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150 Years Later, a Unique Reunion Among Churches

The three churches combined for joint service at Court Street Baptist Church. (Court Street Baptist Church photo)
The three churches combined for joint service at Court Street Baptist Church. (Court Street Baptist Church photo)

By Linda Peay

There is a place where we all call home. The place where we were born and spent an early part of our lives. The pastors of Ebenezer Baptist and Zion Baptist Churches wanted to celebrate their 150th year milestones by going home to their mother church, Court Street Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia.

The pastor trio, left to right are: Dr. Kelvin E. Turner, senior pastor of Zion Baptist; Dr. Wilbur Kersey, senior pastor at Court Street Baptist; and Rev. Leroy Hill, Jr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist.
The pastor trio, left to right are: Dr. Kelvin E. Turner, senior pastor of Zion Baptist; Dr. Wilbur Kersey, senior pastor at Court Street Baptist; and Rev. Leroy Hill, Jr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist. (Court Street Baptist Church photo)

On March 15, 2015 at 4:00pm, two African-American churches reunited for the first time since 1865 with Court Street in a special celebratory service.

Together, Rev. Leroy Hill, Jr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, and Dr. Kelvin E. Turner, senior pastor of Zion Baptist, contacted Dr. Wilbur Kersey, senior pastor at Court Street Baptist, to plan a worship service to commemorate this special anniversary. They planned an event that included remarks from each pastor, choral performances from all three churches and a reception following at Court Street.

In appreciation of being church plants, the pastors wanted to continue paying it forward and decided to take up a special offering for future church plants. Kersey said, “The other pastors wanted to give the offering to the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) because they plant churches.”

Together they collected over $3,800, which will go towards the V3 Church Planting Movement, the national church planting movement of the BGAV.

The three churches worshipped together for the first time in 150 years. (Court Street Baptist Church photo)
The three churches worshipped together for the first time in 150 years. (Court Street Baptist Church photo)

Kersey said, “The spirit of the day was uplifting and positive. It was so spiritually rich that we will be worshipping together in each other’s church in the future.”

He also added that “every city has their problems, but it’s really unique for an inner city church to be interracial. We realized we need to work together to make this a better place.”

In addition to this reunion, the pastors of the three churches came together on March 21 to discuss how they can be a healing bridge between the races in the community. The Portsmouth Community Library Museum hosted a three-pastor panel entitled, “Three Churches – Three Centuries: Building a Future Agenda for Hope and Healing.”

With over 20 people in attendance, this brainstorming session was the first of several sessions to be held with the goal of seeking avenues to get young people involved in the Portsmouth community.

Court Street is over 225 years old and historically has had a mixed race congregation. The white congregation reached out to the slave population and allowed them to have worship services in the Court Street church basement.

As the number of African-Americans grew, the white members decided to help them start churches of their own. Court Street secured land and capital to build them new sanctuaries. In addition to these two churches, Court Street birthed other area churches: First Baptist Bute Street, Freemason Street, South Street, Fourth Street, Calvary and Parkview Baptist Churches.

Kersey said that Court Street has always been in touch with the citizens of Portsmouth. “We are very much part of the community, which includes African-American. We have always been connected.”​

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LindaPeay300Linda Peay is the Assistant to the Marketing Team of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.

She and her family are members of New Highland Baptist Church, Mechanicsville.