History of St. John’s Baptist Church
Chronological History of the Saint John’s Baptist Church, Woburn, Massachusetts
On the 18th day of September 1886, at the residence of Mr. Saunders Sims on Everett Street, Woburn, Massachusetts, near where the church now stands, there assembled eleven persons. Mr. Sims was elected Chairman, with Mr. S.D. Turner as secretary. Mr. Wilson Fitchett, Mr. John White, and Mr. Henry W. Dickerson were elected as the treasury committee. The result of the meeting was the organization of a mission, named the “St. Paul’s Baptist Mission. It was so named because most of the members were parishioners of St. Paul’s Church of Boston.
A short time after the organization of the mission, Reverend Peter Smith came to Woburn, and at his suggestion, the name was changed to “The St. John’s Baptist Mission.” It was at a meeting held in Mr. Thomas Allen’s home on Broad Street that this took place. At the same meeting it was decided to worship in the Old Fraternity Hall on Main Street near High Street.
The membership increased steadily until it was large enough to be set apart as a regular Baptist church. Accordingly, a committee consisting of Brothers Fitchett, Dickerson, Sims, and White were appointed to draw up a constitution. On July 5, 1887, The Saint John’s Baptist Church was fully organized. It had a membership of twenty. Shortly, five more were added. Still later, six were admitted to membership by letter; eleven by Christian Experience; and eight by baptism; the membership had increased to a grand total of fifty.
Charter Members & Church Council
The Thirteen Charter Members:
John W. White
Mrs. Thomas Allen
Cora Heggie Russell
Lottie O. White
Henry W. Dickerson
Charter Members of the Sunday School:
Albert W. White
The First Deacons of the Church:
Henry W. Dickerson
John W. White
On May 27, 1888 a council was called to recognize the church as a body. The council consisted of the following churches and pastors:
- First Baptist Church of Woburn – Reverend D.W. Winn
- First Baptist Church of Winchester – Reverend Fielded
- First Baptist Church of Medford – Reverend J. P. Abbott
- Twelfth Baptist Church of Boston – Reverend N.R. Fairfax
- Myrtle Baptist Church of West Newton – Reverend Jacob Burrell
In September 1888, the church was received into the Boston North Association (presently known as the Adoniram Judson Association). Brothers Alexander Easily, Henry W. Dickerson, Saunders Sims, and Wilson Fitchett represented St. John’s as delegates at the annual convention. Listed below are a few temporary ministers along with pastors of the St. John’s Baptist Church.
Past and Present Pastors
There have been approximately twenty pastors and many supply ministers. There are no known records of most of the supply ministers, therefore only a few are mentioned.
Brother James W. Taylor supplied the church for approximately one year. He received a total of $17.00 for his services. When he left the church Brothers Saunders Sims and Wilson Fitchett (Licentiate) acted as temporary speakers until a pastor could be located. They were paid $5.00 per month.
Reverend G. G. Robinson was the first pastor of St. John’s. He baptized the first eight candidates. A rally was held to raise money for a church lot on Fowle Street, $125.00 was gained. The cost of the lot was $425.00. After paying $325.00 on the lot, Mr. Holder gave the church a lot on Green Street as a New Year’s gift.
Under the leadership of Reverend T.H. Thompson the foundation was laid on Green Street, but by misfortune the lot was returned to the giver due to restrictions in the deed.
Brother Wilson Fitchett supplied the church for the second time. He was paid $5.00 per month.
Reverend L. G. Walden served as Pastor four years. He left in the building fund treasury $131.00.
Reverend C. Jean Jacques, a native of Haiti, was ordained at the First Baptist Church of Woburn to become pastor of the Saint John’s Baptist Church on May 30, 1895. After he had secured the present site and with $2800.00 to build, he accepted a call to Calvary Baptist Church in Boston. Reverend Jacques served St. John’s for approximately three years. He left in October 1898 and the building commenced in November of that same year. It took twelve years to obtain a permanent meeting place.
Reverend Walter Gay came to St. John’s from Haverhill in March 1899. The church was dedicated in May.
Reverend William Henry Scott, D. D. was pastor of the Saint John’s Baptist Church for a period of six years from 1900 until 1906, longer than any other pastor at that particular time in the church’s history. He was born in Virginia on June 15, 1848. He was born a slave and escaped to Massachusetts. He was bought by Mr. Muzzi. He was ordained on January 16, 1880 at Mt. Olive Baptist Church, Virginia. Under his leadership the church celebrated its 16th anniversary in 1902.
Reverend Scott was among the founders of the Niagara Movement, which eventually became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He spent many years of his life as an organizer for human rights and a champion for justice (1848 – 1910). He attended the New England Missionary Convention, October 19, 1909 at St. Paul’s Church in Boston. Reverend Scott died in 1910. His grandson, Henry Scott, and wife Elizabeth (Betty) Scott resided on Union Street in Woburn. Mr. Henry Scott died in 1986. Mrs. Betty Scott is presently a member of St. John’s and serves as an Honorary Deaconess (2005).
Reverend Joshua H. Dennis baptized Catherine Canada in 1909. “Mother” Rosetta Catherine Virginia Canada was born in 1896. She was baptized at the age of thirteen and remained an active member of St. John’s until her death in 1991.
Reverend W. S. Carey helped the church raise $500.00 on a mortgage of $750.00 during his ministry.
Reverend G. E. Hughes saw during his ministry the mortgage money raised and remainder of a mortgage debt of $250.00 paid. The burning of the mortgage was commemorated.
Reverend Henry Helfin Jones was installed as pastor in June of 1914. He served the church as pastor from 1914 until 1930. Reverend Jones was educated in Virginia and spent several years in New York. He took a great interest in the youth of the church while Pastor. He worked hard to keep the standards of the church high. In 1920 a revival and financial rally was held, raising $1,515.00. A pipe action organ was purchased along with new pews. Reverend Jones and the congregation celebrated the 41st anniversary of the church and the 14th anniversary of Reverend Jones as pastor on October 14-21, 1928.
Reverend L. Llewelyn Clark came to St. John’s after his graduation from Andover Newton Theological Seminary. He served two years from 1930 until 1932.
Reverend Joseph W. Wiley is a native of North Carolina. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School. He was the minister of Saint John’s from 1932 until 1934.
Reverend A. Roger Williams of Boston came to St. John’s in 1934 while a student at Andover Newton Theological Seminary. During this period the church was shingled on the exterior and redecorated on the interior. A new lighting system was installed. In 1940 a fundraising project was initiated by Constance White, a granddaughter of two of the Charter Members, for memorial stained glass windows for the church. The stained glass windows were purchased, installed, and dedicated that same year. Reverend Williams continued his successive work until he enlisted in the United States Army Chaplain Corps in February 1942, and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant. Upon his termination of service with the church, a farewell banquet was given on February 28, 1942. He later pastored Union Baptist Church in Hartford, Connecticut.
Reverend Edward D. McCreary, Jr. of Charlottesville, Virginia graduate of Andover Newton Theological Seminary and son of Reverend and Mrs. Edward D. McCreary, Sr. was from a family of eleven ministers. During the time that Reverend McCreary was pastor of Saint John’s the building was greatly improved. New hardwood floors were laid, new pews were installed in the main auditorium, the interior of the church was decorated and improvements were made in the vestry (see photo of original church building). Reverend McCreary later pastored in Richmond, Virginia. He is a retired teacher from Virginia Union Theological School. His daughter, Edwina McCreary Richmond of New York City visited St. John’s in the mid 1980’s.
Reverend Harold T. Branch was born in Couroe, Texas. In the spring of 1943 he graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1946 he received a B.D. Degree from Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton Centre Massachusetts. While pastor of St. John’s Reverend Branch served as a member of the cabinet of the National Baptist Youth Fellowship; he served as a member of the National Council of B.Y.F. of the Northern Baptist Convention (two years); was a member of the Christian Friendliness Committee of the Massachusetts Baptist Convention; and was elected secretary – treasurer of the Woburn Federation of Youth for 1947. During his pastorate twenty-two (22) people joined the Church by baptism and two on Christian experience. In 1944 the vestry of the church was remodeled. During 1944 and 1945, $165.00 was raised for the purpose of a heating system. The church voted to raise $250.00 for World Mission Crusade during 1947 and 1948. Reverend Branch pastored St. John’s from October 1, 1943 until 1947. He was ordained at St. John’s. He resigned and returned to his home state of Texas where he pastored the St. Stephen’s Baptist Church, San Antonio.
Reverend James C. Fields was the first minister to serve his internship at the St. John’s Baptist Church. He became pastor of Zion Baptist Church of Lynn, Massachusetts.
Reverend Charles W. Gillenwater was called as interim minister for a period of three months. He remained with the church for twenty (20) months before leaving for Detroit, Michigan. During his stay a new heating system was installed. He also performed the wedding ceremony of Elizabeth Scott to Henry Scott on June 6, 1948. Deaconess Elizabeth Scott is now the “Mother” of the St. John’s Baptist Church. (June 2005).
Reverend Vann served the St. John’s Baptist Church for two years.
Reverend Percy Carter, Jr. was the next minister to serve the St. John’s Baptist Church. He stayed for four years.
Reverend Dr. Henry C. Brooks was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1929. He graduated from Storer College, Andover Newton Theological School, and earned a doctorate at Boston University. He came to St. John’s as interim minister in February 1955. He was installed as pastor in December 1955. During his regime the church was painted on the outside and new stairs were built. A drive for a new organ was held and the organ was installed. Under the leadership of Reverend Brooks the membership of the church increased and the 70th anniversary of the church was celebrated on October 21-27, 1957. He resigned in 1959. Reverend Brooks was a professor and director of psychology and clinical studies at the Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Massachusetts from 1958 until his retirement in 1995. As director of the school’s clinical pastoral education program, he trained more than 1,000 ministers and religious educators in spiritually based counseling and family crisis intervention. He was chaplain at Boston City Hospital (Boston Medical Center) from 1963 to 1993. He was a member of the General Board of American Baptist Churches and its Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board. The Brooks family was longtime residents of Newton Center and members of the First Baptist Church of Newton, Massachusetts. Reverend Brooks received many honors and awards including the Doctor of Divinity Degree from Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia, the Cutting Medal for Distinguished Service in Religion and Medicine as well as Chaplain of the Year by the American Baptist Churches.
Under the leadership of Reverend G. Daniel Jones a testimonial dinner was held to honor members of the church for continued service to the church for fifty (50) years or longer. Those honored were:
- Edith White Crutcher
- Evelyn Robinson Thomas
- Lottie Olphin White
- Catherine Canada (died 12/20/1991)
- Clara Burwell Pollins
- Chester Canada
- Ida Reed Johnson
- Rose Crutcher Kendall
- Helen Robinson Hathaway
- Mildred Fowles Phillips
- Mae Adams Petty
- Marion Harris Snowden (died 11/28/1989)
- Reverend Jones was pastor of the Messiah Baptist Church in Brockton, Massachusetts. He pastored for many years in Portsmouth, Virginia, and the Grace Baptist Church, Germantown, Pennsylvania.
Reverend Harold G. Ross Jr., was the next pastor at St. John’s. He was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey and raised in Pleasantville, New Jersey, and was valedictorian of his class at Atlantic City High School. He was ordained at the age of 19. He graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1955. Reverend Ross moved to Boston in 1958, joining the staff of the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury as assistant pastor, head minister of St. John’s Baptist Church in Woburn, and head pastor of the Greater Framingham Community Church. He was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of founding his own parish, New Bethel Baptist Church in Framingham, where he was serving at the time of his death on January 8, 2000. Reverend Ross and his wife Clementine were married 45 years upon his death. Their children are Harold III, Sheldon, Hariet, and Arlinda Ross. Reverend Ross was a direct descendant of Harriet Tubman, the under-ground railroad heroine who helped 300 slaves reach freedom in the 1850’s. During some of Boston’s most tumultuous years, Reverend Ross built alliances across racial and ethnic lines to fight ‘redlining,’ the practice by banks of refusing to lend money to African Americans to buy homes outside a strictly defined area of Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan. In the 1960’s he helped organize the Association for Better Housing in Boston, a group that worked with banners and federal housing officials to help more than 1,000 black families obtain mortgages to buy homes. For his work with the association, Suffolk University Law School awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Humanities Degree in 1972. Suffolk praised him for bringing ‘new vision and contemporary relevance’ to his Christian faith through his civic activism. (Boston Globe, January 10, 2000).
Reverend Larry Edmunds came to Saint John’s Baptist Church as a supply minister in November 1974. After only a few months, he became interim minister, and in 1976 he became pastor. He was ordained at St. John’s in 1978. He was a teacher of Social Work at Salem State College, Salem, Massachusetts, and remained a professor there until 1985. Reverend Edmunds is a graduate of Lincoln University of Pennsylvania and he holds Masters Degrees in Theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts and Andover Newton Theological Seminary, Newton Centre, Massachusetts. He is an active participant in organized religious life throughout Greater Boston. From the mid 1970’s through the end of the decade, many notable strides and gains were made at the Saint John’s Baptist Church under the leadership of Reverend Edmunds. He accepted the pastorship of the church with twenty regularly attending members. There were two deacons, Walter Green and Plummer Turner. A new beginning was required to continue the vision of the charter members and to ensure the future of the church. When Reverend Edmunds and First Lady Maxine Heard Edmunds came to St. John’s, there was a great need for physical and spiritual uplift. A systematic rebuilding began. The remainder of the 1970’s was spent recruiting members through programmed outreach to black citizens in the area and re-establishing leadership structure at the church, i.e. the board of deacons, trustee, choir, and musicians. Reverend Edmunds initiated yearly reports and record keeping systems. He established Bible study and classes in Baptist policy. As membership increased, space and safety factors became an issue (building 93 years old). In 1979 a retreat was held to explore the relative merits of upgrading or relocation. These discussions led to the decision to renovate the existing facility. A “Target Membership Drive” was mobilized. The target areas were: Winchester, Billerica, Lexington, and West Peabody. The 1980’s brought continuing growth, expansion, and change. The emphasis was Christian education, missions, and other services became a global effort. Some of the significant highlights of the 1980’s included two major renovations and building expansions. The first began in December 1977 and ended in June 1980. The second began in November 1988 and was completed in October 1989. (1.25 million dollars) During the second building project Sunday services and other church related activities were held at the United Methodist Church and the First Baptist Church of Woburn.
Rev. Dr. Neal E. Pearson and his family joined the St. John’s Baptist Church of Woburn, Massachusetts in 1983 and soon became involved in a number of church endeavors. In 1986 he joined the Deacon Board and became its Chairman in 1988. Neal served in that position until 1991 when he answered his call to preach the word of God. He has also served as the New Building Co-Chair, Director of the Capital Stewardship Program, Trustee and Chairman of the Board of Trustee, Adult Sunday-School Teacher, Prayer and Share Bible Study facilitator and musician for all the choirs. The Capital Stewardship Campaign Co-Chaired, at that time by, Deacon Neal Pearson and wife, Deaconess Esther Pearson, was fund driven based on systematic giving above and beyond normal giving. This fund-raiser began on March 31, 1991 and ended in March 1994. He graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME), where he received his Masters of Arts in Urban Ministry, with a concentration in Religious Education in 1996. In 2003 he received his Master of Divinity Degree which was followed by a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in May 2005. Reverend Dr. Neal E. Pearson, was first ordained and installed as the Associate Pastor on May 1, 2005, and was later installed as pastor of the St. John’s Baptist Church on Sunday October 21, 2007. Upon becoming pastor, Rev. Dr. Neal E. Pearson initiated the church mission: “The Word, The World, The Work” – As stated in Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end if the age.” Reverend Pearson, issued this challenge for the year containing three essential ingredients: “The first ingredient is to get into the Word. The second ingredient is to go into the World. The third ingredient is to do the Work of the Lord.” In 2015, Pastor Pearson began on Sunday evenings hosting at St. John’s Baptist Church, a Woburn community Brazilian church, “The King Jesus Ministry”. This initiative provided an outreach to the expanding Brazilian community and an acknowledgment of the diversity in the Body of Christ. Reverend Dr. Neal E. Pearson born in Lincoln, Alabama was raised in Warren, Ohio. He is the eldest son of Earnest and Florrie Pearson. He moved to Massachusetts in 1983 to work for Digital Corporation as an Industrial Engineer. He is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is married to his wife of over 40 years Dr. Esther Pearson. They have one daughter Tiffini Nicole Pearson-Callion and one grandson Levi Callion.
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