First Baptist Church History
“Give thanks for those who in past ages built this place to His glory and for those who, dying that we might live, have preserved for us our heritage.”
First Baptist Church had its birth in 1867, when Rev. Leland Waring of Spotsylvania Country, Virginia, perceived the idea of organizing a church in Warrenton, Virginia. Previously, church meetings had been conducted in cabins of the community, but in August 1867, with the leadership of Rev. Waring, a site on Lee Street was purchased for $400.00. As membership grew and the need for a larger structure became evident, this property was sold and a more desirable site was purchased. In 1875, “The Old Episcopal Church Property” on Alexandria Pike was purchased for $600. This is the location of the present site. In 1878, the Northern Virginia Baptist Association was organized on this site. The Northern Virginia Baptist Convention and the Tidewater Ministers, Deacons, and Christians Union were also established here. First Baptist prospered under the dynamic leadership of Rev. Waring, the first Negro minister in Northern Virginia, until duty called him to organize other churches throughout the area. Brother Sam Morgan assumed leadership upon the termination of Rev. Waring’s service. Brother Sam Morgan, an outstanding and dedicated church member, gave temporary guidance to the congregation, until Rev. Dennis was chosen to assume pastorate. Many members joined the congregation of the church during Rev. Dennis’ pastorate.
Succeeding Rev. Dennis was Rev. Robert Horner. It was during his pastorate that the church became divided. With the call for a new minister by some members, Rev. Horner terminated his services at First Baptist Church and organized a new church in Warrenton, known to us today as Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Many of the original members left First Baptist Church to joined Rev. Horner in organizing his new church. Rev. Hines succeeded Rev. Horner as minister but, ill health forced Rev. Hines’ to resign.
In 1886, Rev. Robert L. Ruffin, a graduate of Lincoln University and Wayland Theological Seminary, succeeded Rev. Hines. It was during Rev. Ruffin’s pastorate that plans for the present building was drawn. According to family records, the estimated cost of the building, not including labor, was $3,600.00. The construction of the building began in 1887 and was completed in 1890. With a membership of about 400, Rev. Ruffin and his congregation worked with resolve to meet the financial obligations of the church. Rev. Ruffin brought to his ministry a dignity and devotion that inspired ten years of dedicated service. He brought in many members, baptizing as many as ninety-nine at one baptism and fifty-four at another. Recognizing the desire of the congregation for a change, Rev. Ruffin, after ten years of service, stepped aside to allow new leadership. He remained dedicated to First Baptist Church until his death in 1900.
Succeeding Rev. Ruffin was Rev. D.W. Jones, another graduate of Wayland Theological Seminary. Rev. Jones, a man of deep religious fervor and Christian life, was exemplary in his lofty position as minister. Although his pastorate was short, he did much for paying the debt on the present building. Rev. Jones resigned after three years of service and maintained his membership at First Baptist Church until his death. In January 1903, Rev. Jones was succeeded by Rev. J. Loving. Rev. Loving resigned after one month to assume another position. Succeeding Rev. Loving was Rev. N.A. Marriot. During his leadership, the youth of the church became very active and much of the debt was paid off.
In 1905, Rev. J. D. Ward, a graduate of Virginia Union University, succeeded Rev. Marriot. Rev. Ward, an outstanding preacher and musician, served two and a half years. He was endeared to his congregation, who refused his resignation, but respected his wishes to accept another position.
Rev. I. M. Champ, also a Virginia Union graduate, succeeded Rev. Ward and took office in 1907. He remained in office until 1911. Under Rev. Champ’s leadership, membership grew, the church made financial strides and beautification was enhanced through the painting of the outside woodwork. Rev. Champ resigned when he was called to serve a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Rev. Anthony Deans, a graduate of Howard University School of Religion, succeeded Rev. Champ and served from 1911 to 1925. During his fourteen years of leadership, the church acquired a pipe organ and the first stained glass windows. Modern electrical lighting and heating systems were installed, and the long-standing debt on the church was paid in full.
From 1925 to 1927, Rev. J.R.C. Pinn, a graduate of Howard University School of Religion, served as pastor. It was during his leadership that the furnace room and kitchen were built and the hymn bulletin board was placed on the wall. Rev. Pinn’s pastorate ended when he was called to a church in Newport, Rhode Island.
From 1927 to 1931, another Howard University graduate, Rev. Charles P. Harris, served as pastor. During his pastorate, many inactive members returned to the church, and many new members were added. In 1931, Rev. Harris resigned to serve in Plainsville, New Jersey and Rev. T. B. Livingston, another great preacher, scholar, and musician, became minister. During his short stay, Rev. Livingston became well known and loved for his visits to the sick.
Rev. Henry J. Booker, the fourth graduate of Howard University School of Religion to pastor First Baptist Church, succeeded Rev. Livingston. Rev. Booker, a quiet mannered, deeply spirited leader, initiated the first church anniversary program. He organized the Baptist Young People’s Union and had outstanding Junior and Senior choirs. Rev. Booker involved both the old and young in the work of the church. He was the first pastor to pass while in office. He served from 1932 to 1942.
Rev. Levaugh Boothe succeeded Rev. Booker, but his service of six months was interrupted by his call to a church in Illinois. Rev. Boothe was followed by Rev. James Kelly who served from 1944 to 1947. During his three and half years, the church purchased and completed payment on the parsonage. The parsonage was located were the Family Life Center currently stands. New electrical fixtures and a new heating system were installed. The church was painted inside, the church bulletin service and pledge card system were started, and the young People’s Choir was organized. Membership grew, and after his years of service, Rev. Kelly resigned to join the staff of West Virginia State College.
The next minister to be installed was Rev. Edgar D. Bass. Rev. Bass was a graduate of the Washington Theological Seminary and was a dedicated minister. During his leadership, the present stained glass windows were purchased and installed. The tile in the lower auditorium was installed, and a lighted bulletin board was installed outside near the front entrance of the church. Also, the electric water fountain and office equipment were purchased. Rev. Bass baptized a total of 108 members during his pastorate. Rev. Bass resigned because of failing health, leaving a record of devoted service. Succeeding Rev. Bass was Rev. Robert M. Pugh. During his pastorate, the church was redecorated with lighting fixtures and carpeting.
Rev. Randolph E. Haskins followed Rev. Pugh in 1961. Rev. Haskins was a graduate of the Washington Bible College and the Washington Baptist Seminary. Rev. Haskins is remembered for his compassionate and patient spirit. He strongly believed in going into the by-ways of the community to reach the forlorn and spiritually deprived. He believed strongly in the youth of the Church and communicated well with them, as was reflected in his active participation in Sunday school, his support of youth activities, and the organization of the Youth Leaders Club. During his leadership the religious fervency of the church was heightened, and membership grew. Several organizations were added, including the Improvement, Miscellaneous, and Building Fund Committees. It was during Rev. Haskins’ administration that a Black Baptist Church in Fauquier Country for the first time began to fellowship with a White Baptist Church. Another first was the appointment of a woman to the official capacity of trustee. In addition to the spiritual growth of the Church, several physical improvements were made during his administration, which included the renovation of the parsonage, the acquisition of an air conditioning system, a new organ, a new piano, and the remodeling of the kitchen and lower auditorium. After fourteen years of unfaltering service, Rev. Haskins departed this life January 1, 1975, leaving a void in both his congregation and the community.
In June 1975, this void was filled by Rev. Joseph E. Penn. Rev. Penn was a scholarly man of dynamic leadership. He won a place in the hearts of his congregation and the community. We are grateful to God that during the 18 years Rev. Penn was with First Baptist, he was able to make the following accomplishments; active membership in the Warrenton Ministerial Association, completion of a $90,000 renovation project of the church sanctuary and lower auditorium; the purchase of anew organ and Mini-Bus; awarding Community Thanksgiving and Christmas Baskets, and initiated an Annual Community Prayer Breakfast. Under his leadership, the Church happily witnessed the burning of the Renovation Mortgage in December 1982. Rev. Penn was instrumental in the Church’s installation of the Plexiglas covering over the stained glass windows for a cost of $10,186. Being the visionary that he was, he planned, designed, and built a Family Life Center for the Church and Community at a cost of $537,000. The center now bears his name.
Rev. Dr. Glenwood P. Roane served as Interim Pastor following the Death of Rev. Penn in December 1994. Rev. Roane traveled over 30 miles one-way almost on a daily basis to provide pastoral services. He recruited and ordained several Deacons and Deaconess. He was instrumental in developing the Church Constitution and By-Laws. During his pastorate, he was responsible for the dedication and the official renaming of the Family Life Center to the Reverend Joseph E. Penn Family Life Center. He further initiated and donated cabinets for an Emergency Food closet.
Following Rev. Dr. Roane in November 1996, Rev. Jeffrey C. Trimble became Pastor-Elect for a brief period. In 1997, Rev. Hildrom Fisher was selected by the Deacon Board to serve as Supply Pastor. Rev. David J. Carter volunteered his services to the congregation.
In April, 1998, Rev. Matthew A. Zimmerman, Jr. was elected pastor and officially installed in April 1999. A Major General, Retired, Rev. Zimmerman served as the first African-American Chief of Chaplains in the United States Army. Pastor “Z”, as we affectionately call him, is a powerful orator who brought with him stirring messages of hope and forgiveness that were a necessity during a difficult time.
As we are becoming more and more knowledgeable that God’s Word is paramount and learning His word is key, Rev. Z will most surely be remembered as one who laughs at himself, one who has given us permission to be Christians while having fun at the same time. He will be remembered as always reminding us that not one of us is perfect (except for those who eat chitlins), that tradition is good and change is okay too. Rev. Z has taught us that we should not leave home without our bibles, that the Spirit of the Lord goes before us, making our ways easy and successful, that God is good all the time, His love endures forever and His faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm 100:5).
Rev. Z’s accomplishments are many: he started Discipleship classes, Free Bread Ministry, Carryout Meals, President’s Council, assisting Flood Victims in Princeville, North Carolina, purchasing a Church van, initiating a Community Thanksgiving Dinner, installing a Handicap Accessible Ramp, installing carpeting in the Balcony and Pastor’s study, held Youth Revivals, and built a stationary food closet.
The First Baptist Church Family looks forward to many more years filled with spiritual growth, prosperity and laughter under Reverend Matthew A. Zimmerman’s pastorship.
Let us pray; Lord Jesus, we thank you for the rich history you have provided First Baptist since its birth 146 years ago. We thank you for all of those who have Pastored First Baptist and lead the church through good times and difficult times. In Revelation 1:19 God said to John “Write the things which thou has seen, and the things which are, and the things which shell be hereafter.” I pray that you will continue to bless First Baptist Church and its congregation; I pray that you will continue to bless and guide Pastor Zimmerman and I pray that you will bless those who You have already chosen, and set aside, to lead First Baptist in the future.