A brief history of our church.

Sharing God`s Grace... Since 1900
As the first year of the 20th Century was drawing to a close, a small group of dedicated Baptists resolved to establish a second Baptist church in the city of Sumter. These Christian visionaries, all members of the First Baptist Church, had witnessed the growth of Sumter and saw an opportunity for more energetic mission work.  The city’s population 100 years after it’s founding in 1800 had reached 5,573.  It was their belief that another church would afford an accessible church home for many families living in the southwestern part of the city.  This area had experienced a population explosion with the coming of the railroad to Sumterville in 1852.

Bartlette Street Baptist Church
On October 24, 1900, a lot at the northeast corner of Bartlette and Sumter Streets measuring 70x100 feet was purchased for $350.00 and conveyed to trustee, Joel E. Brunson and Dr. John S. Hughson.  Bartlette Street Baptist Church was the name chosen for the new church.

The organizational meeting was held on November 11, 1900 in the Lutheran Church.  Among those present were Dr. T.M. Bailey, Secretary of State Missions for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, Dr. C.C. Brown, Pastor of First Baptist Church, and Deacons of that church, Rev. John O. Gough, Rev. J.I. Ayers and the 15 charter members, representing four families:  Mr. And Mrs. Joel Edgar Brunson and daughters, Mary Stewart and Margaret Lansdell; Mr. And Mrs. E.C. Haynsworth; Dr. John Scott Hughson and daughters:  Mary “Mamie”, Edna, Lucille, Bess and Celeste; Mr. And Mrs. William Francis Rhame and son, Bryan J.

The First Pastor
The newly chartered church called Rev. Frank Millard Satterwhite, a Virginia native serving in Blenheim, S.C. as its first pastor.  He moved his wife and three daughters to Sumter to begin the ministry on January 13, 1901.  He led the fledgling church through its first decade.  The Baptist Courier referred to him in 1902 as “one of the best men and wisest leaders in the state, a quiet gentleman of deep convictions, teaching by example as well as by precept.”

On March 8, 1901 the small white frame church building was completed at a cost of $1,400.00 – and debt free when the first service was held two days later, March 10.  The dedication on June 2 was “ a service which will long be remembered by those present” according to the Sumter Daily Item.  Over the door of the church in large letters was the word “Welcome”.  The community dubbed the church “the Welcome Church”.  Through the years this title was retained through name changes and moves and long after the little frame church was covered in brick and converted to an education building for the large Grace Church House.  A parsonage was constructed on the lot adjoining the church in 1903.The church grew rapidly and by 1908 had increased ten fold – 150 members.  A committee was appointed to find a new location.

Washington Street Baptist Church
On November 19, 1908 the committee purchased a lot, 180x121 at the corner of North Washington and Calhoun Streets for $4,600.00.  The tiny frame church was rolled across town and placed at the rear of the lot to provide a place of worship until larger facilities could be built.  Church services were held enroute.  On December 28, the name was changed to Washington Street Baptist Church. Rev. Satterwhite, realizing the need for larger facilities, felt his failing health would not permit him to go through the rigors of a building program.  He resigned January 1, 1911 to take a pastorate in York, SC, but not before he strongly recommended neighboring pastor, Rev. James Nedham Tolar, as his successor.  He had built churches in Summerton and Pinewood.  Rev. Satterwhite felt Tolar was God’s man to lead this church in a building program. Dr. A.C. Wilkins served as the first interim pastor.

The Second Pastor
Rev. and Mrs. Tolar with their son and daughter made the short move from Summerton to begin the ministry on April 1, 1911.  According to his writings his first year was spent “talking about a building, the second getting a committee together, and the third getting it built.” On September 12, 1913 his log noted, “The contract for new church was let today for $16,000.  A great work!”  The ground breaking on November 24, 1913 got the building program underway.  The name was changed to Grace Baptist Church on April 12, 1914.  The dream of years was realized three months later on July 12, as the congregation worshipped and dedicated the new domed brick church with large white columns on the corner of Washington and Calhoun Streets.

The new building allowed expansion of all church programs. The Bartlette and Washington Street Church House now provided the first Sunday School building for Grace Baptist Church. Music, an integral part of worship even in the infancy of the church, flourished under the devoted 50-year leadership of Mrs. J.A. (Edna Hughson) McKnight. Rev. Tolar, the “building preacher” weary after three successive building programs, ended his pastorate at Grace on November 1, 1915.

The Third Pastor
On January 16, 1916, Dr. John A. Brunson began his quarter century ministry at Grace, the longest in our history.  To members of that era the name brings smiles and warm remembrances of this saintly pastor whose service spanned two world wars and the Great Depression.

Dr. Brunson married Sophia Boatwright of Ridge Spring.  After receiving a degree from the Medical College of Ohio, she became one of the pioneer women doctors of the South practicing for 50 years.  Their daughter, Sophia, was born in 1890 in Japan where he pioneered Baptist missions work.  Dr. Brunson, at age 53, was the oldest of our nine pastors when he moved his family to Sumter.

He was a profound student of the Bible, writer, prayer warrior, pioneer missionary and was mighty in the scriptures with a commanding pulpit presence.”  He stood 6 feet - 6 inches tall!  He was an acknowledged scholar in biblical prophecy and secular history. The membership grew from 325 when the church building was completed in 1914 to 620 in 1940 with Sunday School rolls more than doubling from 213 to 450.  Contributions averaged $500 monthly.  The church, a member of the Charleston Association since 1910, united with the Santee Association in 1917. In 1930, the original Bartlette Street building was enlarged and renovated as an Education Building and connected to the Church House.  The mortgage on all properties was burned at the 40th Anniversary and Homecoming Celebration on November 3, 1940.  Dr. Brunson tried to retire at this time but the congregation would not let him.  When he became too weak to stand, he preached sitting in a rocking chair, using a lapboard for his Bible and notes.  He was named Pastor Emeritus and preached his last sermon on September 14, 1941.  Dr. Brunson died on November 22, 1943.  During Homecoming services in 1985, the Chapel was named for this beloved servant of God.  A bronze nameplate marks each entrance.

The Fourth Pastor
Rev. James Henry Simpson began his ministry on September 21, 1941.  He and Mrs. Simpson moved to Sumter in the midst of dramatic community changes.  Shaw Field, a training base for the Army Air Corps, opened on August 30.  Pearl Harbor plunged us into World War II, and the new pastor and congregation were joined together with Shaw and the community in home front efforts.

Rev. Simpson was known as the “Sunday School Preacher” because of the growing Sunday School and his belief that Sunday School rolls should be larger than church membership.  To ease overcrowding, a house next door and barracks from Fort Jackson were purchased. In 1950 a new pastorium was built on Winn Street so the one beside the church could be used for Sunday School. The church more than doubled during his 12-year ministry - from 620 at the end of 1940 to 1397 in 1953.  The church adopted the Cooperative Program in 1942 and its first missionary, Miss Pearl Johnson, a native of Union serving in China.  Her annual salary was $1,000.  The music ministry was enhanced with the first pipe organ, and stained glass memorial windows (same ones we enjoy in the present church) were installed when the sanctuary was renovated in 1948.

On August 4, 1948, A.J. Hatfield offered a lot on North Main Street for a Mission Station.  On March 1, 1949, $8,500 was approved for a building.  On December 7, 1949 our mission became Northside Memorial Baptist Church, in memory of A.J. Hatfield, Jr. killed in World War II. Rev. Simpson completed his ministry at Grace on October 1, 1953.  Rev. John A. Jester served as interim pastor.

The Fifth Pastor
The fifth pastor of Grace, Rev. William Knox Lambert, began his 15-year ministry on March 1, 1954.  The benevolent and caring spirit of this colorful, exuberant man of God was well known, and he endeared himself to the Sumter community.

The Lamberts and family, son Billy and daughters Betsy and Nancy, came to Grace at a time of great challenge and opportunity - and many problems, like raising a quarter of a million dollars to construct an Education Building.

Temporary buildings used for Sunday School during the past decade had to be torn down to make way for the new building.  Teachers and members walked down Calhoun Street each Sunday to McLaurin Junior High School and conducted Sunday School in the building that was demolished to make way for our present sanctuary.

On June 14, 1955 ground was broken for the three - story air conditioned building housing all ages of the Sunday School, a kitchen, chapel, choir rehearsal room and church offices.  Dedicated on May 3, 1956 the dream of an education building for Grace had finally come true.  The mortgage was burned on this $313,000 capital improvement program eight years after its completion on November 12, 1964.

The first Minister of Music and Education, Edward C. Wade, was called in 1964.  He served until 1967.  September 27, 1964 was declared “A.D. Rodgers Day” as this servant of Grace was honored for 21 years as Sunday School Superintendent.  E.B. Hubbard, Jr. (current Superintendent) was named as his successor.  The music program was expanded with graded choirs.  The choir loft was enlarged to accommodate the growing youth and adult choirs and 50 new robes were ordered. It was during this time that the church and Sunday School membership of Grace became the largest in Sumter, from 1397 members in 1953 to more than 1800 the last four years of the Lambert ministry.  His total baptisms at Grace numbered 683.  The present kindergarten was begun during this era. After the retirement of our missionary, the church adopted the pastor’s cousin, Miss Rebecca Lambert, missionary to Korea.

Mr. Lambert was a visionary and throughout the years the church purchased properties as they became available to meet parking needs and future expansion.  In 1967, the church’s property was appraised at $600,000. Tragedy struck in November 1967 as Billy Lambert died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident in Knoxville, Tennessee. In September 1968 Cecil E. Hall became the second Minister of Music and Education.  His responsibilities became more challenging three weeks later when Rev. Lambert resigned, completing his ministry at Grace on October 28, 1968.

Cecil Hall served Grace until 1975.  He was noted for his organizational skills.  He is credited with many “firsts” among them are the Church Council, Youth Week and the XYZ (Extra Years of Zest) a monthly meeting bringing senior adults together for food, fellowship, and fun.  His ministry with youth was outstanding.  He was a strong Sunday School leader.  Each year he enlisted a group of state workers to come lead and train Sunday School workers.  Louise Hall, his wife and partner in ministry, is a cherished member of Grace today.

Dr. C. Frank Pittman served in the interim.

The Sixth Pastor
Rev. J. Wayne Levan began his ministry on August 2, 1969.  He and Mrs. Levan with their teenage son, Dale, moved into the newly acquired pastorium at 710 Reynolds Road.

He led the church into the eventful years of the 1970s.  The Vietnam War, the advent of the drug culture and the banning of prayer in the nation’s schools were some of the issues the country was facing.  1970, the Tri-centennial year of South Carolina marked a milestone in the history of Grace Baptist Church as 70 years was celebrated at Homecoming on May 24, the first recorded celebration since 1940.  The first pictorial church directory was published.  In May the church purchased its first bus, a 1957 39 passenger with 50,000 miles with funds bequeathed to the church by Earl C. Witherspoon in 1968.  During this ministry several properties were acquired assuring ample room for expansion on either side of Washington Street.

In 1974 Ward Gailey was hired to assist with music and youth serving two years.  Dale Levan surrendered to the ministry during his father’s tenure and was licensed by the church on January 15, 1975, just before Rev. Levan completed his almost six-year ministry on February 2. Rev. Jesse M. Hill was called as interim pastor.  On November 19, 1975 just prior to her move to the Bethea Home, the first church library was dedicated and named the “Grace Wells Library” in honor of the beloved, retired missionary who had worked so hard establishing it.

The Seventh Pastor
Sunday, July 4, 1976 we welcomed our seventh pastor, Rev. Harold Leonard Sorrells and family, wife Joanne, sons Paul and John, and daughter Ann, and celebrated the Bicentennial of our nation!

Rev. Sorrells and his cousin, Knox Lambert were reared on adjoining farms in Petersburg, Tennessee, and both were ordained by Hannah’s Gap Baptist Church. On September 1 Jean Peoples began his 12 year ministry as Minister of Music.

A church business conference on June 8, 1977 triggered a series of events that altered the course of history for Grace.  Rev. Sorrells established a committee to “survey needs of the church and formulate a plan of action to repair, redecorate, remodel, and restore our church buildings.”  This led to the selling of our property to Tuomey Hospital for $1.1 million, purchasing the long vacant McLaurin Junior High Campus one block away as our third church site for $185,000, embarking on “Together We Build” - raising $500,720, surpassing the “Hallelujah Goal of $400,000.

Our pastor completed his doctorate in June 1980.  On Sunday, October 31, 1982, Dr. Sorrells and the congregation walked down Calhoun Street to our lot and broke ground. Five months later, on March 26, 1983, an automobile accident in Spartanburg County claimed the lives of Dr. and Mrs. Sorrells as they were returning from a Christian Life Seminar in Louisville, Kentucky.  Two of the three Sorrells children, Ann and Paul and his family, are part of our fellowship today. In November, Dr. Harold Cole became interim pastor.  He led in the first worship service on February 19, 1984, the Dedication on April 1, the Organ Dedication and Recital on April 8 and the laying of the cornerstone on May 20.  A second TWB program was begun on June 29.  Dr. Thomas Painter succeeded Dr. Cole on July 1.  He served until the calling of our eighth pastor.

The Eighth Pastor
A new era began at Grace as we welcomed the first pastor in our new church house.  Dr. Gary Edmund Parker, youngest at age 31, brought his wife, Melody and baby daughter, Andrea Joy with him. On October 1, Rev. David Qualls joined him as the first Minister of Education and Youth in the new building.  Together, they expanded discipleship programs and tremendous growth was experienced as people responded to the new theme, “Come Grow with Grace.”

Dr. Parker established our now traditional Homecoming observance with the 1985 Historical Celebration honoring the forefathers of Grace.  A bronze plaque was hung in the narthex.  Many charter member descendants attended.  The only member descendant in the church in 2000 as we celebrate our centennial is Celeste “Les” Moses Hubbard (Hughson Family).

During his five year ministry the church entered the computer age, purchased a 1978 47 - passenger bus, purchased properties on Calhoun and Church Streets, initiated the television ministry, sent several members and staff on mission trips to participating countries, voted to build an Education building as one of the “9 Toward 90” recommendations of the Long Range Planning Taskforce he established early in the ministry and retired the debt for our third church house.  The October 21, 1987 issue of the Messenger brought the good news to members: “To God Be the Glory”…We Will Burn The Mortgage! Total  TWB II Commitment $380,476 Total Paid to Date $381,174 We burned it at Homecoming on November 8, 1987.

1988 was an historic year!  On March 18, we welcomed Ashley Elizabeth Grace Parker, the first child born to an actively serving pastor in our history. The WMU Centennial was celebrated all year.  On April 24, Grace celebrated the centennial with a parade of flags representing the nations.  Louise Hall and Reona Hodge represented Grace at the WMU Centennial Celebration in Richmond, Virginia, May 13-15.  Louise marched in the parade of states. Rev. Jean Peoples retired after 12 years of service on August 31.  Rev. Qualls completed his ministry of three years on September 25. 1989 brought three new ministers to Grace and a Hurricane named Hugo.  Rev. Steve and Lisa Shumake and daughters, Whitney and Jessica visited at Homecoming 1988, and Grace called a new Minister of Music and Administration.  He began his ministry at Grace on January 8, 1989.  Enthusiastic, energetic and full of ideas, he has established many traditions, new programs and continues to provide a dynamic music ministry as he approaches the 12-year service mark. Gregory Franklin Cole began his service as Minister of Education and Outreach on May 7.  He and his wife, Joy had just graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Grace experiencing much growth in the years of the Parker ministry felt the need to call a fourth minister - Minister of Youth and Family Life.  Boyd Lee Herring accepted the call on August 6.  With a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern in hand, he and his wife, Gina arrived in Sumter just in time to accompany the Youth to Ridgecrest for Youth Week. On September 22, 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit Sumter.  The eye of the storm passed directly over Sumter.  Winds of 110 mph were clocked, and Shaw’s radar noted over 200 tornadoes in the area.  The city was devastated, without power, water, and sewer, and many were homeless.  Teams of workers came from across the country to help.  Grace sustained damage to the gym roof, but was able to help house and feed many volunteers who came to help. Dr. Parker completed his ministry at Grace on March 11, 1990.  Once again Dr. Harold Cole came back to help in the interim, this time assisted by three strong support ministers. Grace established its third “Together We Build” program on May 20, 1990 to build an Education building. The church hosted a birthday celebration on August 11, 1990 for its first centenarian, Mrs. Maude Richardson.  Dr. Parker, who had promised “a big church birthday party” for her 100th came back to help fulfill his promise and have a book signing at Waldenbooks for his recently published book.  Maude Owens came to Bartlette Street Church with her family as a 10 year old and claimed a “special connection” with all nine pastors at all three locations.  Born August 15, 1890, she died on January 13, 1992 at age 101.

The Ninth Pastor
Dr. James Ryan Chandler, Jr., native of Cades and serving in Virginia, was installed as the ninth pastor on Sunday, November 4, 1990.  He and his wife, Jane, and children (Mary Anna, Ryan and John) ushered in a new era of leadership at Grace. Their arrival coincided with the 90th Anniversary and Homecoming, scheduled for the second Sunday of his ministry, November 11.  “The Ninety and Nine” celebrated 90 years and 9 pastors of Grace, their accomplishments and contributions.

Dr. Chandler came to Sumter in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo and in the midst of the Middle East Crisis.  He found himself ministering to families of deployed Shaw members and helping the congregation “Keep the Home Fires Burning” along with the Sumter community.

The Education Building was quickly under way with the ground breaking on June 23, 1991; the new building was used for the first time may 3, 1992 and dedicated on May 17 in an impressive service.  The children of the four ministers cut the ceremonial ribbon.  The new Media Center/Library was officially opened on September 9 completing a building project of more than 1 million dollars. For Rev. Cole the move into the new building brought new opportunities for all age groups.  The kindergarten /daycare ministry expanded to include full daycare and tripled its numbers within three years. Rev. Herring greatly expanded the youth program.  A history-making event was experienced in 1994 when 500 plus youth attended the Rodney Gage Youth Crusade. Both of these young ministers began their ministry at Grace in 1989, were ordained in 1990, had sons in 1992, completed their ministries at Grace in 1995. Dr. Thomas Painter was called again to active service at Grace on July 17, 1995, this time to serve as Minister of Senior Adults. The dedication of the new Prayer Chapel and Office on November 24, 1996 greatly expanded the prayer ministry of the church. Chris White, a graduate of Southwestern Seminary served briefly as Minister of Students (June 2, 1996-July 13, 1997). On July 5, 1998 Harriett “Hat” Chandler, the last member dating back to Bartlette Street Church, died at the age of 90. Grace has always had a strong sense of community, a benevolent spirit, and a zeal for missions.  Many sons and daughters have dedicated their lives to the ministry and other church related vocations.  Five youth have answered the call during the Chandler ministry.  The Richardson Brothers, David, Wyman and Condy (at seminary), Kelly Tobias – music ministry, and Kirk Carlisle.  David and Kelly were ordained at Grace.  Dr. Chandler invited this group to conduct worship on December 26, 1999.  (Wyman was unable to come).  They made their church proud!  Ryan Chandler asked the church to pray with him as he seeks God’s will for his life. The focus of the pastor serving Grace for the decade of the 90’s and into the 21st Century has clearly been missions.  “Grace Touching Lives” in Sumter and the world.  Establishing Mill Creek Mission, the Global Challenge Seminar in 1997 and raising a record $30,000 for Lottie Moon, World Missions Conferences, the first Missions Prayer Walk, adopting new missionaries, commissioning Steve and Cari Gillette to Ethiopia and Brian and Mary Sandifer to Germany and increasing the number of mission trips for members and staff – Missions is the heartbeat of Grace Baptist Church.  The Mission Statement adopted on November 23, 1997 affirms this.  “The purpose of Grace Baptist Church is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in our world.” Homecoming 1999 inaugurated a year-long celebration of our first 100 years.  “Thy Kingdom Come” is the theme for the year 2000.  Following the April 20, 1999 seminar a Futuring Group was elected.  The purpose of “Thy Kingdom Come” is to discover God’s future for us.  Grace will be in the center of His Will.  Their work will continue to guide various aspects of our church providing direction to our programs well into the 21st Century.  One of the objectives is debt retirement.  The mural behind the Sanctuary depicts this as part of “Thy Kingdom Come.

Dr. Chandler retired November 1, 2010 after 20 years of service to Grace Baptist Church.

The copper dome of the church has provided a new logo for the 21st century and the theme:  “Sharing God’s Grace.”  That is what Grace Baptist Church has done for 100 years and will continue until the Lord Jesus Christ returns.  “Thy Kingdom Come”-“To God Be the Glory!”

 Jo Anne Morris, Historian 

Last Published: November 1, 2010 2:36 PM
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