The hallowed halls of First African Baptist Church of Brunswick represent more than a place of worship.
The finely crafted building on Amherst Street has been a place of refuge for nearly six generations of historically black congregants. They first met 154 years ago in a grove off Lee Street, between Gloucester and F streets where a CVS pharmacy stands today, according to the church’s historical records.
It was not until 1869 that a foundation was laid and construction began on a permanent home for the worshipers. The church — built without nails, using tongue-and-groove assembly — is still used to this day, although modifications and additions have been made over the years.
“The fact that it’s been maintained and still stands today is a sign that we’re strong enough to survive,” said church member Velmon Allen as she stood in First African Baptist’s sanctuary Friday. “We’re still here.”
The church’s members will celebrate its 154-year history with a banquet Jan. 8 and two special services at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Jan. 26, but it would be difficult to encapsulate the congregation’s storied history over the course of a few hours.
If the walls of the sanctuary could talk, “it would be interesting,” Allen said. “There have been good and bad times. Like any church, I’m sure there have been disagreements over the years.”
When Allen first became a member of the church in the 1970s, the sanctuary was filled every Sunday, she said.
“Now, we have a declining membership,” she said. “It’s mostly ‘mature’ members, as I call it. It’s difficult, but that’s general in a lot of churches. Most are seeing a decline.”
The Rev. L.E. Williams, pastor of First African Baptist, agreed, but is not dismayed.
“There has been somewhat of a decline in membership, but the church has been able to stay afloat all these years, and that says something, even with fluctuating membership,” said Williams, who has led the church for 14 years.