NEW LIFE BAPTIST CHURCH
The New Life Baptist Church was founded in June 1, 1975 by the Reverend Henry G. Marshall. The initial meeting was held the first Sunday in June in the Friendship Hall of the Olympia YWCA with the following people in attendance: John Grace, Barbara O'Neill, Nat & Thelma Jackson, LeNora & Vincent Hughes, and Reverend O.R. Pigford. This came about as a result of conversations led by Nat Jackson with Reverend Marshall who came to town to interview for a position with the Thurston Urban League Committee. It became known that he was a minister and was convinced to start a church.
By 1975, there was a growing Black population in Thurston County. Examination of demographic census data indicated that there were 584 Blacks residing in the county at the time, which was an increase of 100% over the 1970 census. Personal contact was made with twenty families who were not affiliated with any church in the area. Many of those families expressed an interest in starting a church and eliminating the need to travel to churches in Tacoma, Seattle and other places in order to worship with a Black congregation.
New Life Baptist Church was the first of its kind in Olympia and after a month of services, it was dedicated as a member of the National Baptist Church, USA in ceremonies led by Rev. Elijah Hankerson, Pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church, Tacoma, and President of the Pacific Northwest Baptist Convention. The first Minister of Education was Rev. O.R. Pigford and John Grace was the first Minister of Music.
John Grace is the oldest living original member of New Life Baptist Church. He conceived the name - New Life Baptist Church - which is the oldest predominately Black congregation in not only Thurston County, but also all of Southwest Washington, according to historical records. While others have been instrumental in its beginning, only a few remain who were part of the church in its early days before the arrival of Reverend Morris. In addition to John, these members included Johnnie Majors, LeNora Hughes, Minister Clarence and Rose Taylor and Family, Evelyn Merritt and William Bostic. Deacon Grace came to Vancouver, Washington in 1956 at the age of 25 to learn the trade of Piano Technician and came to Olympia in 1962. He regularly traveled to Portland for many years to attend church before the existence of New Life.
The founding Pastor resigned in October of 1975 and Reverend Orlander R. Pigford, one of the founding members, was called as Pastor and to lead the church in setting up the proper organizational structure. The church became affiliated with the North Pacific Baptist Convention which pledged their support in helping the church to get started. In February 1975, the church moved its place of worship to Tumwater. A month-to-month agreement was made with the Unitarian Fellowship for use of their building for afternoon services through September 1976, with an option to renew the agreement if needed. Meetings were held at that facility until March 1977. At that time, it was decided that it was no longer feasible to continue with afternoon services.
The church began searching for another meeting place that could be used for 11:00 AM services. In May 1977, the owner/manager of the Cinema Theater located in Olympia on the corner of 4th Ave. and Sawyer St. The manager donated the space as a contribution to help get the ministry started. This was a great blessing from God and this generous donation allowed the church to accumulate some reserved funds. The church held services at that location from April 1977 to May 1979. This site later became the current site of Risen Faith Fellowship in Olympia.
In December of 1977, the church purchased land on South Bay Road and began planning to build an edifice. The plans were completed in May 1978. It was during that time that the church voted to dually align with the American Baptist Churches of the Northwest and they agreed to help with planning for the building. January 1979 was set as the time to begin construction. The plan was for a building that would accommodate 150 people, at a cost of $70,000.00. However, before construction could begin, the Lord made it possible to purchase the church on Puget Street. At the time, New Life had 32 members and realized that it was a big responsibility, but believed that with God's help it could be done. In November 1978, the county put up for auction the church building that had formerly been owned by the Seven Day Adventist. The minimum bid was $69,500.00 and the church began to explore the possibility of purchasing it instead of building a facility. In February 1979, the decision was made to buy the building at the auction and proceeded to arrange financing. The property on South Bay Road was sold and the vacant church building on Puget Street became the home of New Life Baptist Church. God answered their prayers and worked a miracle. The first service was held in the new church home on the third Sunday in July of 1979.
New Life Baptist Church became the center of activities for the Black community. The Fred U. Harris Lodge #70 was launched in 1980 with a Study Club. The Lodge meetings were held in the basement of the church from Spring of 1980 until 1985 when the meetings relocated to the Eagles Club in Olympia. Four of the first six Most Worshipful Masters were members of New Life. The first was Clarence Taylor, followed by Williard DeRouen, Cyronose Spicer, and Calvin Greer. The Lodge has multiplied exponentially since those early years but New Life played a significant role in its beginning. They provided an Annual Easter Egg Hunt for the children until 1993.
In recognition of academic achievement, New Life has honored for a number of years the graduation of youth and adults as levels of education are completed. The practice began with the Black Women's Caucus of Thurston County in the early 1980’s who honored Black graduates from Thurston County schools, in the spirit of Baccalaureate Services that were common in Black communities and in partnership with the local school districts. The number of graduates was as few as 9 or 10 some years. As the Black population grew, so did the number of Black graduates in the County and the event was phased out due to limited resources of both people, time and money.
A seed was planted in early 1980 when the late Gwendolyn Grace invited the ladies of the church to a luncheon in her home on North McCormick Street. The idea was to suggest and recommend that a mission committee for New Life Baptist Church be formed. Sister Carrie Henderson was appointed as the person to spearhead this committee. The group was receptive and offered support. Sister Henderson graciously accepted the responsibility. Wheels were set in motion to organize and implement a program measured not only by Christ's command to go to all nations; but also, by his command to teach all those he commanded be taught (Matthew 28:19-20). Hence, birth and life was given to "The Women's Missionary Society" of the New Life Baptist Church in early spring of 1980. The presiding officers were Carrie Henderson, President; Joann Majors, Vice President; Maudine Johnson, Secretary; and Jeanette Reid, Treasurer. Other past presidents who have served were Shirley Williams, Juanita Williams, Sandra Morris, Claudia (Clyde) Cobb, Cynthia Grace, Benita Johnson, Patti Johnson and Gisele Simon, who was Vice President in 1995 and then promoted to the presidency in 1996.
The purpose of the Women's Missionary Society was to provide Christian fellowship for the ladies of the church, offer training and leadership opportunities, and provide a means to assist in missionary projects and local work. They strived to show forth empathy and compassion for all people. The church underwent some very difficult times in 1980 and a group of members met on February 1, 1981 to come up with a workable plan to benefit the church body as a whole in uplifting Christ. The meeting was chaired by Deacon Johnnie Majors and its purpose was to strengthen the congregation and provide strong leadership. From that meager beginning, the church began to grow and prosper. By June 1, 1981, New Life church had baptized 74 and the membership had grown to be as high as 115. The small congregation was able to meet most of its obligations on time. They held four revivals, three prior to moving into the building on Puget St. They presented several musical groups and choirs in concert, including the internationally famous gospel recording artist Reverend Isaac Douglas. The New Life choir has served on several programs for other churches and groups. In January 1981, they were guest of the Thurston County Urban League for their Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday celebration in the Capitol Rotunda.
In 1982, a small group of members branched off from New Life Baptist Church and formed Olympia Baptist Church. It was started by a former New Life Associate Minister, Reverend Harry Owens, who left the church, along with several other members, as a result of internal conflicts. On September 30, 1984, they returned and merged with New Life.
Reverend Pigford served as pastor until June of 1984, but took a sabbatical from April 1983 to April 1984. Reverend Andrew G. Parker, Associate Minister, was named was the Interim Pastor while Reverend Pigford was on a sabbatical leave. Reverend Pigford returned for 3 months before he retired due to his health. Reverend Parker again served as Interim Pastor from July 1984 to December 1984 when the church conducted a search for a permanent pastor.
The Pastoral Search Committee was expanded to include two former members of Olympia Baptist Church. The search culminated in the call of Reverend Wendell D. Morris on January 14, 1985. Pastor Morris delivered his first sermon January 20, 1985 and was officially installed Sunday, March 17, 1985.
During the next eight years the church flourished and God's blessings were abundant. There were elected officials that included Thelma Jackson on the North Thurston Board for 20 years, Cora Pinson Pigford - Olympia City Council, Bernadean Broadous - Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney, and Herb Jones - Lacey City Council. Many members have served on various appointed Boards, Commissions, Task Forces, and Committees in this community and state. Many in this congregation have provided leadership to issues such as Housing Discrimination, Human Rights Violations, Gang Violence Prevention, Use of Excessive Force by Police, and other such Social Justice topics. There have been many Trailblazers involved in various areas of public and civic life in this community.
A number of young people from the congregation excelled in local schools and the community. Joyce Carletta Taylor won the Congenialty Award in the Miss Thurston County Pageant in 1979. New Life produced Track and Field local, state and national champions from Timberline in the Taylor brothers - Tamble, Johnnie and Richie for their running and jumping talents and Debrena Jackson as state champion Discus Thrower. Helene Wright won the Hal Jackson’s Miss Talented Teen Pageant for Washington State. Ericka Jackson was elected Student Body President of Timberline and reigned as the first and only Black Lakefair Queen in 1988. Several young ladies played on championship Volleyball Teams and earned college scholarships.
Education of the youth and academic success were always a point of emphasis by Pastor Morris and the congregation. Student accomplishments were always highlighted and celebrated. Summer Youth Employment Programs with State Agencies and Paging in the Washington State Legislature were coordinated activities by Thelma Jackson within the church for a number of years.
The Thurston Group provided a Black College Fair for many years. It was founded by Larry Jenkins, a Bus Driver in the North Thurston School District who saw a need among Black and other students of color. Church members Bobbi Keys and Carletta Taylor Garraway were the forces behind this successful program, which resulted in admission to various Historical Black Colleges and Universities and scholarships for many students in the community and particularly in the church. The Mary Graham Scholarship Banquet was begun by Jack Graham in honor of his mother. This activity continued for a number of years in various locations, until Jack moved away from the area. The L.I.F.E. Scholarship program continues for graduating seniors in the congregation.
The church grew to the point where 2 Sunday services were needed to accommodate the congregation. On September 23, 1990, the 8:00 AM "Faith Service” was added and the property next door to the church was purchased for use as extra classrooms, meeting space, and additional parking. In late 1992, the Lord gave Pastor Morris a vision of a new church which could accommodate the present and future growth and make it possible to better serve the membership, the community and the Lord. From this vision and with the blessings of the Lord, the Capital Stewardship Campaign was formed and plans were implemented to raise funds to build the new church. The campaign kicked off in February of 1993 and was led by Dr. Robert Kelly. However, on March 15, 1993, our beloved Pastor Morris passed away suddenly due to complications from a broken ankle incurred while playing basketball with his young son.
Following Pastor Morris's untimely death, the congregation resolved to continue the work he had started. The house next door was sold in late March and on May 28, 1993, the church purchased 8.38 acres of land on Pacific Avenue in Lacey.
On April 22, 1993, after a 30 day period of mourning, a Pastoral Search Committee was selected and the search for a new pastor began. The search culminated in the call of Pastor Anthony R. Obey from Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church of Beaumont, Texas on October 13, 1993.
The new pastor arrived from Texas on Friday, October 15, 1993, and was officially installed as the 5th Senior Pastor on Sunday, December 12, 1993. Under Pastor Obey's leadership and the emphasis he placed on Christian Education, the church continued to grow.
An additional 1.1 acres of land was purchased in May 1996 to enhance the site planning. Financing was obtained in November, and ground breaking took place on December 1, 1996. The church on Puget Street was now completely owned by the congregation after a mortgage burning ceremony, but was prematurely sold and the congregation was forced to find alternative meeting spaces while waiting for construction of the new facility to be completed. Due to the pending sale of the church on Puget St., New Life started having the 10:45 AM worship service at the North Thurston High School Auditorium on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1996. We continued to have the 8:00 AM service, Sunday School and other activities at the church.
The sale of the church closed in July 1997 and we leased back use of the facility until October. The last worship and praise service at the Puget St. location was held on October 26, 1997. October 28th was moving day and church belongings were placed in storage. The Pastor, Secretary and Administrator worked from home during this transition period. On November 1st, the church began having services at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on the corner of Ruddell and Mullen Roads. During that time, we had use of their church on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Bible Study was held in the residences of 7 member families. After approximately 5 months at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, services were moved to the Lacey Community Center where we remained until June of 1998.
After many financial trials and tribulations and construction challenges, followed by much prayer, the vision of a new edifice began to become a reality. With the completion of the sanctuary, the first service in the new church was held on June 7, 1998 and although the rest of the facility was not totally completed, services and programs resumed while construction continued.
On June 13, 1999 a Building Dedication Service was held in conjunction with the annual church anniversary service. Throughout the building process, the church had faced and overcome many obstacles; however, God blessed us with a beautiful building, and for this we are extremely thankful. We know that with the Lord's help, all other building challenges could be overcome as well.
New programs and various ministries were begun. Today, the Women's Missionary Society is known as the L.i.F.E. (Living In Faith Everyday) Women's Ministry. It was led by President, Minister Victoria Menefee since 2005. She strived to fulfill the vision God had given her for such a time as this- to meet the needs of women in every area of their lives, to persuade women to become fully devoted followers of Christ, and to assist the Pastor in the perfecting of the saints. The Women's Ministry is currently led by Minister Rita Catchings.
The Life Development Resource Center (LDRC) was organized in November 2002 as a non-profit corporation led by a separate Board of Directors to facilitate community outreach programs. The purposes for which the LDRC was organized were:
1) to meet the religious, mental, emotional, educational, social, physical, and economic needs of people in the community by offering an affordable continuum of quality care and service, and
2) to nurture, educate, and support the development of the total person - spirit, soul, and body.
The LDRC Early Learning Center began in 2004 and was earlier named the Life Creation Christian Academy. It provided full- and part-time Christian-based early learning education, before and after school care and all-day childcare services for children 12 months to 10 years of age. The LDRC Unity for Excellence was a Mentoring and Tutoring Program that was developed by Dr. Andrew A. Griffin, a member of New Life and Assistant State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The program originally partnered with Meadows Elementary School and later expanded to other schools in the area. The goal was to assure that every child would be able to perform at their grade level in reading, spelling and math by the end of their third grade year. A fully-equipped Computer Lab was donated in 1998 to the school through a partnership with the G-Tech Corporation’s Community Outreach Program. G-Tech was the Prime Contractor for the Washington State Lottery and the partnership arrangement was through the advocacy of Linda Williams from G-Tech and Thelma Jackson from New Life.
Students were monitored by Unity for Excellence and results were provided to the schools. Students in the program were also prepared for standardized state testing. Unity for Excellence later partnered with the North Thurston School District and was recognized by the State of Washington as an Official Tutoring Site. After a number of years of dedicated leadership, Dr. Griffin returned to his home in Atlanta, Georgia. The Program unfortunately discontinued after his departure due to a lack of leadership and was never been revitalized, even though the student need remained. The LDRC L.I.F.E. Scholarship Program promoted academic excellence and provided students with an opportunity to complete an undergraduate college education. It continues as an independent entity in the church.
A Life Senior Housing Project was considered by the LDRC but not pursued after March of 2011 due to the perceived lack of demand in the area and the economic recession.
The kitchen and the Wendell D. Morris Fellowship Hall were completed in the fall of 2003. The dedication of the fellowship hall was held on November 2, 2003 in honor of the late Reverend Morris. The first celebration in the new facility was on November 8, 2003 to honor Pastor Obey on his 10th Anniversary. On Sunday, June 25, 2006, Senior Pastor A.R. Obey was consecrated as Bishop. This auspices ceremony was another milestone in the life of the Church. His name will forever be etched in our history for the many things that came into being under his leadership.
In 2007, New Life Baptist Church birthed its Outreach Ministry, and in early 2008 began canvassing communities to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. In 2010, generous donations were given to the church to launch a Multimedia Ministry, and in 2011 we began streaming our services to reach out to those in different states and countries.
Other young people in the congregation became Ministers, Business Owners, a Medical Doctor, a Professional Football Player, a Comedian and Hollywood Producer, Program Managers, Teachers, Administrators, Nurses, Counselors, and other impressive occupations that make positive contributions to the community and society.
For several years, the Rapha Christian Center, a Hispanic congregation led by Minister Vida Guerrero, shared New Life for afternoon services until about 2008.
During our history, there are many who have contributed to the growth and accomplishments of New Life Baptist Church. Many have passed away, many have gone to other churches, many have moved away, and many have gone on to other areas and fields of labor. We have always had a strong military presence in the congregation from the very beginning. As the nearby military bases have grown, so have members who are affiliated with the various branches of the Armed Services. New Life has witnessed many of its members being deployed to various wars and "hot spots" around the world. Many have returned safely and retired in this community, but not all, as acknowledged during Memorial Day and Veteran Day activities. There exists at New Life a very active Military Ministry that provides the needed support to the men and women and their families who make sacrifices so that the rest of us can enjoy peace and freedom.
Various ministries have evolved at New Life over the years. Most of them do not have documented records of their activities and leadership roles in the church. We have to rely on a review of past newsletters, past announcements and programs, and glean valuable information from interviews of individuals involved in these ministries with knowledge and personal artifacts of written material and photos that provide an historical picture for future reference.
In preparation for this 43rd Anniversary, the effort began to document the years of activity related to the Men's Ministry which started as the Brotherhood; the Women's Ministry which as the Women's Missionary Society; Music Ministry and its many choirs and Directors, Seniors Ministry; Youth Ministry and its various components such as the Chosen Generation, AWANA, Children's Church and Vacation Bible School; Prison Ministry; GAP Ministry; Singles Ministry; Military Ministry; Outreach Ministry; Ushers, Greeters and Security Ministry; Multimedia Ministry; Praise Dancers and Artistic Ministry; Hospitality Ministry; Stephen Ministry; and specialty programs such as Financial Peace University and Momentum. What are these activities, who started them, how long have they existed, what have they accomplished and what should members know about these church activities in order to find their "niche" and identify the best place to deposit their skills and talents, which exist in abundance in this congregation?
As the collection and development of the history of New Life Baptist Church continues beyond this effort, future members and generations to come can take pride in learning and knowing that they are part of a church community that has evolved from very meager beginnings but has built on a solid foundation that God has blessed and positioned us for the future.
Bishop Obey announced his plans to retire in the summer of 2017 and a Pastoral Search was begun by the Board of Directors. As the Bishop and Senior Pastor A.R. Obey made plans to transition into retirement after 25 years of service, the church was poised to RESET. He retired on August 12, 2018, appointing Dr. Herbert Chambers as the Acting Overseer until a new Pastor was chosen. A Pastoral Search was put into motion that resulted in the appointment of Bishop Lorenzo N. Peterson as the 6th Senior Pastor of New Life Baptist Church. He preached his first sermon on February 1, 2019 was installed on April 28, 2019. A “State of the Church” address was delivered on May 22, 2019 wherein he proclaimed that “We Shall Rebuild”. He shared with the congregation why we are here, where we are going, and how we are going to arrive there. He challenged the church to start building for the future and developing a God First-centered church. He called upon the members to help him build a strong church, a victorious Youth church, and to develop a Christian atmosphere that is conducive to a high moral standard for everyone, including our children. He included in our purpose to strengthen our families, assist our youth in achieving academic excellence, providing outreach to the incarcerated and assisting with re-entry, feeding the poor and homeless, supporting our military members and their families, and establishing counseling and mentoring programs. In answering how we are going to accomplish this? His answer was “together”. Together we can and together we will.
Bishop Peterson commenced to hold new activities such as Easter Sunrise Service, Thanksgiving Service, Christmas Family Hour and Dinner and Watch Night Service. Early in 2020, the world was hit by a Corronavirus-19 Pandemic that led to mandated closure of all activities, including church services. New Life Baptist Church held an historical outdoor service on Sunday, March 22, 2020. Bishop Peterson conceived the idea when waiting on carry-out food and decided to activate church resources and announced that an outdoor service would be held in the rear parking lot and congregation members could remain in their cars. This outdoor service was in addition to regular messages on his Facebook page. With only a very short notice on Saturday, more than 75 cars assembled, many occupied by the whole family that had been isolated at home. The sun was shining brightly and the weather relatively warm which allowed many in attendance to exit their cars, while adhering to the social distancing 6 ft. rule. The service was accented by music from the Church band, inspirational singing by First Lady Starlett Peterson and a powerful prophetic sermon from Bishop Peterson.
With the prediction that the pandemic will still be in affect in the coming months, this successful and enjoyable outdoor religious experience will be remembered and more than likely, repeated before the conditions change for opportunities to gather again.
This look back begins to inform us about the bright and promising future that lies ahead. When New Life began in 1975, there were 584 Black people in Thurston County. By 2013, there were more than 8,500 Blacks in the area, in addition to other people of color who desire and prefer the experience of a Black religious setting. Projected population forecasts for the year 2025, when New Life will celebrate its 50th Anniversary, is for Thurston County to be home to more than 15,000 Blacks and many more bi-racial and multi-racial people seeking the kind of rich cultural religious experience provided by churches such as ours. We have always been multiracial and will certainly continue to be in the future as we increase our visibility in the community. Already, we have become the largest predominately Black church in the state and will continue to grow. This history allows us to look back as we move forward. How fitting a concept as we re-commit to our belief in God and to this church, to prayer, to loving and supporting one another, to unity, to developing strong interpersonal relationships that build trust and respect, and following His word. That's what awaits us now and in the future as we observe and celebrate the 45 year history of this church and the 22 years that we have been blessed to worship in this beautiful facility and continue to build a legacy in this community.
The Lord has continued to graciously add to the congregation of New Life Baptist Church and we look to the future with hope, faith, prayer, and great expectations of continued blessings from God.
Be a part of our story...
Join us every Sunday as we gather to worship together at 10 am.