Court Street Baptist Church, first called the African Baptist Church of Lynchburg, was organized in 1843 at which time it was set apart from First Baptist Church (white). Court Street Baptist Church is recognized as the oldest Black Church in the city of Lynchburg, and during that era was considered the mother church of all Black Baptist Churches in the city. Since 1843, Court Street Baptist Church has been blessed with twenty-four pastors whose names and dates of service are listed below.
The first three pastors were appointed by the Mother Church, First Baptist Church of Lynchburg.
- Reverend John Mason 1844 - 1848 (White)
- Reverend James C. Clopton 1848 - 1863 (White)
- Reverend J.L. Johnson 1863 (15 Months) (White)
Following the Civil War the congregation, as freemen, elected the pastor of their choice in 1867.
Black Clergymen from 1867 to present-time:
- Reverend Sampson White 1867 - 1870
- Reverend T.Y. Jones 1870 (served for 6 months)
- Reverend Dr. Phelan W. Morris 1871 - 1883
- Reverend Dr. Phillip F. Morris 1883 - 1898
- Reverend Dr. F.T. Hoffman 1898 - 1901
- Reverend Dr. J.C. Jackson 1901 - 1908
- Reverend Louis R.W. Johnson 1908 - 1919
- Reverend Dr. Vernon Johns 1920 - 1926
- Reverend Henderson (supply pastor) 1926 - 1928
- Reverend William S. Ravenelle 1928 - 1930
- Reverend Percy Cook 1930 - 1934
- Reverend William E. Elliott 1934 - 1941
- Reverend Dr. Vernon Johns 1941 - 1943
- Reverend Dr. Edgar T. Thornton 1943 - 1953
- Reverend Roland Banner 1954 - 1958
- Reverend Dr. Harold A. Carter, Sr. 1959 - 1964
- Reverend Paul H. Warren, Jr. 1965 - 1967
- Reverend James I. Brooks 1968 - 1972
- Reverend Donald W. Johnson 1973 - 1992
- Reverend James E. Coleman, Jr. 1994 - 2001
- Reverend Haywood Robinson (Interim Pastor) 2003
- Reverend Rodney Forrest 2007 - Present
Rev. Sampson White 1867-1870
First Negro Pastor
The Rev Sampson White, pastor of the Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York was the first colored pastor of the Court Street Baptist Church. He was regarded as a great preacher, a good man and a splendid pastor, one who labored zealously among the congregation. The church grew rapidly in membership under his dynamic leadership. His life reflected a great desire to evangelize colored people at a time when only a spiritual outlook could sustain them. Rev. White died while in service to the church.
Rev. Phelan W. Morris 1871-1883
Father & Founder of the Present Church built in 1879
The Rev. Phelan W. Morris was the third Negro Pastor of the church. Not only was he a phenomenal preacher he was also an astute church builder during the days when the membership was over two thousand. During his pastorate God blessed his unusual executive ability in a mighty way: the present site was purchased, and in 1879 the present edifice was built. The structure was erected under the supervision of Mr. John Wilson, an outstanding colored contractor and member of the church. Robert C. Burkholder was the renown architect. The local press described the church as “One of the finest religious structures in the south.” History records that Rev. Morris’s period of pastoral service was one of universal peace, good will, and great prosperity. Under his leadership the church membership increased to several thousands.
Reverend Dr. Phillip F. Morris- 1883-1898
First President - Virginia Theological Seminary and College
The Virginia University of Lynchburg, formerly known as the Virginia Theological Seminary and College, was organized in 1886 through the efforts of Reverend Phillip Morris during his pastorate of Court Street Baptist Church. Reverend Morris presented a resolution to the Virginia Baptist State Convention to establish a school for higher education and for the training of ministers at Lynchburg, Virginia. Buildings were constructed and the school began its operation with Reverend Morris as its first president. His picture hangs directly behind the speaker’s stand in Humbles Hall. Many aspiring pastors, religious leaders, and students seeking higher education have come from all over the United States to matriculate at the “Seminary and College.” It was also under the pastorate of Reverend Morris that Sunday School Missions were established in the White Rock Hill area and the Daniel Hills area. Both missions were subsequently organized as independent churches: White Rock Mission as White Rock Chapel Baptist and Daniel’s Hill as Mount Carmel Baptist Church.
Rev. Dr. F. T. Hoffman 1898-1901
Magnetic Preaching Powers
The congregation of Court Street Baptist Church welcomed Rev. Dr. F. T. Hoffman as its pastor in September of 1898. He was described as a great spiritual preacher. During the first year of his ministry at the church, 380 souls were converted and baptized. Under his divine leadership the membership increased to 2,380 souls by 1900. Likewise, the Sunday School was viewed as second to none in the state. He was known as a great sermonizer, so popular that crowds flocked to hear him preach in the city park. Historians attest to his gifts as a preacher, stating that if people did not get to church by 10:00 on Sunday, there were no seats available. One of his noteworthy accomplishments was ensuring that God’ s house was maintained, befitting for a house of worship. Thus in 1889, the second year of Rev. Hoffman’s administration, the church was painted frescoed, electric lights installed instead of gaslights, and the present cathedral windows were installed along with the pipe-organ, costing $2,000 . He is credited for restoring the prestige of Court Street as the center of religious worship in the city of Lynchburg for it colored citizens. Similarly, the church was acclaimed as being beautiful, one of the finest churches of the times.
Rev. Vernon Johns 1920-1926; 1941-1943
Lecturer - Dramatic Pulpiteer
The Rev. Vernon Johns was called to the pastorate of the Court Street Baptist Church on May 19, 1920. He served for six years. His sermons were described as philosophical and he was rated by the congregation as above the average in developing and delivering sermons. He was sought after by numerous organizations for lecturing engagements which took away much time from the church. He was credited for organizing the church congregation into nine groups according to the various communities from which the membership came. Rev. Johns was the only minister who was called twice to pastor the church.
Dr. Edgar Thornton 1943-1953
Scholarly - Builder of Church Life
Dr. Edgar Thornton was called to the pastorate in 1943. He was a graduate of Southern College of Baton Rouge, La. and earned a bachelor of Divinity degree from Oberlin University. During his administration, significant changes were made to the physical plant to meet the needs of a modern church. The single auditorium used for Sunday School was converted into classrooms, a kitchen was built, and repairs were made to the church organ. Also the Men’s Day and Women Day events became annual rallies. The need for a parsonage prompted a tremendous effort of fundraising primarily by the church membership. It was noted that a donation was given from Carl B. Hutcherson Funeral Home and the Schewel Furniture Store. No solicitations were encouraged from outside the church membership. His administration was characterized as one of peace and good will. The church bulletin was established permanently, and both the Male Chorus and the Gospel Choir were organized. The aforementioned accomplishments were attributed to his gospel of peace which the membership enjoyed during his ten-year administration.
Rev. Dr. Harold A. Carter, Sr. 1959-1964
On the first Sunday in June, 1959, the Rev. Harold Alfonza Carter was called to the pastorate of the Court Street Baptist Church. A native of Selma, Alabama, he graduatead from Alabama State College and the Theological Seminary of Crozier College of Chester Pa. It was noted that the congregation fell in love with him as they recognized his great ability as a preacher, one who manifests innate godly powers to arouse the people with spiritual inspiration. Secondly, he was recognized for his humble Christian modesty, along with his pleasing personality and more importantly his willingness to pursue a study of the church congregation and its needs before pursuing a plan of leadership. Prayer was his trademark, and singing, his silver lining. He believed firmly in prayer and was a teacher in the value of prayer. He is lovingly remembered by the current congregation for his great zeal in galvanizing the parishioners to work enthusically for the cause of Christian service.
Rev. Dr. Rodney Forrest 2006-
A Preacher - A Teacher of The Word
Reverend Dr. Rodney Forrest was called to the pastorate of Court Street Baptist Church in March of 2006. For four years the church had functioned without a pastor. When the congregation was informed that Reverend Forrest had accepted the call, everyone was buzzing with excitement. “We have a new pastor” was heard over and over like a refrain of a beloved hymn. The anticipation of a young man with great spiritual depth was more than the mind could fathom. God had worked it out for a struggling congregation. The church enthusiastically welcomed Rev. Forrest with great anticipation and hope for the future. One of his greatest achievements has been the organization of adult Bible study classes. Not only did he organize the classes, he is faithful in teaching the night Bible Classes. Rev. Forrest is viewed as a preacher who preaches God’s Word just as it is written and teaches how to apply the Word to your daily life. When parishioners leave the church they know what the sermon topic was, the primary biblical source from whence the sermon was taken, three or more major points emphasized, and how to apply the message in daily life. His second major accomplishment was organizing a church administrative advisory team comprised of five active members of the church. The team acts as a liaison between the leadership and members with respect to financial operations of the church; ensures that there is a system of checks and balances; bridges the gap when concerns arise; and fosters more accountability for operation of the church. Pastor Forrest’s mission is to advance the Kingdom of God with a balanced ministry that is Three Dimensional: Exalting the Savior, Evangelizing the sinner, and Equipping the Saints.