Earle Street Church Turns 100

Earle Street Baptist Church in Greenville celebrated its centennial March 13, with pastor Stephen Clyborne preaching from the same biblical text used at the church’s founding 100 years earlier.

Descendants of J. Furman Moore, Earle Street’s first pastor, were in attendance. Former pastor Jim Wooten, now retired, led the pastoral prayer.

Clyborne read from Revelation 3:14-22, the passage of Scripture employed by guest preacher W.T. Derieux, secretary of the Baptist Mission Board of South Carolina, in 1922. Clyborne, like Derieux, focused on the words of Jesus in verse 20: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (NIV).

Clyborne urged the church not to relax in its moment of self-reflection. “It would be easy for us to conclude on our 100th anniversary that we have arrived,” he said. “We have a lot to celebrate today, but it is also true that celebration often breeds complacency and indifference. And it is that spirit of indifference that puts Jesus, the source of our spiritual life and power, outside the church, knocking on our door, waiting and longing to come into His own church.”

Clyborne’s sermon marked his return to the pulpit after suffering a major heart attack three weeks earlier.

Earle Street Baptist Church was founded in the early 20th century at the urging of J.A. Brown, pastor of Central Baptist Church near downtown Greenville, who suggested to his congregation on numerous occasions that they should start a church in the Earle Street area. Although Central was only a few years old, the congregation was thriving and Brown envisioned a Baptist witness in the outlying areas of the city.

Nothing became of Brown’s dream to establish a new church until 1921, when businessman J.C. Keys, a member of Central Church, helped to make the dream a reality. Keys and his wife opened their home on Rutherford Street to a group of people who were interested in planting the new church.

(Keys’ business, Keys Printing Company, was identified with The Baptist Courier for nearly 50 years. His father, W.W.Keys, partnered with James Hoyt in 1883 as co-owner and publisher of the Courier. J.C. Keys succeeded his father and, along with Z.T. Cody, Courier editor, eventually sold the paper to the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 1920.)

Further meetings followed, and attendance continued to grow, requiring a larger meeting place. The South Carolina Baptist Convention agreed to the loan of a revival meeting tent for use by the church until October 1922.

Earle Street Baptist Church was formally organized on March 12, 1922. T.M. Bailey, secretary emeritus of the state Baptist convention’s mission board, at the age of 93, presided, standing the entire time. Derieux delivered the sermon.

On Nov. 4, 1923, Earle Street Baptist Church held its first worship services in a sanctuary that is still in use.

Prominent Earle Street pastors have included Ellis Fuller, who later became president of the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) and president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Nathan Brooks, who would go on to serve as president of the Carver School of Missions and Social Work in Louisville, Ky.