SOUTHAVEN, Miss. — This month, a Southaven church founded by former slaves celebrates 141 years as a church body. The decedents of those slaves still attend Brown Missionary Baptist Church today.
Every Sunday, thousands fill Brown Missionary Baptist Church in person and online. Today’s technology has made Pastor Orr’s sermons accessible worldwide, but the church’s roots are in Southaven, Mississippi.
“My great grandparents were some of the original founders in 1882,” said Sandra Stepter, a church historian.
As one of the church’s historians, Stepter works to preserve artifacts like the first frame structure of the church on Swinnea and Stateline, which was built back in 1901.
Before that, Stepter’s great-grandparents and other former slaves were forced to hold their worship services secretly. This was long before the massive two-campus church we see today.
“That had to be a major milestone because if you think about the 1800s, before 1860 they weren’t allowed to even gather and worship. So, it was very meaningful that they could have a spot of land to worship in freedom,” said Stepter.
That freedom is now the foundation for Brown’s rich history. It is preserved throughout the building where pictures of Stepter’s great-grandparents pictures still hang.
“They were all about how can we help the community, improve the lives of our people and make a continuous change. That’s what we are still doing today– changing lives and making a difference,” said Dr. Bartholomew Orr, Senior Pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church.
It’s been nearly 35 years since Orr was elected Senior Pastor. “The message does not change. The methods will change. When I came here, we didn’t have cell phones,” said Orr.
And now, as the church celebrates 141 years, a new generation is working to tell the story of where Brown started and where it’s going.
“I am a fifth-generation deacon here at the church,” said Errol Harmon who is also a historian and a decedent of Brown’s founders.
Now, through faith, Brown Missionary Baptist Church continues to shine its light. “The future is still bright,” said Orr.