Friendship Baptist Church celebrating 100th anniversary

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Friendship Baptist Church’s roots grew from humble beginnings inside a Washington home 100 years ago and continued in a local storefront, concrete basement and finally a brand-new building before the congregation moved to its current location on East Walnut Street.


Through it all, longtime members Hazel M. Lewis and Dorothy Smith recall a close-knit group that helped each other grow both spiritually and in the community.


The church is holding a 100th anniversary banquet Friday night that’s open to the public, and special services are schedule next Sunday morning and afternoon, Sept. 22, to commemorate the centennial. The congregation expects to attract former members from as far away as Martinsville, Va., and Washington, D.C., to join in the celebration.


“This is like a homecoming to us,” Lewis said. “We didn’t want to do a whole week. We wanted to make it nice and entertaining.”


“We’re fellowshipping,” Smith added.


The church began in the Washington home of Lewis’ grandparents, Charles and Lillie Barnes, in 1913. Even though they didn’t have much room, they built a congregation and dreamed of moving forward and expanding.


“They all just stuck together to praise the Lord until they found a building,” Lewis said. “They just kept on, kept on, kept on.”


They moved into a storefront on Wylie Avenue and later moved to a building on Weirich Avenue. In the late 1940s, both women remember as young children the groundbreaking on Oakland Avenue to build the congregation a new church of its very own.


“All of these people helped raise us,” Smith fondly recounts while look at a photo of the groundbreaking.


Dorothy Smith’s father, Sam Reed, was there that day as a lone shovel plunged into the ground to commemorate construction. But the congregation only had enough money to build the basement and held services in there for nearly two decades until they could raise enough to build the rest of the church.


Smith remembered thinking it felt like walking into an igloo when entering the basement and walking around big pot-bellied stoves that kept the room warm.


“As kids, you see things that are funny,” Smith said. “We fell out laughing. We would have to go through those little doors in the vestibule.”


The length of time it took to finish the Oakland Avenue church didn’t matter to the congregation. The building was completed in the mid-1960s.


“We were proud because we had a building,” Lewis said. “We were as happy as could be.”


The stories Lewis and Smith recount along the way are priceless.


The women laugh when they remember how Lewis’ sister, Nancy, was preparing to be baptized in the nearby creek. However, another girl who had just been baptized told her she saw a big black snake in the water.


“Nancy went in quickly and got out hopping up and down,” Lewis said. “Everyone was pointing and saying, ‘She’s got the Spirit!’”


The group spent the next 40 years on Oakland Avenue until heavy flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan damaged the building. A towing company purchased the Oakland Avenue location, but kept the steeple and other memorabilia for the group. The congregation moved a cornerstone from that building into the East Walnut Avenue church it purchased in 2006.


Both Lewis and Smith have spent their entire lives as members of the church and look back fondly at what the congregation has accomplished.


“We have a lot of feelings a lot of other people don’t have,” Lewis said.


“We thank the Lord for letting me and Hazel live so long to see this,” Smith added. “It means a lot to us.”


The banquet is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at the George Washington Hotel and will feature guest speaker the Rev. Stephen Russell Jr. of Calvary Baptist Church in Baltimore. Tickets for the event are $35 and can be purchased by calling 724-225-5352 or 724-225-4499. The congregation hopes to have attendance figures finalized by Tuesday. The Sept. 22 morning service at 10:30 a.m. will feature the Rev. Stephen Sullivan, who is moderator of the Northern Ohio Baptist District Association. The afternoon service at 3:30 p.m. will feature a reunion concert by Friendship’s “Gospel Jubilees” choir.


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