music, and the Volunteer Choir for funerals.
Rev. Smith made his mark in history at the Florida Avenue Baptist Church with the ordination of three women deacons. They were Pauline D. Young, Linda L. Washington and Cynthia O. Jenkins-Smith. He also licensed Paula Shaw Bowman, the first woman in our church’s history to preach. He licensed and ordained Lorenzo Hill and John McLean and licensed Robert Gibson, Robert Ewell, Alan Haskins, William Moultrie and Gregory Thompson.
Rev. Smith retired after 20 years of dedicated service on May 16, 1993. He departed this life on March 26, 1994.
A search committee was formed to ‘begin the search for a new leader of this flock. During the search for a new pastor Dr. Clark Houston was the interim pastor.
After a 16 month Search, Dr. Earl D. Trent Jr. was elected as our fourth Pastor on July 30, 1994. On Sunday, December 4, 1994, he left the pastorate of the St. Paul’s Baptist Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania and delivered his first sermon as the pastor-elect of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church. On March 26, 1995, Dr. Trent was officially installed as the Senior Pastor and our church entered a new era of ministry.
Dr. Trent arrived with a tremendous divinely inspired vision for a modern church. Florida Avenue Baptist Church would become a discipleship center inviting people to come experience Christ and then teaching them the living reality of our faith through the discovery and use of the talents and gifts God has given them. Our ministry was not to be haphazard or random, but thoughtful, organized, strategic and a model for others to emulate.
The focus of our ministry now is on discipleship that makes a difference. Our ministry focuses on five pillars: Stewardship, Education, Evangelism, Missions, and Social Justice.
One of Dr. Trent’s favorite saying is “We do not try to do everything, but we make sure quality is in everything we do. We are here to make a difference in the lives of men, women, boys and girls in this church, this community, and even throughoutthe world. We are a mid-size church striving to have a mega-size impact. ”
To that end the church helped to revitalize the LeDroit Park Civic Association, which resulted in a multi-million dollar investment by Howard University, Verizon, and Fannie Mae in the LeDroit Park neighborhood. The project renovated and built 50 homes and became a national showcase for cooperative neighborhood improvement. Under Dr. Trent’s leadership, the former Gage Eckington School was adopted and a mentoring program for black boys was established. Also the Florida Avenue Renaissance Project, a nonprofit community development corporation, was formed instituting summer and after school enrichment programs. Our House, a Saturday school for Bible studies and arts enrichment, was established and began having an annual Black history production featuring original scripts and young people from 4 through 17 years of age.
Mo’ Than Jazz, a music and cultural arts series, is one of the unique monthly ministries started by Dr. Trent in celebration and preservation of our music as Black Americans. Each Sunday worship service is designed to incorporate the wide variety of our church music with hymns, anthems, spirituals, and gospel. The recent purchase of a Rodgers digital pipe organ has greatly enhanced the musical offerings.
Both nationally and internationally the church has made a difference. When the oldest Black township in the United States, Princeville, North Carolina was nearly destroyed in 1999, Dr. Trent led building teams on ive trips to help in the reconstruction. Building teams have been sent to New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana in response to Hurricane Katrina and worked with Habitat for Humanity in Charlotte, North Carolina and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Dr. Trent has traveled extensively on missions to South Africa, Liberia, the Bahamas and Haiti. He has served as the Executive Director of Missions for the Progressive National Baptist Convention and on many other boards. Most notably Dr. Trent is the first African American Chairman of the Board of Directors of Church World Service, an interdenominational hunger relief organization consisting of 37 denominations and an annual budget of $83 million dollars.
Innovative ideas and progressive actions have become integrated into the life of Florida Avenue Baptist Church under Dr. Trent’s leadership. As a church we have committed to new health awareness. Throughout the year seminars are held on various topics related to the needs of the congregation. Once a month from spring to early fall, a casual dress Sunday is held where people are urged to dress comfortably, service is abbreviated, and all are encouraged to walk the brief two miles to the National Mall, explore one of the museums or attend an event and walk back to the church. Annually for the last three years we have sold out our benefit concert to raise awareness of sickle cell disease. Over $26,000 has been raised to support families of loved ones with the disease.
Significant renovations have taken place as part of the mission of the church to remain in the core of the urban community. These include the church sanctuary, administrative offices, restrooms, education building and two rental properties. In 2007 an additional rental property- 635 Florida Avenue- was acquired.
As we entered the 21st century, Dr. Trent emphasized that ministry must be done in new ways and that Florida Avenue Baptist Church should become a model for others. On April 28, 2011, this part of the vision was fulfilled as we activated our 10kw solar power system. We became the first African American church in the Washington, DC metro area to go solar and one of only a handful of African American churches in the nation. This achievement received media attention throughout the world. Subsequently, our story became part of a nationally televised PBS special, America Revealed. Local organizations visit regularly to examine our system and we have also hosted a number of international delegations.
As we celebrate the foundations of our future, We thank God for the vision and leadership He has provided through his servants, William A. Taylor, Robert L. Rollins, Everett Eugene Smith, and Earl D. Trent Jr. over these one hundred years.