MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH
In 1876, with the shock of the massacre of General Custer’s army still fresh on their minds, a small band of Christian believers needed a place to freely worship God. At that time, they moved from house to house in the Rhamkette Community. God provided their needs when Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Watts were moved to give them a small tract of land with a framed house on it. The house became a sacred place of worship. Watts Chapel Baptist Church, named in honor of the donors, had a permanent physical home on Rhamkatte Road (Now Tryon Road) in the Swift Creek Township. And though the building has changed over the years, Watts Chapel Baptist Church continues to be a place of fervent worship and glorious praise to our Lord God.
Two years after organizing, Watts Chapel elected Reverend Essick Blake as its first pastor. The first Deacon Board was organized under the leadership of Reverend Blake, who served from 1878-1880. Since 1880, the church has been led by the following: 1880-1883, Reverend Morris; 1892-1896, Reverend Robert Jones; 1896-1902, Reverend Miller Jones; 1902-1908, Reverend W.M. Atwaters; 1908-1911, Reverend A.T. Price; 1911-1914, Reverend Hardy Pair; 1914-1936, Reverend Johnnie W. Jones; 1936-1940, Reverend Robert Crockett; 1940-1943, Reverend J.H. Peppers; 1943-1944, Reverend George Green; 1944-1946, Reverend J.H. Peppers; 1946-1965, Reverend Isaac Lee; 1965-1967, Reverend Stanley L. Ballentine, Interim Pastor; 1967-2001, Reverend Dr. Frank B. Weaver; 2002-2004, Reverend James E. Richardson; April 1, 2005-July 31, 2006, Reverend Dr. James D. Ballard, Interim Pastor; August 1, 2006 – present, Reverend Dr. Harry L. White, Jr.
During Reverend J.W. Jones’ leadership, the first Senior Choir, a Note Choir, and the Missionary Board were organized. Reverend Jones undertook the task of expanding the small meeting place and finally, in 1916, the rebuilding of Watts Chapel Baptist Church was complete. Members worshipped only one Sunday a month in those early years, but there was a service in the morning and another in the evening.
Under the leadership of Reverend Robert Crockett, the first instrumental choir was organized, with Mrs. Addie Logan as organist.
Reverend J. H. Peppers served two separate terms as pastor at Watts Chapel. He was first elected in 1940 and served for three years. During his first term in office, Reverend Peppers initiated the organization of the first Trustee Board, Deaconess Board, Usher Board and Junior Choir. After three years of service, Reverend Peppers left the Watts Chapel family. Reverend Peppers returned to Watts in 1944. It was during his second term as pastor that the written records of Watts Chapel Baptist Church were destroyed by fire.
Under Reverend Isaac Lee’s leadership, the church experienced tremendous physical and spiritual growth. Numerous auxiliaries, now called ministries, were started or expanded. The physical structure of the church was renovated and modernized. The Pastor’s Aid Society, the Floral Club, the Finance Committee, the Missionary Circles, the Sunshine Band, the Junior Usher Board, the Sick Committee, and the Parking Committee were all formed. The Deacon Board and the Trustee Board increased in size. Three ministers from within the church membership were licensed and ordained: Reverend Patrick Burt, Reverend Otha Kearney, and Reverend Stanley L. Ballentine, Sr. During this time, church improvements included the addition of a pastor’s study, indoor restrooms, new pews, a furnace, a fellowship room, and several classrooms. Mr. Joe D. Withrow donated a four-room army hut to the church. They became three Sunday School classrooms and a kitchen. Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Stone gave Watts its first deed to the land on December 29, 1957. They also gave the church additional land for a parking area in 1962.
During Reverend Lee’s tenure, formal worship time at Watts Chapel increased from one Sunday per month to services on the second and fourth Sundays. Reverend Richard Russell assisted the church by rendering services on the fourth Sunday of the month in Reverend Lee’s absence due to illness. On alternating Sundays, Watts Chapel membership worshipped with St. John A.M.E. Church, which also had service two Sundays a month. St. John’s members worshipped at Watts when they had no service at their church.
Later, there were other ministers who presided over fourth Sunday services when Rev. Lee was absent: Reverend Clyde Walton, Reverend James Toms, Reverend W.B. Lewis, Reverend John Mangum and Reverend Harvester Miles. After 19 years of faithful service, Reverend Isaac Lee resigned in 1965. Reverend Stanley L. Ballentine, Sr. served as Interim Pastor for nearly two years.
On July 28, 1967, Reverend Dr. Frank Byrd Weaver was elected pastor and officially installed on October 13, 1968. During Reverend Weaver’s leadership, God did great works through his servants at Watts Chapel. Weekly services would begin under his leadership. The first Christian Education classes began. Extensive remodeling of the church included the installation of cement walkways, a baptismal pool, and air conditioning. The church borrowed money for the renovation. However, with God’s favor, on June 11, 1972, the church celebrated The Burning of the Mortgage.
Tragedy struck Watts Chapel in the fall of 1972. The church’s steeple was struck by lightning. Inside that steeple was the bell that, for many years, was used to signal the start of Sunday School and regular Worship service throughout the neighborhood and was rung as funeral processions approached the church. The steeple was destroyed and the recently renovated building sustained such extensive fire and water damage that the church had to be rebuilt. When construction began, regular worship services were not interrupted, thanks to the Christian fellowship and generosity of our sister church, Saint John. The work of God is never ending. While worshipping with our sister church, Watts Chapel continued to make progress. The first gospel chorus, then known as the F.B. Weaver Gospel Chorus, was organized by Deacon Thomas L. Glenn, Sr. Also, on November 10, 1974, Reverend Marian Ballentine Glenn became the first female minister licensed by Watts Chapel Baptist Church.
In May 1975, the Watts Chapel congregation returned to its new sanctuary, rebuilt at a cost of approximately $130,000. New pews, carpeting, separate lounges for the men and women, a new public address system, a baptismal pool, and cement walkways were part of the significant upgrade.
In September 1976, Watts commemorated its centennial year with the Dedication of the Church and the Laying of the Cornerstone. The number of ministries continued to grow and the church membership increased at a tremendous rate. Sunday morning Worship services were held every week. A church bus and van were purchased and an outside bulletin board was built in front of the church. The Senior Choir, the Male Chorus, the Young Adult Choir and the F.B. Weaver Gospel Choir provided musical ministry and the Young Adult Missionary Circle was organized.
In 1977, the first Church Library opened. The Rosettes Choir, originally a community choir that had included members from St. John A.M.E. Church, became another Watts Chapel choir.
From 1978 through 1988, Watts Chapel received tremendous blessings. In 1978, the church opened its first nursery. Reverend Mrs. Frances Matthews and Reverend Henry Strickland were ordained in 1981. Other ministers licensed or ordained during this period included Reverend Henry Edmonds, Reverend Terry Thomas, Reverend Bennie Bryant, and Reverend Chester Debnam, Jr. In 1983, a new Christian Education Building was built. New auxiliaries were organized including the Laymen’s League and the Hospitality, Recreation, Helping Hand, and Tutorial Ministries. The Deaconess Board was reorganized and the first Christian Education Forum was held. A Boy Scout Troop and a Cub Scout Pack were organized. A Youth Committee was organized, primarily for the purpose of teaching young people to preside during youth service on third Sundays. The first church newsletter was published in 1984. In 1986, the second Christian Education Building Wing was completed and named for the pastor, Reverend Dr. Frank B. Weaver. The first Evangelistic Service was held on July 17, 1988, with Dr. Gregory Headen, the President of Shaw Divinity School, as the speaker. Watts’ first Evangelistic Radio Ministry began that same year.
The church continued to prosper throughout the next decade. On Sunday, May 19, 1991, the Dedication of the Christian Education Building and Improved Grounds and Facilities, the Burning of the Sanctuary Mortgage, and the 115th Church Anniversary were all celebrated in one glorious service of praise and thanksgiving. In October 1992, the church hired its first full-time secretary. A handicap-accessible van was purchased in 1993. This van was primarily used to transport the elderly and disabled to church, but also to doctor appointments, and for occasional shopping. In 1994, two classrooms, an audiovisual room, and a new baptismal pool were added. The choir loft was enlarged. In 1995, Watts Chapel purchased approximately 48 acres of land with plans to build a new sanctuary. In February 1998, Watts observed its first Race Relations Day. A new 800-seat sanctuary wing with several classrooms, a media center, and large male and female bathrooms was built in 1999. Boy Scout Troop 253 was reactivated. Reverend C. Wayne Glenn was ordained in a special service.
The year 2000 brought the Dedication of the New Sanctuary Building. For the first time ever, Watts Chapel hosted the General Baptist State Convention. Also, Watts activated Cub Scout Pack 253 and Girl Scout Troop 797.
On August 31, 2001, Reverend Dr. Frank B. Weaver retired from Watts Chapel Baptist Church after 34 years of faithful and dedicated service.
On September 9, 2001, Watts Chapel celebrated its 125th Church Anniversary and Homecoming Service. This was a time of great praise and thanksgiving to God for the growth and progress in the life of our church.
Reverend James E. Richardson started his ministry at Watts Chapel as Interim Pastor on March 3, 2002. In December 2002, the Watts Church Conference voted to retain the services of Reverend Richardson for an additional year. Then, in December 2003, the congregation voted to retain Reverend Richardson as their permanent pastor. During Reverend Richardson’s tenure, Marketplace Bible Study began, the church developed a Vision Statement: “Giving Back What God Gave,” and the first Executive Leadership Training Retreat was held. Reverend Richardson ended his tenure at Watts Chapel in October 2004.
On April 1, 2005, Reverend Dr. James Ballard began serving as Interim Pastor at Watts Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Reverend Ballard brought strong leadership and a powerful delivery of God’s Word through preaching to Watts. His years of experience as a pastor were instrumental in reuniting the church family, reviving its spiritual focus, and continuing membership growth. Under his leadership, the church voted to license Reverend Michael E. Oakley.
The Pastoral Search Ministry, led by Rev. Ballard, sought and found a Senior Pastor candidate and recommended him to the membership as the permanent pastor. In June 2006, the membership voted to call Reverend Dr. Harry L. White, Jr. to serve as the Senior Pastor of Watts Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Reverend White accepted the call and began his tenure on August 1, 2006. The Installation Celebration for Reverend Dr. Harry L. White, Jr. was held in December 2006.
In September 2006, during the celebration of its 130th Church Anniversary, the Watts Chapel Missionary Baptist Church Time Capsule was sealed containing items pertaining to Watts’ history and the history of its members. In the first year that Reverend White served as pastor, Fifth Sunday Youth Church was reorganized, the Children’s Nursery was revived, a new 14-passenger bus was purchased, 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning worship service replaced the 11:00 a.m. service, Watts held an evening Monday through Thursday Worship service during the Easter season, “Meet The Pastor” sessions for new members was a first for Watts Chapel, and the church held a Juneteenth celebration in conjunction with Vacation Bible School, another first for Watts.
Under Reverend White’s leadership, Watts Chapel experienced phenomenal growth. Membership grew by more than one hundred in his first year. In order to better transition new members, a four-week New Members Orientation became mandatory. Reverend Michael Oakley and Reverend Gayle Johnson were ordained on January 14, 2007.
In 2009, Watts Chapel began the Sunday 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services schedule, with Sunday School taught between the two. In 2010, Watts Chapel observed Youth Worship Services on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month. In 2011, our “Doing Good on Good Friday” Community Clean-up and Prayer Walk ministry began. Reverend Dr. Idella Johnson was licensed as a minister on May 1, 2011. Our AWANA Youth Ministry was organized and a new pictorial Church Directory was published in 2012.
In 2013, Watts Chapel Young Adult Missionary Ministry members made their first international missions trip to Haiti. Watts Chapel began and completed the addition of more than 250 parking spaces to accommodate our growing congregation! The first “Find Your Fit Day” was held to give members an opportunity to connect with church ministries and become more active.
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2014, several hundred Watts Chapel members, joined by members from a few other churches, helped pack more than 40,000 meals to send to third-world countries through the “Stop Hunger Now” project. This was just one of the many activities undertaken by the church to provide assistance to persons in need. Others include a mission trip to Ghana by a group of Watts Chapel youth, sending clothes and toiletries to incarcerated men and women, building Habitat for Humanity houses, and the “Christmas in the Carolinas” project filled an entire panel truck with needed items for those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Several new initiatives designed to enrich the lives of the Watts membership are now part of Watts Chapel life: Financial Peace University, a Business Directory, Zumba classes, Marriage Enrichment Retreats, numerous health and wellness activities, and much more.
Watts Chapel suffered a great personal loss with the death of Pastor Emeritus Frank B. Weaver on May 8,2014. His life of faithful service, dedication to God and strong leadership of Watts Chapel was celebrated on May 17, 2014.
Under the leadership of Rev. White, several new initiatives: HBCU Sunday, Social Media Sundays, Greek Week, Wednesdays in the Word, and Saturday Night Live services all helped to bring new members to Watts, By the end of the summer of 2014, membership had grown to more than 2200. Several overflow rooms were created to provide access to Sunday Worship services when the sanctuary is filled to capacity. Additional upgrades include major changes in media resources in the sanctuary. More changes are planned to accommodate our burgeoning membership.
The Watts Chapel Baptist Church Family is proud of its history, which contains a great deal of Christian progress, along with some setbacks. No matter what experiences have fallen upon the Watts Chapel family, we have held steadfast to our goal of Christian fellowship. With the grace and guidance of God Almighty, strong faith, and the hard work of our pastor and membership, there is deep optimism that the Watts Chapel family will continue to prosper, individually and collectively. We must hold fast to the strong heritage and legacy that has brought us thus far and will carry us into the future.