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Mount Olive set to expand again
Stafford church celebrates 191 years by breaking ground on a new expansion

Date published: 5/16/2009


On this date in 1818, five black farmers and a preacher gathered on land in western Stafford County to worship.

That small Sunday service has grown into Mount Olive Baptist Church, a congregation of 350 in Hartwood.

As members celebrate 191 years of ministry--by breaking ground on a long-awaited church expansion--many questions remain about that first group of worshippers.

The five black farmers owned the land where they built the first church.

But how did they own property more than 40 years before the Civil War? How were they free to form their own church?

In 1818, most blacks in Virginia were slaves. Most worshipped with their owners--in the balconies of the white churches. They could sometimes hold their own assemblies in those churches, but only under the supervision of a white church member, said Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, a local historian and author of "A Different Story," a book chronicling the history of blacks in Fredericksburg, as well as Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.

"For blacks to have their own church then was very unusual," she said.

In fact, Mount Olive Baptist claims to be the oldest black church in Stafford County.

Roxana Parker, the clerk of the church, is descended from one of the original five church members.

She doesn't know how they became landowners or really why they formed their own church.

But some things are certain, said the Rev. Reginald Bryant, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist.

The five members first felt the need to assemble in faith, both to worship God and to share the trials and triumphs of being black in Virginia in 1818, Bryant said.

And today, church members show up each Sunday for very similar reasons: to support and sustain each other through a rough economy and other problems in life.

"Christians of all races understand the importance of coming together--to be able to lean on one another, to encourage each other," Bryant said. "Nothing substitutes that need for corporate worship, that need for corporate encouragement."

Tomorrow, the congregation will mark the anniversary with a re-enactment of the first church service and a groundbreaking on a church expansion.

"The church is not only a place where we worship God, it's also a place where we meet, and it's a family within a family," Bryant said. "This groundbreaking is just the beginning of a continued tradition that began 191 years ago, and we pray in our hearts that we can continue the purpose he gave to those six people 191 years ago."

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973
Email: aumble@freelancestar.com

Mount Olive Baptist Church hopes its new expansion will grow both its congregation and its outreach. Current church programs include:

A health ministry with nutrition information, regular blood-pressure screenings and an annual health fair.

A ministry to visit shut-ins. Members go to see church members and community residents who don't attend church.

Assisting SERVE, the Stafford-based nonprofit group working with the area's needy.

A food program that provides low-cost meals in exchange for volunteer hours.

Giving money, food and school supplies to the community.

Developing a scholarship fund.

A vacation Bible school that attracts more than 100 children.

WHAT: Mount Olive Baptist Church anniversary celebration and groundbreaking WHEN: Tomorrow, 2 p.m. WHERE: Mount Olive Baptist Church, 395 Mount Olive Road, Stafford County

HOW: Come to the church in the Hartwood area

WHY: To celebrate the first black church in Stafford and mark the groundbreaking for an addition