A BRIEF HISTORY OF GREATER FIRST BAPITST CHURCH ORLANDO: 1923-2011
RENAMED GREATER FIRST BAPTIST MARCH 28, 2001 - REBUILT 2002
The First Baptist Church Orlando was organized during 1923, under the leadership of Brother Isaac Smith. It began as a Bush Church and, during the early years, flourished under such leaders as Sister Clara Dixon, Sister Annie Brown, Deacon Ulysses Turner, Deacon Joe Johnson, Deacon Arthur Evans and others. Rev. Jacob Vann served as the first pastor for a short while, and Rev. Jason King became the pastor in 1936. The church was remodeled under his leadership and the membership grew. After 39 years of faithful and devoted service, death took him from the church in 1975. In February 1976, Rev. Henry G. Baker preached his first sermon as Pastor-Elect, and on April 11, 1976, was officially installed as pastor while still a student at Union Christian Bible Institute.
The challenge of pastoring First Baptist Church was clear and great. Pastor Baker, along with his wife Mrs. Lucy and his son Michael, took on the challenge with great courage. By the end of 1978, the church had been completely remodeled to include indoor restrooms, a study, and a renovated kitchen. Later, a new choir stand, modern fixtures, an expanded pulpit area, new baptismal pool, and central air and heat were added. A new piano was purchased and a hundred new hymnals; and new and creative auxiliaries were formed. More than 120 members joined and were in regular attendance. A bus was purchased and the church structure was bricked. In 1985, after successfully pastoring First Baptist for ten years, Pastor Baker was called to Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Freeman, VA.
On Easter Sunday, March 30, 1986, Rev. James Edwards III was called to Pastor and served for eight years. Many new members joined the church. Drives to give Thanksgiving baskets to the needy and Christmas Toys for Tots were begun. A down payment was made on a new church van that was dedicated on February 22, 1987. In May the church joined the Tidewater Food Bank and the van was used to pick up and deliver the food. On February 3, 1991, the church licensed Sister Betty A. Montgomery as the first female minister in the history of the church. God’s ministry at First Baptist was greatly blessed during Rev. Edwards’ pastorate. Then early 1994 he was called to pastor the Rose of Sharon Baptist Church, Chesapeake, VA.
Rev. Henry G. Baker returned to the church on the 3rd Sunday in October 1994 with his sleeves rolled up and ready to carry out a new vision. In his second tenure astonishing achievements were made to the Glory of God. Two ministers were ordained: Rev. Betty A. Montgomery, who was elevated to Assistant Pastor, and Rev. S. Allison Baker, who serves as Associate Pastor at (CC), in Columbia, South Carolina. Rev. Andre L. Powell Sr. was licensed in 2007 and called two years later to pastor Lebanon Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Gatesville, North Carolina. Three others licensed were Minister Margie N. Jefferson, who led the Mission’s Ministry; Minister Wong-ya G. Jones Sr., and Minister George D. Bailey Jr. Additionally, Rev. Carlethia W. McCollum joined the fellowship and serves faithfully as Youth Pastor. In March 2001 the church was renamed Greater First Baptist Orlando. A new church van was purchased, as well as a new Hammond Organ and ten lots surrounding the original structure. On the 3rd Sunday in August 2002, the current $1.5 million edifice was dedicated. Five new deacons and five new deaconesses were added and nine new trustees were appointed and certified by the courts.
The church continued to grow tremendously and became among the most renowned Baptist churches in South Hampton Roads receiving honors and recognitions from the United States Military, the NAACP, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Tidewater Chapter of the Smart Set Club, The Orlando Community Development Corporation, Suffolk Federated Civic Leagues, National Association of Housing and Redevelopment, U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the President of the United States, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and several United States Senators, Congressmen, and Mayors of the City.
In 2005 the Fellowship Hall was completely renovated and named after two pillars of the church: the late Sister Estella Hall and Deacon Clyde Turner. Professional stained glass windows were installed in the sanctuary by members in memory and honor of family and friends, and a magnificent baby grand piano was donated. After 16 years, Rev. Baker preached his retirement sermon on October 17, 2010. Three months later, in January 2011, the congregation voted unanimously to extend the call to Rev. Moses Ware to serve as the next pastor.
Members of Greater First Baptist Church Orlando have much to be thankful for and constantly offer praise and honor to God for the great things He has done and continues to do through them.
*Disclaimer: Due to loss of documents, the early history of the church is limited