As Washington Baptist Church at Ware Place, in southern Greenville County, celebrated God’s blessings during its 200-year history in March, a decade-by-decade recap of the church’s history has intrigued members.
According to minutes, the church was organized as an arm of Fork Shoals Baptist Church on March 17, 1821, at a gathering around John Sullivan’s kitchen table near Ware Place. The minutes, however, do not reflect the origin of the church’s name.
The original membership of 10 represented five families, four of whom were members of Fork Shoals. The fifth family was a member of Holly Springs (later known as Bethuel). With very few exceptions, original minutes from the entire 200-year history are on file in the Furman University archives.
From that humble beginning of 10 members, Washington now conducts two Sunday morning worship services, as well as Sunday evening and Wednesday services. Extensive physical facilities have been developed, beginning in the 1950s. The current sanctuary was dedicated in 1967.
In 2002, a family life center was completed, which has provided support for many member activities as well as outreach options, including Upward sports programs and a Celebrate Recovery group. A major renovation of the sanctuary was completed in 2013. As of December 2019, the church is debt free.
In 1838, an arm of Washington Church was established at Horse Creek, and that congregation later moved to Oak Hill. Sometime after the move to Oak Hill, that church changed its affiliation to Methodist. On Feb. 15, 1867, African-American members of Washington were granted letters, enabling them to establish “their own churches and presbytery and do their own business.”
Shady Grove Church, just across Highway 8 from Washington, is a thriving, active congregation today.
In more recent years, multiple mission projects in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Central America have involved Washington members.
Early planning for the celebration reflected long tenures by many of Washington’s leaders. The current pastor, Stanley Candler, was born into the Washington family, and after completing seminary, he served a sister church for 10 years. Candler completed his 30th year as Washington’s pastor in 2020.
Beginning in 1836, Alexander Acker served as pastor for 41 years, H.M. Fallow served Washington for 25 years from 1923 to 1948, and James Ellenburg was pastor from 1975 to 1990. Several other pastors served 10 or more years. Over the years, Washington has ordained 10 men to the ministry, with Acker being the first.
With there being no surviving former pastors, Candler delivered the morning message for its anniversary celebratory service March 21, expressing both gratitude for God’s past favor and a congregational challenge to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:14, KJV).