The Rich History of Charity Missionary Baptist Church
“A People Without A History is Like A Tree Without Roots!”
- Marcus Garvey
The Charity Missionary Baptist Church (CMBC) had a very humble beginning going back to the early 1900’s. The General Asbestos and Rubber Company (GARCO) of North Charleston established a community that became known as Dewey Hill for its Negro (Black) employees. During the early 1900s, Dewey Hill got its name from Duley Lambright, a tall 6 feet 4-inch man, also known as the Mayor of Dewey Hill. Dewey Hill was located on Virginia Avenue south of Filbin Creek. This community was comprised of 110 three-room houses and a very spacious and well-constructed church building. The residents of this community were of different denominations; therefore, a struggle ensued among the denominational groups for control of the church building.
Andrew Stephen who was the chief fireman at GARCO and a staunch deacon of the Baptist faith. His position gave him influence with the people in authority at GARCO. He, along with Deacons Mose Simmons, Peter Bryant, and others, led the struggle to gain control of the church building for the Baptist denominations at GARCO. After they gained control of the church building in 1914, Sister Tina Stephen, the wife of Deacon Andrew Stephen and mother of Sister Viola Reed, named the church “Charity Baptist Church.” Persons of other denominations felt that the Baptist should not have the exclusive right to the church building. Therefore, other religious groups challenged the Baptist to alternate their services from time to time.
Under the auspices of Reverend J. T. Thomas, one of the first pastors of Charity, the legitimacy of Charity was questioned by other denominations. Church leaders were questioned whether Charity had duly organized as a Baptist church and if Charity was recognized by a Baptist Association. With the aid of Reverend Wesley Ravenel, Moderator of the Charleston County Missionary Baptist Association, church leaders certified to the authorities of GARCO that the worshippers of Charity were duly organized as a Baptist Church and the church was affiliated with a recognized Baptist Association. Minutes of the Association were produced to satisfy other questions. The Baptists were fortunate that members of Charity such as Deacons Mose Aiken, Andrew Lambright, Ancil Gathers, and Christopher Joy were employed by GARCO and enjoyed the respect of those in authority.
Sometime after 1914, Mr. Granville Adams was employed by GARCO. He and other new GARCO employees were of the Pentecostal Faith and contended for periods of worship and time to carry on other religious activities in the church building. During the same time, the Dewey Hill community was integrated with white residents occupying the houses nearest the church building, while the black residents were relocating to other communities. Hence, there was no real struggle for use of the church building.
Since the whites had no use for the church building, it was eventually demolished and a smaller church building, not nearly as impressive as the original one, was erected in the Black section of Dewey Hill. The Pentecostal church members continued to use the building, alternating with the Baptists. Around the mid 1930’s, Charity was established at its present site on East Montague Avenue. The first address of the church was 1428 East Montague Avenue, North Charleston, South Carolina. It was later changed to the present address, 1544 East Montague Avenue, North Charleston, South Carolina.
Reverend Richard Ashe, a member of Charity Baptist Church, carried on the religious services for a short period of time on Dewey Hill. The new black residents, who were Baptists, joined the congregation on Liberty Hill. Since the number of black residents of Dewey Hill was steadily declining, Reverend Ashe discontinued his ministry on Dewey Hill and supported the new church on Liberty Hill.
At the new location on Liberty Hill, Deacon Ancil Gathers, with the assistance of Brother Eli Brockington, continued to work with the Sunday School children. He also involved other young people like Sister Elnora Scott to help him if it was feasible. Deacon Andrew Lambright served as Superintendent at the new church on Liberty Hill. Many of the members, who were then children, are now, along with their children, very active members of Charity Missionary Baptist Church.
The Present Site
Liberty Hill was the first established Negro community in the Charleston Heights area, located between Mixon and Gaynor avenues. Around 1938, Mrs. Bessie Howard, who resided on Liberty Hill and was a member of Union Baptist Church, suggested to the recently ordained Reverend Benjamin James Whipper Sr. that since there was no church on the main street that ran through Liberty Hill, she and others would work with him to establish a “First Baptist Church.” Reverend Whipper accepted Mrs. Howard’s offer and contacted Mr. Edward Gantt, father of Brothers Marion and William Gantt, concerning the purchase of the lots on which Charity Missionary Baptist Church was erected. Soon after they began paying for the lots, Reverend Whipper was called to the pastorate of St. Matthew Baptist Church. He did not feel that he could effectively give leadership to St. Matthew with its indebtedness and other problems and at the same time continue with the project of building a church. Therefore, he, with the consent of Mrs. Howard and those who were working with them, contacted the pastor of Charity, Reverend Harris, and officers of the church about assuming the balance of payments on the lots. (There are no available records with the full name of Reverend Harris, but he is considered one of the first pastors of Charity). The offer was presented to the congregation and it was approved.
Since the population of Dewey Hill was still diminishing, the congregation, under the leadership of Reverend Harris, began building a church edifice at the present location on Liberty Hill. This project was completed successfully; however, Reverend Harris died before the congregation formally transferred the worship services from the old edifice on Dewey Hill to the new edifice on Liberty Hill.
After a period of mourning for their deceased pastor, the congregation began a search for a new leader. Many ministers were considered; however, the congregation turned to one of its sons, Reverend B. J. Whipper, Sr., who had been the pastor of St. Matthew Baptist Church for nine years. After several conferences with Reverend Whipper and officers and leaders of Charity, Rev. Whipper stated that St. Mathew’s mortgage had been paid, the congregation had grown and stabilized, and work on a new edifice for St Mathew’s worshippers was ready to begin. Since Charity traditionally required the pastor on the second and fourth Sundays and worship services were later than St. Matthew’s, Reverend Whipper felt that he could serve Charity as a pastor if he was the choice of the congregation. The Deacons, under the leadership of Deacon Christopher Joy, were delighted and enthusiastically recommended Reverend Whipper to be the pastor of Charity Baptist Church. Five other ministers were nominated: Reverend R. H. Edmonds, Reverend Dickerson, Reverend Mose Simmons, Reverend Ross, and Reverend Josh Milligan. Reverend Whipper was elected by a large majority. The call was extended, and Reverend Whipper began serving the church as pastor on February 9, 1949. (Reverend Whipper followed the following ministers who had served at one time as the pastor of Charity: Reverends Wilson, Prioleau, J.T. Thomas, and Harris).
After Reverend Whipper began his pastorate, he expressed his concern about the limited facility of the sanctuary having no educational facilities, study, etc. Since there was no land space for expansion, the alternative was to go upward, which would involve demolishing a building that was recently constructed, an accomplishment of great pride. This posed a problem, but Reverend Whipper possessed the understanding, patience, and diplomacy, plus, what members of Charity believed to have been the leadership of the Holy Spirit, to work with the prevailing situation. Reverend Whipper persistently shared his ideas and dreams with the congregation and eventually, they agreed with him and the expansion projects moved forward.
The first venture was an extension across the rear of the church which projected on each side of the old church to form a “T” shaped building. This was part of Reverend Whipper’s overall plan concept. By the time the additions were completed, the congregation was pleased. Reverend Whipper was elated that the officers and members agreed with him and as a result, he shared his second plan for the church edifice, which he had envisioned and sketched. The sketched vision included a sanctuary upstairs, educational facilities, offices, kitchen, dining area, and restrooms downstairs. This plan would require the present structure be remodeled.
In preparation of the remodeling, a permit for the use of the Liberty Hill Community Center was acquired by Charity Baptist Church on June 3, 1963, for its normal worship services for a period of about six months. With intense excitement, the officers and members were ready to move forward. Thus, the project of renovating was set in motion. The congregation decided not to borrow any money, but would rally and pay as the work progressed. By 1979, the congregation had raised and expended about $125,000.00 toward the construction of the present church. In the final phase of the work, the decision was made to secure the necessary funds to have the church bricked and professionally completed to create a unique, new facade (front). The cost of this phase was $175,000.00 for a total of $300,000.00 to complete the renovations. Deacon Wilson Melvin, Jr. former Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Mrs. Lucille S. Whipper, the pastor’s wife, worked with Rev. Whipper on the design of the structure. During this time, members of the Board of Deacons were: Julian Green, Chairman, John Richey, Andrew Lambright, Lucion Ball, Eli Brockington, Levy W. Berry, John B. McCants, Walter Goodson, Wilson Melvin, Jr., Marion Gantt, William Gantt, Sr. and Tol Shaw. Members of the Board of Trustees were: Brothers Samuel L. Hart, Chairman, Freddie Lambright, William U. Frederick, Sr., Saul White, Sr., Elijah Williams, Marvin Dancy, Elliott Slater, Sisters Leizanna Hart, Electra Gantt, Viola Melvin, Mattie White, and Annie Mae Brown. The fourth Sunday of June 1980 was a great day in the history of Charity Missionary Baptist Church, when the congregation rejoiced in the completion of the church edifice at its present location, 1544 East Montague Avenue, North Charleston, South Carolina. The following was accomplished by the members of Charity upon completion of the facade:
The church’s mortgage was paid in full in record time and was celebrated with a mortgage burning.
The parking lot was paved.
The land for the parking lot was purchased from Mr. and Mrs. Henry and
Rosa Bell Anderson where the famous Harlem Swing Club once stood.
The Willie Reed property, directly behind the church on Sanders Avenue, was purchased.
New carpet for the Sanctuary upstairs and new tile floors for the fellowship hall were installed.
New choir chairs, communion sets, communion table, and offering table were purchased.
Pulpit chairs were reupholstered.
New Baptism pool and curtains were installed.
New kitchen equipment was purchased.
The men’s and women’s restrooms were upgraded.
New Sanctuary lights, ceiling fans, and public address system were installed.
The church was painted.
A new roof and church steeple were installed.
Just before Reverend Whipper retired, he knew with the changing times that the church needed its own constitution and by-laws. This was accomplished and adopted on January 15, 1996.
In February 1996, Reverend Doctor Benjamin James Whipper, Sr. retired as pastor. This was a time of mixed emotions for the Charity Baptist Church Family. The hearts of the flock were heavy and saddened that their faithful, dedicated, and humble leader would no longer be with them. After 47 years of active service and two (2) years as Pastor Emeritus, Reverend Whipper went home to be with the Lord on June 13, 1998. “Servant of God Well Done!”
A New Beginning
As the New Year began in 1996, it offered the church a new beginning. Church members and leaders were confident in what they had been taught and by whom they had been taught and therefore, they were ready to begin the search for a new leader and pastor. After many months of prayerful searching, Reverend Dr. Jay Charles Levy Jr. answered the call to become the next pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church. The church was excited to have found a new pastor. After due process, the church had a week celebration from November 11 through November 15, 1996. On Sunday, November 17, 1996 at 4:00 p.m., the installation services were conducted by the Charleston County Missionary Baptist Association. The Reverend Dr. Alfonzo R. Blake, Moderator, presided over the services. The day ended with a large feast for all to enjoy. Reverend Levy’s fist item of business was to meet with the Deacons Board and give his vision for the church.
Members of The Board of Deacons were Julian Green, Chairman, Andrew Lambright, Senior Deacon John Richey, Lucion Ball, John B. McCants, Levy W. Berry, Walter Goodson, Wilson Melvin, Jr., Tol Shaw, Carnell Gathers, Kenneth Collins and Ellison Zimmerman. Members of The Board of Trustees were Brothers Samuel L. Hart, Chairman, Freddie Lambright, William U. Fredrick Sr., William (Bill) Owen, Marvin Dancy, Sisters Leizanna Hart, Viola Melvin, Electra Gantt, Mattie White, Annie Mae Brown, and Alice Carter.
Reverend Levy saw that the church needed a bus ministry. Over time, two 15 passenger vans were purchased. Seeing a need to involve more people in the church, Reverend Levy established several ministries: Prison, Youth In Action, Marriage, Singles, Discipleship Class and Agape. Part of Reverend Levy’s vision was to build a new church or add an education building. To accomplish this vision, the church needed additional land. With that information in mind, Deacon Levy W. Berry contacted SCE&G about a small parcel of land that was no longer in use. The land was located east of the church between Williams Street, Sanders Avenue, and East Montague Avenue. This property was east of the Whipper’s property on Sanders and East Montague Avenues. Deacon Berry informed Reverend Levy and the Board of Deacons about the land. The information was happily received and the necessary actions were taken to purchase the property. Later, the Gibbs property on Sanders Avenue behind the church was also purchased. Other accomplishments included:
Upgraded the office equipment and established a computer lab.
Upgraded the public address and sound systems.
Installed air conditioning in the fellowship hall and vestibule. (The result of the persistence of Trustee William Owen)
Changed the ceiling and light fixtures in the fellowship hall.
Reupholstered the sanctuary pews and replaced the carpet in the sanctuary.
Installed new windows and blinds throughout the church.
During Reverend Levy’s tenure, several ministers of the gospel from Charity were given licenses. Three went on to pastor their own churches and others were in school preparing themselves for the journey. Five Deacons were ordained, and some established memberships and served at other churches. Reverend Dr. Jay Charles Levy Jr. served Charity for 11 years. Members of Charity Baptist Church were thankful for the Pastoral service he gave to the church and its members and with grateful hearts, bided him God’s speed.
From Good to Great!
After eleven months of seeking God’s guidance to find the right under-shepherd, the Lord sent the Reverend Nelson B. Rivers, III to become the next pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church. Pastor Rivers and his beautiful wife and Charity’s new First Lady, Carolyn S. Rivers, moved back to North Charleston to accept the call to pastor Charity after being away from home for 24 years. On September 7, 2008, Reverend Rivers preached his first sermon, “From Good to Great!”
Reverend Rivers made it clear in his first sermon that Charity would achieve greatness through service by abiding by the words of our Savior found in Mark 10:43: “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.” He preached that Charity would achieve greatness through serving God, following the directions of Jesus the Christ, and serving the present age!
Reverend Rivers met often with the Deacons Ministry and the Trustees Ministry in his first weeks to gain insight regarding the organizational structure at Charity. The Deacons Ministry members were Julian Green, Chairman, Levy W. Berry, Vice-Chairman, Andrew Lambright, Senior Deacon, Wilson Melvin, Jr., Ladine Daniels, and James Gause. The Trustees Ministry members were Brother Samuel L. Hart, Chairman, Sister Mattie White, Vice-Chair, Brothers Freddie Lambright, Llye McFadden, Levon Scott, Nathaniel Shivers, Michael Simmons, and Sister Verna Green. Always concerned about the needs of the children, Reverend Rivers met with the children of Charity and asked them what they wanted from the new pastor and from their church. Their resounding request was they wanted a Children’s Church. Pastor Rivers responded with a commitment to establish a Children’s Church. God blessed that vision with success when the new Children’s Church started in December 2008.
Reverend Rivers is a widely recognized modern civil rights worker and community organizer who was appointed NAACP Vice-President of Stakeholder Relations in November 2008. At the same time, the Lord elevated another former community organizer – Barack Obama – to the highest public office in the world. Less than two months after Pastor Rivers came to Charity on November 4, 2008, Senator Obama became the first African American President of the United States of America.
On Saturday, November 29, 2008, at 4:00 p.m., Charity was filled to capacity to witness the Installation Service of Pastor Rivers. The service was officiated by Dr. Willie E. Givens, First Vice President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Incorporated and Moderator of the Charleston County Missionary Baptist Association. The preacher of the hour was the longtime friend, mentor and spiritual advisor of Pastor Rivers, the Reverend Julius Caesar Hope, Pastor of New Grace Missionary Baptist Church of Highland Park, Michigan, and Director of the NAACP Department of Religious Affairs. Reverend Hope delivered a soul stirring and powerful sermon.
On December 15, 2008, at his first church annual meeting, Pastor Rivers presented his 2009 Vision. The vision was accepted and completed one year later:
Completed the renovation of the Fellowship Hall with new tile floors and painted the women’s lounge
Upgraded office equipment
Upgraded sound equipment and microphones in the Sanctuary
Purchased new furniture for the women’s lounge
Reaffirmed the church name as Charity Missionary Baptist Church as ratified in the by-laws.
Created the Church logo
Established the website: www.thecmbc.org
The Deacons and Trustees ministries along with Pastor Rivers discussed the idea of building a Family Life Center. A core group of members visited family life centers of other churches to gain perspective on future plans to build our own center. The Building Steering Committee was appointed in August 2009 and was presented to the church during the September quarterly meeting. The firm of Gantt Huberman Architects, LLC of Charlotte, North Carolina was hired. Several parcels of land for the center were purchased. Pastor Rivers asked the church to fast and pray for God’s guidance. After a month of corporate prayer and fasting, a vision was revealed to Deacon Wilson Melvin, Jr., Chairman of the Building Steering Committee. Since the church was growing rapidly, he wanted to recommend the building of a larger sanctuary first, rather than the Family Life Center. He immediately shared this dream with Pastor Rivers. As God would have it, a meeting was already scheduled for the Building Committee and the Architect the next day.
The church met in November 2009 and Pastor Rivers shared this revelation. The congregation approved the change from building the Family Life Center to building a new sanctuary. The architect was asked to prepare a drawing of the new sanctuary. The new sanctuary Site Dedication Ceremony was held on Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 4:00 PM. On January 31, 2010, in a special call meeting after Sunday worship service, the members voted to accept the proposal to build a new sanctuary in the parking lot of the present sanctuary.
Reverend Rivers was thankful to God for the love of the members, the guidance and support of the Deacons, cooperation of the Trustees and the stewardship of the other ministries of Charity. In 2010, he continued his commitment to preaching and teaching the liberating good news of Jesus the Christ every Sunday. In 2010, Charity celebrated its steady growth while at the same time paused in memory of those whom God had called home. With the grace and power of an awesome God, Pastor Rivers was convinced that the Lord would provide if Charity’s members and leaders remained faithful and prayerful. Charity knew “the best was yet to come!”
In 2011, Pastor Rivers also re-activated the Charity Foundation. The Foundation is a 501 C3 organization dedicated to economic and community empowerment. The first project of the Foundation was the I Am Beautiful Christian Debutantes Ministry. The Foundation board of directors was appointed and added leaders from the community including former College of Charleston and co-founder of the Charleston School of Law Judge Alex Sanders.
Pastor Rivers and the Charity family continued their commitment to excellence with the extraordinarily successful 97th Church Anniversary and Second Gala. Charity was blessed to have another "national preacher" to come speak, in the person of the incomparable Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Dr. Wright was widely regarded as one of the greatest preachers in America in the last 50 years and it was an honor to have had him come preach an awesome word as the Gala speaker. A highlight of the anniversary that year, as in the previous two years, was the third annual "Pillars of Charity Ceremony." The church honored 11 of its senior members who were 70 years of age or older and who had been members of Charity for 40 or more years. This had always been a high point of Charity’s anniversary celebration and the church was grateful to God for having the privilege of honoring the strong "pillars" of the church.
In 2010, under the leadership of Pastor Nelson B. Rivers III, the Christian Education Department met to discuss how the Sunday School Ministry could better serve the members of the church. During the meeting Pastor Rivers shared his vision for Church School, along with a book entitled “Fulfillment Hour.”
Fulfillment Hour, birthed at Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur Georgia, outlined a model in which “small groups carry out all of God’s biblically mandated purposes of the church during a specific block of time normally assigned to Sunday School.”
The idea of transitioning to a new way of doing Sunday School was met with some reservation. Superintendent Cheryl Walden suggested that a trip to Greenforest Baptist Church might give the Sunday School ministry leaders a closer look and better understanding of the concepts that they were reading about in the book. Pastor Rivers agreed and the rest was history. It was clear that Fulfillment Hour was a very intentional and purpose-driven approach to fulfilling God’s biblically mandated purposes (Evangelism, Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry/Missions, Worship) and mission of the church (Matthew 28:18-20).
In 2013, under the leadership of Superintendent Cheryl Walden and Deacon James Gause, Charity Missionary Baptist Church adopted the Fulfillment Hour model which was implemented in a purposeful manner with a focus on obedience to the charge that was given in Matthew 28:19-20. “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Under the preaching, teaching and leadership of Pastor Nelson B. Rivers, III, Charity continues growing and upholding the rich tradition established from its humble beginnings. We praise God and give ourselves to our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ as Charity celebrates the “Joy and Power of Unity!”