Brief History of Rehoboth Baptist Church
1864 – Present
Rehoboth Baptist Church has a long and rich history in the District of Columbia. It is one of the ten oldest Black Baptist churches, having been founded in 1864. The name is Bible based and can be found in Genesis 26:22. The word “Rehoboth” means plenty good room.
A group of former slaves wished to worship near their homes in the SE/SW section of the city, so they started a prayer meeting in Sister Hannah Johnson’s home.
These Christian believers continued to meet, having prayer and praise services. During this period, it was not uncommon for white citizens to gather the children for reading lessons. So it was that Mr. J.D. Blackford gathered the neighborhood children, and Sister Hannah had Bible study.
After the Civil War, General Oliver O. Howard of the U.S. Army, became aware of the groups’ struggles and secured the old Army barracks on First Street (between N and O Streets, S.W.) for their place of worship. In 1867, General Howard was instrumental in the founding of the Howard Normal and Theological Institute for the Education of Preachers and Teachers; later renamed Howard University. General Howard was often referred to as “The Christian General.” He served as President of Howard University from 1869 until 1874.
It was with great determination that these pioneer Christians continued. They moved from the barracks to a church building, which they erected on the same grounds (as the barracks) in 1870. Around the same time, the first ordained pastor, Reverend Henry Baylor, was called, and Rehoboth was now recognized as a church.
- Pastor Henry Baylor, 1870 -1886: first trained and ordained Minister of Rehoboth.
- Pastor Harry Lee Coleman, 1886 – 1896: organized the first choir.
- Pastor John Richards, 1896 – 1922: organized the Missionary Society and started the first Usher Board.
- Pastor Elijah Coleman, 1925 – 1931: burned the Church mortgage for the Southwest location and installed electric lights.
- Pastor E.M. Tyree, 1932-1936: shortest pastorate at Rehoboth, however, he baptized the late Brother Edward Wingfield, who was a member of the church for more than 80 years.
- Pastor A. H. S. Johnson, 1936 – 1964: ordained 32 ministers and started the Day Care.
- Pastor J. Edward Lewis, 1965 – 1974: started the Junior Ushers and the Gospel Chorus and appointed the first woman on the Board of Trustees. In April 1969, Pastor Lewis and Officers of the Church negotiated the purchase of property at 621 Alabama Avenue SE, our home for the past 46 years.
- Pastor R. V. Palmer, II, 1977 – 2013: re-instituted the Board of Christian Education and Bible Study/Prayer Meeting. Pastor Palmer instituted the Boy Scouts in 1991, the Girl Scouts in 1994, the Men’s Ministry in 1999, and the Women’s Ministry in 2004. He oversaw the Mortgage Burning in 1984 and the installation of the elevator in July 2005.
- Pastor Curtis L. Staley, 2015 – present: the Lord answered our prayers and sent another “good shepherd.” Pastor Staley was elected by the congregation in February 2015 and came to the Rehoboth Baptist Church as Pastor-elect on the first Sunday in June 2015. He was fully installed as Pastor on the third Sunday in October. Reverend Staley is the ninth pastor to lead this congregation. He is already having a great and positive impact on the entire church, and the young people are especially jubilant. Reverend Staley, God bless your ministry here at Rehoboth!
A very comprehensive history book was done for the 150th Anniversary of the church. The book contains nearly 200 pages of information article, pictures and testimonies. Copies may be obtained through the church office.