A Chesterfield church celebrated its 170th anniversary on Sunday during a special afternoon service. According to Pastor Ralph Green, while the Antioch Baptist Church has a deep and sometimes controversial history, current members are friendly, inviting and they desire growth in their congregation.
The church, located on Wild Horse Road in Chesterfield, was established in 1841 by a few key families who had traveled to the area from Spotsylvania, VA, to establish a new community, Green said.
“They brought with them their slaves. The church early on had both white and black members,” Green said. “Only ‘free born men’ were granted rights concerning the direction of the church.”
When it was opened in May of 1841, Antioch originally had 16 white members, but Green said that by August that year, they had taken in 21 black members as well.
Green said that after the Civil War, many former slaves wanted to become decision makers in the church.
“The original men wished to continue to operate on the original constitution and assured the former slaves that their male children born free would eventually have full rights as decision makers,” Green said. “The distress this caused led to the establishment of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church where only a foundation and cemetery yet exist.”
Green said that some of the descendants of the Mount Pleasant group became founders of the present-day Union Baptist Church, also located in Chesterfield.
Cliff Frazier, a lifelong Chesterfield resident and member of the Union Baptist church, had wanted to preserve the original Mount Pleasant site, but Green said that he wasn’t able to purchase it as it had been sold by the county for taxes after having been abandoned.
“He was met with much opposition from the community and did not see his dream come true in his life time,” Green said. “It was also his desire to see Mount Pleasant cemetery maintained instead of just being left overgrown as it has been for many years. He personally spent time trying to maintain that cemetery.”
Antioch invited Frazier to speak at its 160th anniversary celebration 10 years ago. Frazier has since passed away, so this year, the church invited Pastor Harvey Fields from the Union Baptist Church to speak in his place.
“Cliff Frazier comes from a prominent family that resides in the Westland Acres area that enters into both Wildwood and Chesterfield,” Green said. “He is the descendant of slaves that were members of Antioch, Mount Pleasant and finally Union Baptist, where Harvey Fields is now pastoring.”
Early in the church’s life, services were held in members’ homes, Green said.
“One St. Louis visiting pastor described a meeting place as simply a shed,” he said. “When a local pastor did not exist, traveling or visiting pastors would have meetings bi-weekly or monthly as available.”
When a visiting pastor was needed, one would often arrive on Friday and perform services throughout the weekend before leaving on Sunday evening. Green said the church’s minutes from that time period state that any member who didn’t attend every meeting would be required to explain himself.
The Wild Horse Road property was originally donated by John and Margaret Orr in 1860, according to a quit-claim deed the church has on file, and the earliest burials at the Antioch cemetery occurred around the same time.
“Mr. Orr was buried here in 1869,” Green said. “Other founding families are buried in what is today Babler Park in a site across from the old stables there.”
Green said that the future of Antioch Baptist Church looks dim because the facility is old and “folks don’t want to go somewhere that is too ‘church-y’ now.” And, he said, the Wild Horse Road location is situated in such a way that even if the congregation grew, expansion would be impossible.
He said he believes that contemporary churches are more successful in the Chesterfield area now, but that his vision for the church is a more traditional one.
“We find ourselves outside the mainstream of our community as well as the direction church worship has taken,” Green said. “We remain a church community where the apparel is relaxed, but the seriousness in our approach to God's word is easily noted.”