In 1876, with the shock of General Custer’s army massacre still fresh on their minds, a small band of Christian believers needed a place to worship God freely. They went house to house in the Rhamkatte Community seeking a place to worship. They found a place when Mr. Samuel Watts gave them a small tract of land with a framed house on it. This is the place where the Watts Chapel Baptist Church was organized and named in his honor. The church was located on Rhamkatte Road (now Tryon Road) in the Swift Creek Township Community. The Watts Chapel Baptist Church name remains today and the location is 3703 Tryon Road, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Two years after organizing, Watts Chapel elected Reverend Essick Blake as its first pastor from 1878-1880. The first Deacon Board was organized under his leadership.
From 1880 to 1914, Watts Chapel continued to grow under the leadership of six pastors:
- 1880-1882 Reverend (first name unknown) 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
From 1914-1936, Reverend J.W. Jones served as senior pastor. The first Senior Choir, a Note Choir and the Missionary Board were organized during his leadership. Reverend Jones assumed the task of expanding the small meeting place. Finally, in 1916 the rebuilding of Watts Chapel was completed.
Reverend Robert Crockett served as pastor from1936-1940, and the first instrumental choir was organized.
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 that time, Reverend Peppers initiated the organization of the first Trustee Board, Deaconess Board, Usher Board and Junior Choir. Reverend Peppers left the Watts Chapel family and returned in1944. Unfortunately, during his second term the written records of Watts Chapel Baptist Church were destroyed by fire.
In 1946, Reverend Isaac Lee began his 19-year tenure as Senior Pastor. Under Reverend Lee’s leadership, the church experienced tremendous physical and spiritual growth. Numerous auxiliaries were started to include: 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. The Deacon Board and the Trustee Board were expanded. In addition, the church’s physical structure underwent extensive renovations and upgrading. Improvements to the church included the addition of a pastor’s study, indoor restrooms, new pews, a fellowship room and classrooms.Mr. Joe D. Withrow donated to the church a four-room army hut that was used as a kitchen and Sunday school classrooms.Three ministers were licensed and ordained: Reverend Patrick Burt, Reverend Otha Kearney and Reverend Stanley L. Ballentine, Sr. Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Stone gave the church its first deed to the land on December 29, 1957, as well as an additional parking area in 1962.
During Reverend Lee’s tenure, Watts Chapel progressed from holding one Sunday service per month to two worship services per month. Sunday morning worship service was held on the second and fourth Sundays. Reverend Richard Russell assisted the church by rendering services on the fourth Sundays in the absence of the pastor. Other ministers including Rev. Clyde Walton, Reverend James Toms, Reverend W.B. Lewis, Reverend John Mangum and Reverend Harvester Miles presided over fourth Sunday services to assist the pastor who had become ill. After 19 years of faithful service, Reverend Lee resigned in 1965.
Reverend Stanley L. Ballentine, Sr. served as interim pastor from 1965 to 1967.
On July 28, 1967, Reverend Dr. Frank Byrd Weaver was elected pastor. He was officially installed on October 13, 1968. During Reverend Weaver’s leadership, God did great works with his servants at Watts Chapel. The first educational classes were held and extensive remodeling of the church included the installation of cement walkways, a baptismal pool and air conditioning. On June 11, 1972, the church celebrated the mortgage burning.
Tragedy befell Watts Chapel in the fall of 1972. Lightning struck the church’s steeple and the building sustained major fire and water damage. Hence, the church had to be rebuilt. When construction of the new edifice began, regular worship services continued due to the Christian fellowship and generosity of our sister church, Saint John AME Church, also on Tryon Road. God remained faithful, and we continued to make progress while worshipping with our sister church. The church’s first gospel chorus, presently 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, Watts Chapel’s congregation returned to its new sanctuary. New additions included pews, carpet, a men’s and women’s lounge, a new public address system, a baptismal pool, and cement walkways.
In September 1976, Watts Chapel commemorated its centennial year with the Dedication of the Church and the Laying of the Cornerstone. Existing ministries continued to expand and the church experienced abundant growth in membership. As a result, Sunday morning worship services convened every Sunday. A church bus and van were purchased, a marquee was built in front of the church and the Young Adult Missionary Circle was organized.
In 1977, the first church library opened and four additional choirs were organized. Notably, the fourth choir was the Rosettes Choir which was originally a community choir.
From 1978-1988, Watts Chapel was blessed tremendously. In 1978, the church opened its first nursery. The ordination services for Reverend Mrs. Frances Matthews and Reverend Henry Strickland were held in 1981. Other ministers licensed and/or ordained during this period were Reverend Henry Edmonds, Reverend Terry Thomas, Reverend Bennie Bryant and Reverend Chester Debnam, Jr. In 1983, a new Christian Education Building was erected. New auxiliaries were organized including the Laymen’s League and the Hospitality, Recreation, Helping Hands and Tutorial Committees. The Deaconess Board was reorganized, and the first educational 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. The first Evangelistic Service was held on July 17, 1988, with Dr. Gregory Headen, President of Shaw Divinity School, as the speaker. Also, the first Evangelistic Radio Ministry began in 1988.
The church continued to prosper throughout the next decade. In October 1992, the church hired its first full-time secretary. The church purchased a handicap accessible van in 1993. This van was used, in part, to transport the elderly and handicapped to church, medical appointments and shopping. In 1994, the church made additional renovations including the addition of an audiovisual room, two classrooms, a new baptismal pool, and the expansion of the choir loft. On April 23, 1994, the F.B. Weaver Youth Gospel Choir won $15,000 in the Quaker Oats Company Voices of Tomorrow Contest. This monetary award was used to start the Watts Chapel Scholarship Fund for graduating high school seniors. In 1995, Watts Chapel purchased approximately 48 acres of land with plans to build a new 800-seat sanctuary. In February 1998, Watts observed its first Race Relations Day. In 1999, a new sanctuary wing was built, Boy Scout Troop 253 was reactivated and Reverend C. Wayne Glenn was ordained.
In 2000, the new sanctuary was dedicated. Watts Chapel hosted the 133rd annual session of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Inc. and the 50th annual session of the State Laymen’s League Convention. Also Cub Scout Pack 253 was reactivated and Girl Scout Troop 797 was activated.
On August 31, 2001, Reverend Dr. Frank B. Weaver retired from Watts Chapel Baptist Church after 34 years of faithful and dedicated service. The Watts Chapel Baptist Church is immensely grateful to Reverend Weaver for his leadership and longstanding commitment. On September 9, 2001, Watts Chapel celebrated its 125th Church Anniversary and Homecoming Service.
Reverend James E. Richardson began at Watts Chapel as interim pastor on March 3, 2002, and served until December 2003 when the congregation voted to retain him as Senior 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 with Watts Chapel in October 2004.
On April 1, 2005, Reverend Dr. James D. Ballard began serving as interim pastor. Reverend Ballard brought strong leadership and a powerful delivery of God’s Word through preaching. His years of experience as a pastor were instrumental in reuniting the church family, reviving its spiritual focus, and continuing the growth of the membership. Under his leadership, the church voted and licensed Reverend Michael E. Oakley. With Reverend Ballard’s facilitation, the Pastoral Search Ministry sought and found a senior pastor candidate and recommended him to the membership as the full-time pastor.
In June 2006, the membership voted to call Reverend Dr. Harry L. White, Jr. as the Senior Pastor of Watts Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Reverend White accepted the call and began his tenure on August 1, 2006. In his covenant with Watts Chapel Pastor White said, “The pastorate is a sacred trust between Almighty God, the pastor and the congregation to whom the pastor has been sent to lead. Serving as a pastor is a privilege and responsibility that requires loving, visionary leadership.”
Also in 2006 the Watts Chapel Church bell, which had previously hung in the steeple that burned, was restored and placed in a cabinet in the church foyer. In September 2006, during the celebration of the 130th church anniversary, the Watts Chapel Missionary Baptist Church Time Capsule was sealed.
The Installation Celebration for Reverend Dr. Harry L. White, Jr. was held in December 2006, and a new era began. During the first year of Reverend White’s tenure, Fifth Sunday Youth Church was reorganized, the Children’s Nursery was revived, a new 14-passenger bus was purchased, a 10:00 a.m. Sunday Morning Worship Celebration replaced the 11:00 a.m. service and the church held its first Juneteenth Celebration in conjunction with the Vacation Bible School picnic. Reverend Michael Oakley and Reverend Gayle Johnson were ordained on January 14, 2007. The annual women’s day observance was rebranded Sisterhood Weekend featuring fellowship, prayer, workshops, seminars, and other activities. In order to better transition new members, a four-week New Members Class was started.
In 2008, Tuesday Noon Day Bible Study started and 250 parking spaces were added to accommodate the growing membership. In 2009, Watts Chapel began having two Sunday morning worship services at 8:00 am and 10:30 am. The Communications Ministry (currently the Bridge Ministry) was organized to assimilate new and inactive members into ministry life at Watts. In 2010, youth worship services began on the second and fourth Sundays of each month, the Drama and Media Ministries were created, quarterly recognition of A and A/B honor roll students started and God’s Property Ministry sponsored the first Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Course.
Dr. Idella Johnson was licensed as a minister of the gospel on May 1, 2011. Also, in 2011 AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) clubs were launched and Watts Chapel hosted its first Mother and Daughter Tea as part of the annual Women’s Sisterhood Weekend Celebration.
During the years 2012-2014, numerous firsts were observed at Watts Chapel. In 2013, the construction of the parking lot expansion and retention area were completed. Meet and Greet for first time visitors began. In 2013 and 2014, the Children and Youth Ministry hosted mission trips to Haiti and Ghana, West Africa, respectively. The first “Find Your Fit” Day, a ministry fair to help members discover their spiritual gifts and talents and where they can serve in ministry at Watts Chapel, and the first Baccalaureate Worship Celebration honoring graduates were held in 2014.
Watts Chapel experienced radical change and growth in 2015. Two hundred fifty-eight people joined the Watts Chapel family. To accommodate membership growth, a third Sunday morning worship service was added. Watts Chapel currently holds Sunday worship celebrations weekly at 7:45 am, 9:30 am, and 11:30 am. Sunday School was transitioned to Small Group Saturdays and Tuesday Nights Together (TNT) for men and women. The Children and Youth Ministry led a seven-day mission trip to Belize, Central America and the Ushers Ministry celebrated its 75th anniversary. On August 30, 2015, Brothers Adrian Bullock, Jeremy McCants and Sammy Robinson were licensed as ministers of the Gospel. On October 25, 2015, Watts Chapel ordained its first female deacons, Sister Robbie Debnam Graham and Sister Anita Carlton.
On October 8, 2016, Watts Chapel celebrated the tenth pastoral anniversary of Reverend Dr. Harry L. White, Jr. During his first 10 years as pastor, the membership grew from 500 to more than 2,300. Pastor White worked diligently to encourage increased member participation in the life of the church through “Find Your Fit” ministry fairs and PLACE workshops. Also, Pastor White introduced the practice of celebrating his birthday with “Party with a Purpose” events to collect personal and school supplies to fill children’s backpacks. Community outreach increased and community service projects were promoted through participation in initiatives such as Stop Hunger Now, Brown Bag Ministry, Christmas in the Carolinas, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle in Flint, Michigan water contamination crisis, the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Charleston, SC slain members, and funds to college students displaced by natural disasters. In 2016, Watts Chapel also celebrated the ordination of Reverend Jeremy McCants and Reverend Sammy Robinson.
The years 2017-2020 have been fruitful years for Watts Chapel. In 2017, Sister D’Najah Pendergrass and Sister Benita Smith were licensed as ministers of the Gospel. In 2018, over 2,800 disciples called Watts Chapel their church home, and by 2019 the membership exceeded 3,000.
Faced with the COVID-19 global pandemic and civil unrest in 2020, the church has continued its ministry through technologies such as Live Stream, Zoom, Facebook, YouTube and radio broadcasts. Watts Chapel has continued to grow and welcomes new members through its online portal. Watts Chapel Missionary Baptist Church Family is proud of its history which includes much progress along with some setbacks. Watts Chapel remains a beacon within the community and true to its vision of being a church that is “Christ Centered, Biblically-Based, and Ministry Focused.”
Updated: February 2021