Historic Memphis church celebrates 150 years of ministry

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis church celebrates an important milestone and prepares for the challenges ahead.

First Baptist Church, Lauderdale turned 150 years old in November.

The church played an important role during the civil rights struggle and has never strayed from its commitment to the inner city.

"This church is one of the historical churches of Memphis," said Dr. Noel Hutchinson Jr., the pastor of First Baptist Church, Lauderdale.

The church was one of the first African-American churches in Memphis and the first African-American Baptist Church.

First Baptist Church, Lauderdale is a 400-member "house of God" with deep roots in Memphis and celebrating its 150th church anniversary.

"It speaks to the congregation itself. And its stick-to-it-iveness. And its purpose," Hutchinson said.

That "purpose" dates back to 1865 when the church, whose first members came directly out of slavery, worshiped at Main Street and Beale Street under a wooden shelter called a "brush arbor."

In 1869 the "First Colored Baptist Church" built a huge cathedral at Beale Street and Fourth Street at a cost of $100,000.

Following a split in church leadership, the congregation moved several times, but has been at 682 South Lauderdale Street since 1939.

Jeraldine Sanderlin has been attending for 70 years.

"It's just part of me, and if I'm not here on Sunday morning...I am just lost," Sanderlin said.

The church played an important role during the civil rights movement in Memphis.

NAACP members met in the basement of the church to hold strategy sessions. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was among them.

The challenges now are different as the church aggressively ministers to the community beyond its four walls, where poverty and crime are prevalent.

Yvonne Holmes is the minister of music and a fifth-generation member. She said First Baptist, Lauderdale's 150th anniversary is significant to African-Americans.

"As a black church, that's something what we should be very proud of. You don't find too many churches that have stayed together for that long a period of time," she said.

First Baptist, Lauderdale will present the church's 75th rendition of Handel's Messiah on December 21 at 6 p.m. The performance is open to the public.

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