Mt. Gilead Baptist Church looks to spread its wings
About noon Wednesdays, a deacon at Mt. Gilead Baptist Church unlocks the side door on the brick church and prepares for noon day prayer. Hymnals are placed at seats around a long table in the fellowship hall. Those who arrive bring their own Bibles and greet each other warmly. They take turns sharing concerns over who isn’t there because of illness. They share the joy of the Lord waking them up that day and bringing them to church. They sing. They study the Bible.
Last week, the hour began with an a cappella rendition of “Blessed Assurance.” Hymnals were open to the words, but most knew them already, their voices mounting up with wings like eagles.
Mt. Gilead is celebrating its 105th anniversary this month. Among its members is a woman almost as old as the church, who remembers when it was wood before the brick church was built at 404 Dowd St. in the 1950s. And she’s there now, as the church begins to plan another expansion.
Catherine Ferrell just turned 101 years old.
“I remember as a child seeing my mother every night before we go to bed, get down and pray for her children. I’ve kept that up. Every morning I get up, for the Lord to give me another new day, I’ve got to thank him,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell said she cooked for white people but didn’t want to work on Sundays and miss church and Sunday school, so she got a job at American Tobacco and in a school cafeteria.
Mable L. Butler, 85, joined Mt. Gilead in 1939 and remembers the first Sunday they worshipped in the brick church, built in 1956.
“I remember the burning of the mortgage; it was paid off in eight years,” she said. Butler said the church bought an adjoining grocery store called Daylight and Mr. Gattis’ fish market so they’d have more property for the larger church.
Mt. Gilead Baptist is looking to do the same again. The church is on the southern side of Old North Durham, a few blocks from downtown and close to Old Five Points. The church is about to launch a capital campaign to move less than two miles away, to 7 acres next to Northgate Mall.
Mt. Gilead pastor the Rev. David Mitchell said the church loves where they are, but they are land locked. They have 400 members with 300 regulars. The sanctuary, with the fellowship hall beneath it, is just feet from the sidewalk at Dowd and Gurley streets. The church is looking to build a sanctuary that seats at least 1,000 people as well as buildings for a gym/skating rink, a wellness center and education facility. Mt. Gilead owns other properties around the Dowd Street church and is open to renting the church out to another congregation and still have weddings and funerals at the current church.
“We’re not going to sell it and abandon this community,” Mitchell said. They want to focus on evangelism, young people, and offering more to families with children. For those churches that are thriving today, he said, “you’ve got to offer more than good preaching and singing on Sunday.”
Deacon Edward Bailey joined the church in 1958, moved away for 20 years while in the Navy, then “came right back to the same church.” He remembers the Rev. Harold Roland, pastor from 1948 to 1961 and whose portrait hangs on the wall in the fellowship hall. Bailey has been a deacon for 11 years.
Deacon Joyce Manning, a new deacon, was baptized at the church in 1962 by the Rev. Alexander D. Moseley, who served from 1961 to 1981. His portrait hangs on the wall, too, along with the Rev. David Jones, who served from 1911-1916, and the Rev. Leroy Davis, who retired before Mitchell’s arrival.
Manning read from Psalm 143 during the prayer service. As the church members went around sharing, Butler started singing “So glad I’m here,” and was quickly joined by others. They also sang one of Mitchell’s favorite hymns, “God Will Take Care of You.”
Manning said Mt. Gilead is a friendly church. We truly care about each other. When you get a hug here, it’s not just a hug. People mean it,” Manning said.
The capital campaign is just in the birth stages, Mitchell said, and will last seven years.
Longtime member Ivan Owens said he’d like to see Mt. Gilead concentrate on young people and keeping them busy. As Mt. Gilead bought more property to expand in the 1950s, so they will again, he said.
“Everything is going to be based on the foundation set by Ms. Butler, Ms. Ferrell and my father,” Owens said.
Mitchell said they want “to get to a place to stretch our wings out a bit. It’ll work, if people come together and work hard.”
FIND OUT MORE
WHAT: Mt. Gilead Baptist Church 105th Anniversary
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 23-25: Three Nights of Praise featuring Rev. Charles Adams, pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit. Adams served as pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Boston in the 1960s and spoke before the United Nations about apartheid in 1989. Other anniversary events include the annual Sweet Taste of Mt. Gilead on Oct. 26 and the anniversary service at 10 a.m. Oct. 27.
WHERE: 404 Dowd St., Durham
INFORMATION: www.mtgileadbaptist.org/ or 919-688-6052