A "Beacon Of Light"


First Baptist Church of Meacham Park celebrates 100th anniversary on Sept. 8, 9



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First Baptist Church of Meacham Park Pastor Darren K. Smotherson in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Meacham Park. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
September 07, 2007
Founded by Elzey E. Meacham in 1892, Meacham Park has gone through many changes. One constant in this Kirkwood community, however, has been the First Baptist Church of Meacham Park (FBC), which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

On Sept. 8 and 9, the church will commemorate 100 years with gospel entertainment, a special Sunday service and a centennial DVD.

Established in June of 1907, the original First Baptist Church structure was built on Meacham Street (then known as Brooklyn Street), next to Turner School.

First Baptist Pastor Darren K. Smotherson said the celebration is being held in September, rather than in June, to take advantage of the cooler weather.

"We wanted the ideal conditions (for the anniversary)," Smotherson said. "The celebration is about the whole year, not just the date in June."

In February, First Baptist Church of Meacham held its annual Black History Month Extravaganza, "The Struggle," as part of the year-long celebration.

Smotherson expects a packed house of 100 to 150 people for the Sept. 8 and 9 festivities. He said people will be "coming home" from all over the country for the anniversary.

On Saturday, Sept. 8, the church will sponsor a "walk down memory lane" through Meacham Park, along with a brunch. At 2 p.m., the gospel jazz band "Christian JAZZ" will perform. Comedian Reggie Reg, dubbed the "Deacon of Comedy," will regale the crowd with Christian-friendly anecdotes.

Later, the "Annotated Toes," a children's praise dance troop, will entertain attendees.

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First Baptist Church of Meacham Park (click for larger version)
Sunday, Sept. 9, however, is the real celebration, according to 100th anniversary chairperson Tina A. Abernathy.

The church will hold two worship services on Sunday, one at 10:45 a.m. and one at 3 p.m. Guest pastors will be Linden Bowie of Zion Travelers' Church and Emmanuel Sercey of New 2nd Mount Zion Church. Also, a choir from Kentucky will be joining the First Baptist Church singers.

Afterward, church-goers will enjoy a catered lunch and watch a DVD slideshow about the history of both the church and the community.

"I grew up in the church, it has been a beacon of light for the community," Abernathy said about the significance of the anniversary. A Kirkwood native, she has attended First Baptist her whole life.

Throughout its history, Meacham Park has been a predominately African-American community. Abernathy said the church was one of the first buildings owned by African Americans in the St. Louis area.

At the turn of the century, Meacham Park was still a new settlement. In 1903, Mr. and Mrs. George Allen invited neighbors into their home for Sunday school. Soon after, several families joined to build a church for the community.

As more people began attending, the small group built a "brush arbor" structure at Shelby and Saratoga streets in 1905. A brush arbor is typically built out of materials found in nature. In 1907, the first frame structure was built.

The lot at Meacham and Milwaukee streets was purchased in 1925 and members gathered in a concrete basement. A wooden "dome" was later built over the basement. Eventually the dome was torn down. Members replaced it with what is now affectionately known as "The Old Church."

"The church was built on the commitment and sweat of Christians," Smotherson said.

In 1934, FBC Pastor Elijah J. Buckner laid the groundwork for the new church, which was completed in 1964. Buckner is highly revered in the church for his passion for a new church. His portrait hangs in Smotherson's office.

Deacon Alfred Minor and James Lemmie grew up in Meacham Park and have attended First Baptist Church for more than 70 years. They said the area was a "nice piece of a town" where no one locked their doors at night.

Much of the Crestwood side of Meacham Park was comprised of a wooded area where wild blackberries, pear and cherry trees grew. Both agreed the area has changed tremendously since their days as young boys, especially in the past few decades.

"If you hadn't been here in 20 years you wouldn't recognize it," Lemmie said.

The church is looking toward the next 100 years. First Baptist's former pastor, Oliver Jacob Lemmie, who died in April 2005, wanted to build a community center.

"Pastor Lemmie seeded that baby," Abernathy said. "Pastor Smotherson is taking it to the next level."

In 2003, First Baptist Church broke ground for the Oliver Jacob Lemmie Christian Community Center, located next to the church. With the majority of the building complete, First Baptist hopes to raise $100,000 this year toward phase two of construction. The plan is to build classrooms and a second floor library, and to use the facility as a voting place.

Smotherson hopes the church and community center will go a long way in improving Meacham Park's image.

"When people hear the name Meacham Park, they don't have favorable images in their head," Smotherson said. "But now it's a rose blossoming in the desert."

Kirkwood annexed Meacham Park in 1992. Since then, Abernathy said the area has greatly improved, though opinions remain mixed on whether the annexation has benefited the community.

"Some people would have loved to stay in Meacham Park, but they couldn't afford a new home in Kirkwood," Abernathy said. "However, others whose homes were not up to par were given a brand new home. Kirkwood could have done things differently and offered more people the opportunity to build in Meacham Park."

Much of what was once Meacham Park now consists of large retail developments. Smotherson said the commercial growth destroyed much of the area's history.

"If you let the past paralyze you, it'll hold you in the future," Smotherson said. "I believe we've got to get back to the pride of the 1950s and 1960s to heal those wounds. The best is yet to come."

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