Portsmouth Baptist


"A Family of Churches Impacting Our Communities for Christ"

3303 Airline Boulevard, Suite 1D Portsmouth, VA. 23701-2665 Tel: 757/488-1162; Fax 757/673-5097

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To begin a history of the Portsmouth Baptist Association, one must go back to the beginnings of Baptist work in Virginia. This work flowed from three sources. The first were emigrants from England who settled in the Southeastern part of the state and organized the “Old Burleigh” Church in the Isle of Wight County in 1714. Due to a number of problems the Church declined and was eventually lost to history. In 1743 another group of Baptists called “Regular Baptists” came from Maryland and settled in the northwest of Berkeley County. A third group, known as “Separate Baptists” came from New England and in 1744 formed a society of themselves, separating themselves from the Church of England because they could no longer tolerate the demands that were placed upon them and the dry formalism of theMother Church. These three groups of Baptists scattered throughout Virginia and North Carolina and began to form general associations. In 1787 several Associations of Regular and Separate Baptists appointed a committee to confer and they finally settled their disagreements and formed the “United Baptist Churches of Christ in Virginia.” A great revival helped to cement this union and caused the churches to grow in numbers. The Kehukee Association was formed at a place called Kehukee in 1765. In ten years this Association had grown so that it took in northeastern North Carolina and southeasternVirginia. After a full discussion of their needs, it was decided to divide the Association, making the state line the dividing line between the two associations. Forty-two churches in Carolina retained the name of “Kehukee” and twenty-one churches in Virginia formed a new association called the “Portsmouth Association,” because it held its first meeting in Portsmouth. This took place in 1781 at the Court Street Baptist Church, which had been organized two years before on its present site.

 The early years, from 1791 to 1810, were formative when the Association was emerging from its beginnings into an active organization. From 1810 to 1828 there was a broadening of the work to include Foreign Missions and Christian Education. The period from 1828 to 1845 was known as “The Golden Period” because the churches were growing “in intelligence and spiritual power” and their resources were being more wisely directed. The Sabbath School was begun, Temperance societies sprang up in the churches of the Association, and the heresies of Alexander Campbell were exposed and dealt with vigorously. At a meeting in 1843 at Mill Swamp, Reverend Robinson of Norfolk made a violent temperance speech which created great excitement and well nigh raised a mob, because brandy was made at Mill Swamp by many of the leading members of that church and their deacons. The period from 1844 to 1861 is called the benevolent period because standing committees were appointed for Foreign-Home-State Missions, Education, Sunday Schools, Temperance and Bible Societies.

 The period from 1861 to 1865 was the dark period of “The War Between the States” when the work suffered greatly; missionary organizations were paralyzed and schools and colleges were suspended. After this period the churches of the Association began to grow and develop, which had an impact for good upon the Association.

 In 1906 the Association met at Petersburg and a resolution was passed to divide the Association of 86 churches into three associations: the Petersburg Association, the Blackwater Association, and the Portsmouth Association. Portsmouth was left with 39 churches. In 1919, at a meeting of the Portsmouth Association, women were admitted as messengers by a two-thirds majority vote. Later, the wisdom of this decision was questioned because of a slackening of attendance on the part of the men. One brother stood up at a later meeting of the Association and said, “Is this the Portsmouth Association? It looks more like the Women’s Missionary Society.” In 1932 a committee was appointed to consider merging the Baptist Council with the Portsmouth Association. After study it was found that this could not be done as the Association is an unincorporated body, without legal standing, while the Baptist Council of Norfolk and Portsmouth is a duly chartered corporation of the state.

 Throughout the decades of the 1920’s and 1930’s, many new churches came into being and the Association grew in many ways. In the 1940’s and early 1950’s, there was a great deal of discussion concerning the need to further divide the Association. The churches in Norfolk would become a part of the proposed Norfolk Association, and the churches in Portsmouth would comprise the Portsmouth Association. This was finally consummated and the Norfolk Association was officially organized on January 1, 1953, with a membership of 38 churches. This left the Portsmouth Association with 19 churches. The decades of the fifties and sixties saw several churches started. During the 1960’s the Association assumed the ownership and operation of The Emily Green Home for elderly ladies. This lovely Home (now called Emily Green Shores) has been improved and enlarged, and now ministers to both men and women in their late years.

 The 1970’s brought further change. After long and prayerful study, it was decided that professional leadership was needed to assist the Association in carrying out its mission and ministry. A position description was developed and in late 1974 the Rev. Robert G. Thompson, from Alabama, was called to serve the Association as Director of Missions and Ministries. Rev. Thompson served as leader of the Association for approximately ten years, until his untimely death on September 20, 1984. In addition to helping the Association by enhancing cooperation, Rev. Thompson led the Association to begin a second institutional ministry, the Downtown Ministry Center. This ministry, which formally opened in May, 1982, proved to be effective in communicating the love of Christ through meeting the many needs of underprivileged persons in downtown Portsmouth. Through the Center, families in crises situations were assisted with food, clothing and counseling. Limited financial assistance was provided toward rent upon receipt of an eviction notice, utilities in view of cut-off dates, and purchase of prescription medicines when notified by Social Services. This ministry was held in high regard both by Association churches, the larger community and, especially, other area helping agencies.

 On November 1, 1985, Dr. Ector Lee Hamrick began service as the second Director of Missions and Ministries to serve Portsmouth Baptist Association. He came to this position from First Baptist Church, Petersburg, where he served for 5 years as pastor. Immediately prior to going to the Petersburg pastorate, Dr. Hamrick served for 16 sixteen years as Home Missionary in Northern Virginia. The ministry of Dr. Hamrick in Portsmouth Association was very effective. Some of the ministries begun under his able leadership included the Summer Missions Program, the International Port Ministry, the Greater Portsmouth Crusade, the establishment of a Senior Adult Choir and the formation of the Associational Missions Development Council. Work among ethnic groups was strengthened as the Fairwood Agapé Baptist Mission and the Philippine International Baptist Mission both constituted into churches and became a part of the Portsmouth Association. Also during his tenure, the Nansemond River Baptist Church joined the Association. From 1985 to 1994 the Associational budget grew from $71,000 to $137,208. Dr. Hamrick resigned in March, 1994, to accept a call as Intentional Interim Pastor of the Port Norfolk Baptist Church in Portsmouth.

 Rev. Jesse H. Ramage, III, answered the Association’s call to serve as Director of Missions following Dr. Hamrick’s resignation. He began his tenure of service on August 15, 1994. Rev. Ramage came from the Jackson Memorial Baptist Church where he served as Minister of Education four and one-half years. Prior to that, he served as Minister of Education for three years at the Alexander Baptist Church. Both of these are in the Portsmouth Association. He came with a vision and enthusiasm to be used by God to move the Association into the twenty-first century. Under his leadership, the current Association structure was instituted and the Constitution updated to reflect the new structure. Also, a new church plant was started, the Sunrise Community Church.

Following the resignation of Rev. Jesse Ramage in 2002 until February 2004, the PBA was led by a Transition Management Team made up of pastors and lay people from member churches. Rev. John Robertson was chairperson of the Team during this transition period. Churchland North Baptist Church was added to the PBA family during this time (2003). Rev. John M. Robertson became Interim Director of Missions in February of 2004 while he also served as pastor of River Shore Baptist Church. His vision for the PBA was one of unity of spirit in working together to reach others for Christ. In August 2004 the PBA office moved from its location at Bethany Baptist Church on Portsmouth Boulevard to its present location at 3303 Airline Boulevard in Portsmouth. During Rev. Robertson’s tenure, six new churches were added to the Association family: CrossBridge [later joined with Sunrise Community PBA mission church], CrossWind Community (2005) [disbanded 2009], True Word Christian (2006), Union Bethel (2007), FBC Dendron (2008) and Olive Branch (2008); a block party trailer was purchased, and also a new disaster relief trailer was purchased, along with recovery equipment and an industrial generator. New Life Baptist Church, formerly known as Bowers Hill Baptist Church, became an Independent Baptist Church and left the PBA in 2006. Rev. Robertson resigned February 5, 2009 as Director of Missions to serve as pastor on the Eastern Shore. Once again PBA is being led by a Transition Management Team composed of  10 pastors and lay people from member churches. Mr. Bruce Johnson serves as chairperson of the Team during this transition period. At the Annual Fall Celebration in October 2009, Little Mount Zion Baptist Church, pastored by Rev. Roland Brown, Jr., and Saint Timothy Baptist Church, pastored by Rev. Thomas Harden, Jr., both of Suffolk, were accepted into the PBA family. There are currently 32 churches in fellowship as the Portsmouth Baptist Association. Sunrise Community Church (once a mission of PBA) merged with Lee Memorial Baptist Church, Chesapeake, to become Horizon Community Church in February 2010. It is expected this church will apply for official membership in the PBA. As the PBA looks toward 2010 and beyond, she does so with the emphasis to help churches lift up Jesus to the lost!


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