These are the stages of people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord, and these are their stages according to their starting places. —Numbers 33:1-2 ESV
Originally the Union Hotel, the site of the Delevan Hotel (also known as the Delevan House and the "Mudwall") at the intersection of 7th and West Main Streets was originally built between 1826 and 1828 by Gen. John H. Cocke. The University of Virginia's Board of Visitors originally built the
Mudwall building — named for its Albemarle clay's tawny hue — as temperance housing for college students.
Prior to the Civil War, slaves and freed blacks worshiped under segregated conditions; African-American Baptists in Charlottesville attended services in the balcony of the White Charlottesville Baptist Church (later known as the First Baptist Church on Park Street).
During the Civil War, Confederates used the site, then known as the Delevan Hotel, as a hospital.
Shortly after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, approximately 800 African-American churchgoers submitted paperwork to the City of Charlottesville to form their own congregation.
Once approved, the new congregation began services in the parent church, apart from the white congregation under Rev. John T. Randolph.
Rev. John Walker George took the reigns of the congregation; he was the third, and the final, white pastor. With Rev. George's aid, the black congregation moved to the basement of the old Mudwall building. The congregation purchased the old hotel on August 20, 1868. The church became known at this point as the Delevan Baptist Church. Rev. William Gibbons became our first black pastor.
Under Rev. M.T. Lewis's ministry the old "Mudwall" building was condemned and torn down, and construction of a new church began on the same site. A cornerstone for a new building was laid. The congregation worshiped in Presbyterian and Episcopal churches during the construction.
The pipe organ was installed in 1890.
Under the leadership of Rev. R.C. Quarles, the first missionary was organized. Eva Coles Boone became the first missionary to travel to Africa in 1902.
The Calendar Club was established.
Under the leadership of Rev. C.L. Aiken, the choir balcony brass rails were installed.
The Memorial Club installed the swinging doors in the Sanctuary.
Rev. Benjamin F. Bunn became FBC's longest tenured pastor. Under Rev. Bunn's leadership, renovations were made to the steeple. The basement was also renovated to make room for classrooms and offices and the coal bin was converted into two restrooms.
The church was instrumental in educating African Americans during segregation, establishing the local chapter of the NAACP, and integrating patients at the University of Virginia Hospital.
The first women deacons were ordained.
On October 12, 1883, the basement was completed, which allowed the congregation to hold their worship service in the new building while the Sanctuary was still being built.
Services began in the newly completed Sanctuary after its dedication on January 2, 1884.
The church name was officially changed to the "First Colored Baptist Church of Charlottesville" on February 17,1884. The date "Colored" was officially dropped from the church's name is unknown.
Under the leadership of Rev. Alexander Truatt, the Young Gleaners Club installed chandeliers in the Sanctuary.
First Baptist Church joined the Southern Baptist Convention, becoming the only African-American church in Charlottesville or Albemarle County to hold such a membership. That same year, First Baptist also joined the Baptist General Convention of Virginia. It also had numerous members on its executive boards.
Rev. Bunn encouraged the members to get involved in civic and community affairs. Among its congregation came the first black member on the Board of the Welfare Department, and the first black member on the Charlottesville School Board.
First Baptist Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The historic landmark plaque was installed.
Under Rev. Lavert H. Taylor's leadership, the old paint was removed from the woodwork in the Sanctuary to restore the natural wood. Cables were attached to strengthen the ceiling trusses in the Sanctuary.
The Van Ministry was founded after the first church van was purchased. The Prison Ministries and the Nurses Ministries were also founded.
Joint services with sister churches were initiated.
Under Rev. Arthur James Only's leadership, the central air conditioning unit was installed.
Great strides were made to improve the praise and worship experience. The grand piano was purchased and production of the mass choir album "Doing It in His Name" was spearheaded.
Rev. Hodari Hamilton had a heart for family. Under his leadership, the Senior Choir, Children's Choir, and the Youth and Young Adults Choir (YaY) were formed as well as multiple activities for chil-dren. The FBC leadership team greatly expanded. The 4G teams were created (Grow, Grace, Give, and Glory).
The African American Teaching Fellows made its home at FBC. FBC also became a host for the Charlottesville Chapter of the NAACP.
Under Rev. Bruce A. Beard's leadership, a new parsonage and a new church van was purchased. The Annex Building next door to the church was also purchased. The first church library was formed and the Fellowship Hall and the Sanctuary were both remodeled.
The Disciple newsletter was created.
Rev. Beard established the "Transformation Ministries" structure, comprising of eight teams. Rev. Beard established the Sisters United in Christ Women's Ministry, the Audio Ministry, the Video Ministry, and the Disciples of Praise Choir.
In 2017, First Baptist Church began the process of searching for new pastoral leadership and reestablished their relationship with the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
In May 2018, the Rev. Dr. Jerome Odell Lee became the first Transitional Pastor of First Baptist Church. As the transitional pastor, Dr. Lee has been committed to providing spiritual guidance and leadership as the church goes through the process of preparing and prayerfully seeking God for new pastoral leadership. Within the first six months as the transitional pastor, Dr. Lee met with every ministry leader and ministry team, reestablished the Church Leadership Council, and instituted leadership education/ training for the Diaconate Ministry.
In 2018, First Baptist celebrated its 155th Anniversary as a beacon of light and hope to the city of Charlottesville and the surrounding area, but especially to the African-American Community. The anniversary's theme was "The Journey Continues: Stage by Stage" (Numbers 33:1-2). As First Baptist moves on this journey stage by stage, Dr. Lee encourages the church to enter a season of intentional praying. Each week, members gather seeking God's direction and guidance.
Under Dr. Lee's leadership, the church held the first Ministry Leaders and Workers Recognition Day, hired a Director of Music, purchased a new drum set, began the process of upgrading the church's website, established Spirit Day, and Ugly Christmas Sweater/ T-Shirt Sunday. With the leading of the Trustee Ministry, new carpet was installed in the annex, narthex, and sanctuary. Dr. Lee also led the church to develop a new budget process and budget for 2020.
Excitement was in the air as 2020 began. Then a global pandemic called COVID-19 struck which prevented groups of ten or more from gathering. All in-person church activities came to a halt. However, Dr. Lee has led the church through the Zoom Video Conferencing platform for all church-related activities and to begin the process of developing ministry plans during and beyond the pandemic.