“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth
the law, happy is he.” Proverbs 29:18
Our journey as a fellowship is the story of the power of God manifesting itself among His people. We come alive and rejoice in our rich heritage when we hear of the sacrifices, devotion, and the spiritual fervor of those men and women boys, and girls who planted the seeds of our fellowship. Psalm 78:4 admonishes us to “Tell to the generations to come the praises of the Lord.” Our children need to know about their roots, and they must learn from us about God’s nurturing love, His constant faithfulness, and His amazing grace. They need to hear from us about the times God stepped into our lives to rescue, protect, and to comfort us as individuals and as a congregation.
We, therefore, reflect upon our beginning. In 1885 and in keeping with the Lord’s Word, Rev. J. W. Godwin, pastor and seven or eight women had a vision. They helped to plant the seeds from which this branch of Zion has grown. Through the nourishing hand of God, this church has stood one hundred and twenty years, proclaiming and continuing to proclaim the gospel and to minister to the needs of hundreds of souls thirsting for the Word and for lives anchored in Christ.
REV. J. W. GODWIN - The original seeds for this church were planted in a schoolhouse on Chestnut Street, and later, when financially blessed, a lot was purchased and a structure was built on the corner of Green and Clifford Streets. Rev. Godwin and the seven or eight women who made up the core of this church were rooted in the Word. The names of six of the women are known. They are Sisters Holland Butler, Lydia Knight, Priscilla Evans, Holland Griggs, Amelia Gary, and Grady Gary.
Rev. Godwin passed, and the church for sometime was without a leader. With faith and hope the church continued to grow and struggle to keep the vision alive. We are grateful to Rev. Godwin and the seven or eight women who knew that people without a vision perish.
REV. JAMES GARRIS - In 1891 Rev. James Garris became the second pastor. His leadership under God’s divine guidance helped Rev. Garris to fulfill God’s plan. He and his faithful congregation aspired to keep the vision alive, and he was a fruitful pastor anchoring the fellowship deeper into the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.
REV. HAROLD ANTHONY – Rev. Harrell Anthony served for four years as pastor. During his tenure, the church moved to the corner of Queen and Godwin Streets, the present site of Third Baptist Church. Pastor and people rented this small gray church formerly owned by Methodists, and worship services continued. This site was located in the country at that time, and later, the city limits were extended to embrace the church again.
REV. FRANK CAMPBELL – In 1897 a stalwart soldier for Christ, Rev. Frank C. Campbell, became the fourth pastor. Rev. Campbell was confronted with some opposition because of the rugged lifestyle in the area surrounding the church. There were many open saloons and other places that were undesirable. In spite of the surroundings and the opposition it offered, the church was able to meet many challenges. Pastor and people, dedicated and spiritually motivated, began to combat the evils and the forces of sin which threatened the growth of the church. Great revivals were held, and many souls were converted. Baptismal services at that time were conducted in the nearby section of Scott’s Creek where the Portsmouth Municipal Stadium was standing, and later the baptismal services were held at Mosby’s Landing.
With a determination to keep the vision alive, a parcel of land was purchased which included the frame church and an additional building. In 1911 the church had grown, and there was a need for a new edifice. The present sanctuary was built at that time. The men and women who were members of the congregation made many sacrifices in order to meet their obligations to build the new church. Many projects and programs were held to supplement the weekly contributions. Rev. Campbell had the desire to liquidate the indebtedness; however, he died in 1918, after completing twenty-one years of faithful service.
DR. B. W. DANCE – After an interim of approximately fifteen months, Dr. B. W. Dance became the fifth minister of this church in June 1919. A year after Dr. Dance became the under shepherd, a $10,000 mortgage on the church was burned. Praise be to God!
During his pastorate many clubs were organized. Hundreds of souls were won for Christ, and the members of the church continued to work with vigor and with faith. A pipe organ was installed, alteration of the pillars supporting the balcony was completed, and the interior of the church was redecorated.
During the years of the Depression, many members were unable to meet their financial obligations to the church. The pastor, organist, sexton, and clerk fulfilled their commitments without receiving a salary. Later, when the financial situation was improved, one-half of the salary was paid until the church was strong enough to restore full salaries. These members were “rooted in the Word,” and they loved the Lord and His church. Dr Dance, a stalwart Christian minister, died in 1937. Once again, this congregation was without a leader; however, God was still in control.
REV. C. J. WASHINGTON – Two years passed before Rev. C. J. Washington accepted the pastorate in August of 1939. He freed the church of its indebtedness. The clubs and other organizations gave and enabled the church to purchase property on the southeast corner of Elm Avenue and Glasgow Street. A church parsonage was erected on the land and remained the parsonage until the property was taken for urban renewal. Rev. Washington made the following improvements: installation of hardwood flooring, new lights and carpet in the main edifice of the sanctuary, redecoration of the interior and the institution of the building fund. He served until April 1946.
DR. C. H. JORDAN – Our seventh pastor, (1947 – 1978) Dr. Clayton Howard Jordan, a charismatic and an anointed Christian, was steeped in the Word of God. He was committed and prepared to be the pastor of the flock. With his zeal and love for God’s people and his dynamic preaching ability, there was an increase in church attendance, prayer services, Christian commitment, missionary zeal, and Christian stewardship.
Advancements in education could be seen with the establishment of a dynamic kindergarten and adult education program. The kindergarten was one of the best in the city, and it attracted children from all over the area. An educational building was built in 1951 that replaced the little gray church that was the original church. Numerous repairs, purchases of equipment, and remodeling of the edifice were made periodically to maintain the physical beauty of the church. A building across the street from the church on the Queen Street side was purchased and renovated as a Fellowship Hall and now serves as a center for religious education and fellowship. The kindergarten that was equipped with every modern convenience to facilitate the learning process of the young was housed in this structure. The adult education classes were also held in this building that was expanded in 1974 to provide more space for teaching and training.
The completely air-conditioned facility was dedicated in 1974. The chapel was remodeled along with many other improvements such as the installation of sanctuary lights, installation of a mural, repair of the exterior of the building and painting of the interior. The total cost of the building and equipment including a piano was $45,667.56. Other improvements included erection of a choir loft at the cost of $16,270.80 and the purchasing of property on the northeast corner of Queen and Godwin Streets and the adjoining lot at the cost of $6,800.00. Dr. Jordan was a great leader with superior power. He loved, trusted, and served God until he passed in 1978. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:21
PASTOR JOE B. FLEMING – The date is September 1981, and there is excitement and barely contained exuberance as the congregation of the Third Baptist Church welcomes its new pastor Joe B. Fleming. Originally from Holdenville, Oklahoma, and served as pastor in Susan, Virginia and Richmond, Virginia, the Lord directed him to the historic Third Baptist Church. A man of wisdom and a remarkable depth of love, he in all ways uplifts and inspires others to reach their highest spiritual and educational potential. He shares thoughts about spirituality and how it can shape and mold our lives. He urges service and grace in living and celebrates the spirit of our people.
Pastor Fleming came to Third Baptist Church with a vision for ministry. A key part of that vision was to have a youth minister who would coordinate a youth program that would meet the needs and expectations of our youth. To this end, a young minister, Leo Whitaker, was now a viable part of the administrative staff. Since his calling to Third Baptist Church, Brothers Robert Addison, Kim Brown, Reginald Early, Joseph Fleming, Ralph Richardson, Darryl Williams, and Leroy Williams as well as Sister Lois Smith have been called to the ministry.
Pastor Fleming’s vision of giving is based on the admonition in Malachi 3:10. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now here with, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Our giving has now reached the million-dollar mark.
Pastor and people have also completed renovation of our steeple and roof, purchased several lots adjacent to our church, renovated the C. H. Jordan Memorial Chapel, church office and pastoral area, bathrooms for both males and females, the nursery, and the kitchen. New lights and carpet have been purchased for the Sanctuary, and the Transportation Ministry maintains a fleet of two large buses and two vans. In 1995 a Capital Improvement Finance Committee was formed with assistance from the Tellers.
The impact of Third Baptist under Pastor Fleming’s leadership is powerfully felt as we fulfill our responsibility as followers of Christ by bringing the Good News of Christ’s grace to this city through the way we live and minister to the needs of the community. As armor bearers in the twenty-first century, Pastor and people must always prayerfully seek to know God’s will for the Church and for our individual lives.
In an effort to develop and strengthen the official family at Third Baptist, history was made on August 7, 1994, as two women became Deacons along with three men. The newly ordained members of the Diaconate include Deacons Mary Hall, Louise Hasty, Kenneth Royster, Sidney Tyler, and Michael Williams.
The evangelistic and missionary thrusts of our church continue to be major aspects of Pastor’s vision. Many souls continue to be touched and brought into the fold as we deepen our commitment as Christians. In October 2004, Rev. Joseph A. Fleming, the son of Pastor Joe B. and Mrs. Johnnie M. Fleming, became the Assistant to the Pastor of Third Baptist Church. In addition to his regular duties of preaching for the 7:30 a.m. service, counseling, visiting the sick, and other pastoral responsibilities, he has assumed the role of Supervisor of Ministries.
On January of 2016, Pastor Joe B. Fleming announced his retirement from Third Baptist Church.
In April of 2016, Third Baptist Church unanimously voted that Pastor Joseph A. Fleming would become their Ninth Pastor. On November 27, 2016, the Third Baptist Church - alongside the Fleming family and the Portsmouth Community - celebrated the formal retirement of our Eighth Pastor, Rev. Dr. Joe B. Fleming. On Sunday, March 26, the Third Pastor Church installed Rev. Joseph A. Fleming as their Ninth Senior Pastor.
Pastor Joe B. Fleming served Third Baptist Church for thirty-five years.
Click HERE to learn more about our current Senior Pastor