History Of The First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church of Jersey City celebrated its 160th anniversary on Sunday, November 22, 1998. Formally organized by a group of thirteen baptized believers on November 27, 1838, the history of First Baptist is a shared history with many other Baptist churches in Jersey City. In essence, First Baptist might be perceived as the "mother" of several prestigious Baptist houses of worship in Jersey City.

Our Roots

It was in 1828 when James Howe, a member of the Baptist Church on Oliver Street, New York, moved to Jersey City and began holding prayer meetings. According to our documents, the first attempt to organize a Baptist Church in Jersey City, New Jersey was on August 24, 1838. It was "Resolved: that the Brethren Moore and Howe be a committee to confer with the ministries and other brethren of Baptist Churches in New York on the expediency of forming a Baptist Church in this place."

The date was November 27, 1838, when the First Baptist Church was organized. Thirteen charter members gathered in a small city of a settlement of about a thousand souls. As a young Church, it recognized the necessity of leadership and was willing to pay for it. Hence on this day they resolved: "That we engage the service of Reverend Joseph Houghmont, as our Pastor, for six months, that we give him four dollars per week."

The names of the first thirteen charter members were: John P. Hill, James Howe, John Cromwell, Hester Cromwell, Ann Moore, William Young, Jane Young, Thomas Taylor, Margaret Taylor, Mary S. James, Elizabeth Cleovor, Mary Steel, and Catharine Steel.

The First Baptist Church of Jersey City and Harsimus

On March 11, 1839, a council met at the home of Mrs. Mary S. James, the widow of a deceased minister, who lived on Railroad Avenue, between Grove and Newark Street and recognized the Church as The First Baptist Church of Jersey City and Harsimus. The Church worshipped in private houses until a building on Barrow Street between Newark and Railroad Avenues was erected.

The Church grew from thirteen charter members to over 273 members with-in the first nine years of its history. These nine years were filled with much contention. Over half of the membership were foreign born with controversial ideas from the other half. A large portion of the membership was abolitionist while others were not sympathetic with them. The Church put on record "believing everything which has a tendency to cause contention and schism in the Church of God ought to be avoided."

On September 4, 1842, forty-six members withdrew to join the MacDougal Street Baptist Church of New York City.

The Jersey City Baptist Church

With the controversy over slavery, The First Baptist Church was known as the Jersey City Baptist Church in the 1840's. The moderator at that time and the Church clerk wrote about their views:

"We believe that a slaveholder, or one who traffics in human beings, is not a fit member for a Gospel Church, and that it would be sinful for such a Church knowing to suffer one to sit down and commune with them . . . believing that the Bible enjoins us to be open and candid in all things, we therefore cannot consistently admit to fellowship any member of a Secret Society."

The early years were tense years as the First Baptist Church had formed three Churches in our city. On August 4, 1847, a conciliatory resolution was written:

"Resolved, that we have heard with deep regret of the step taken by our brethren in Harsimus, and we advise them to come together once more, and to meet us, and consult together, respecting the best means to be adopted.

"Resolved, "that Jersey City is ready to form a union of the Baptist Churches of this place when, the Grand Street Church is ready..."

At a general meeting on March 1, 1848, the following preamble was written:

Whereas "The Baptists of Jersey City and Harsimus have been heretofore divided by differences of opinions of an afflictive nature"


Resolved "that everything of an unpleasant nature, or cause of grief, shall be, and is heartily forgiven, and shall never be referred to by us"

Resolved "that we proceed to organize a Baptist Church, to be called by a name not yet resolved on."

The Grand Street Baptist Church

In 1844, Travis Haynes, who had been a faithful Pastor of Jersey City and Harsimus Church for two years, split the Church and formed the Grand Street Baptist Church.

Years of Search for Property

The years of 1838 to 1847 had resulted in the formation of three Baptist Churches in Jersey City, New Jersey. Unfortunately, none of the Churches had acquired any property. All had names, yet worshipped in rented halls. Early attempts had been made to build in 1847, but nothing came to fruition.

The First Church Building

On June 19, 1850, a building committee was appointed: the building on Grove Street, near the city hall was built at a cost of $17,000, and was dedicated July 17, 1853. The erection of this building was a great achievement at that time. None of the members were wealthy, yet the building was completed, under the leadership of the Reverend William Verrinder, who pastored the church 1849-1854.

The Wheelock Parmly Years

The First Baptist Church experienced remarkable growth under Reverend Wheelock Parmly, who pastored this Church from 1854-1894. He came to a congregation who had just completed a new building and was ready to be challenged for the 1900's. Dr. Parmly came from Burlington, New Jersey. His Pastorate was noted for its length. With the growth of the city, the Church flourished. Most of the Baptist Churches now existing in Jersey City were somehow related to the First Baptist Church. In 1857, twenty members were dismissed to become the members of the (now called - omit) Summit Avenue Baptist Church. In 1858, twenty-three were dismissed to form the Bethesada Baptist Church. In 1860, fifteen members were dismissed to form the Bergen Baptist Church. In 1865, the First Baptist Church established a Sunday School in Symth's Hall, at the corner of Grove and Fourth Streets. It grew so rapidly that the next thirty members were dismissed to form the North Baptist Church.

The Parmly Memorial Baptist Church

At a special meeting called on November 30, 1894, the following action was taken in honor of Rev. Dr. Wheelock Parmly:

Resolved: "that the name of this Church be changed from the First Baptist Church of Jersey City, to the Parmly Memorial Baptist Church of Jersey City and that thereafter this Church shall be legally known and designated by this title."

Looking for a Now Location

The Parmly Memorial Baptist Church flourished in the late 1800's. With a massive influx of immigrants of other languages and other religions, the city of Jersey City was changing. The city was improving its transit system. The stagecoaches ran from the ferry to the hill section (waterfront to the uptown area), but it was necessary for most to live within walking distance of their jobs or near the ferry to New York.

The Present Edifice

The year was 1909. It was a happy spirit for the Parmly Memorial Baptist Church. The last Sunday in the old building was on December 5, 1909. Many invitations were sent out to friends and former members, who were now living out of the city. Under the pastorate of the Reverend J. Madison Hare, the Church moved into our present building with a new sense of spirit and vision for the 1900's.

The Years 1900-1938

The years of 1909-1938, were happy years for the Parmly Memorial Baptist Church. During the centennial celebration the members honored the Reverend J. Madison Hare. Pastor Hare was responsible for leading the church into the new building.

Following the Reverend Hare, was the Reverend B.B. Abbit of Camden, New Jersey. He was installed on October 22, 1914. The Reverend Benjamin Abbit resigned in December 1925, to become Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Hempstead, Long Island. Five months later Dr. M.T. Shelford was called to be the Pastor. His installation was held on June 7, 1926.

Dr. Shelford resigned, and the Reverend Arthur Y. Halter became Pastor during the depression years, November 1, 1931, to May 1, 1934. In 1935, the Church extended a unanimous call to the Reverend C.P. Newton, a Chaplain of the National Guard in the United States with a rank as Lieutenant Colonel.

The centennial year was celebrated for one entire week, November 27 to December 14, 1938 as the Parmly Memorial Baptist Church.

Surival During 1938 to 1945

The depression years were difficult for the Church. Members lost jobs and the economic stability of those days were tough, yet "She" struggled to survive.

1945 (Merger and Name Change): The First Baptist Church

In the year 1945, a merging of two Baptist Churches occurred. The Parmly Memorial Baptist Church, The Bergen Baptist Church, and a group from the Summit Avenue Baptist Church, who lived in the Bergen area, joined the merging of the two Churches. With a strengthened leadership and a combining of assets into a present date Endowment Fund, the Church again changed its name to the First Baptist Church of Jersey City, New Jersey.

The Church in 1946

The Reverend Darrell Boyd Years

In 1981, the Church called a young Pastor to lead the Church. After over ten years of interim pastors, First Baptist Church experienced a remarkable growth in its social consciousness under the Reverend Darrell Boyd.

7 Ministries to the Haitian community of Jersey City:

  1. Establishing a Food Pantry to feed the hungry and homeless
  2. A Deacon's Shepherding Program
  3. Increased attendance in worship
  4. A Young Adult Ministry
  5. A Youth Ministry
  6. A Neighborhood Outreach Ministry
  7. A strong Christian Education Ministry

The Calling of The Reverend Glenmore Bembry, Jr.

On March 15, 1987, the Pulpit Committee of the First Baptist Church invited The Reverend Glenmore Bembry, Jr. to preach as a candidate for Pastor. He and his wife Michelle came to visit the Church and afterwards the Church met in session and voted unanimously to call its new Pastor. Reverend Bembry assumed the Pastorate on May 1, 1987, and was installed on May 31, 1987.

The Resurgence of First Baptist Church:
The Installation of Reverend Eva C. Foster

With the departure of Reverend Bembry, First Baptist was without permanent leadership for many years. However, after a long tradition of male leadership, First Baptist Church made history on March 1, 1998 by installing its first permanent woman pastor, Reverend Eva C. Foster.

Under Reverend Foster's leadership, First Baptist Church developed a renewed sense of commitment. She brought hope and inspiration to the multi-national congregation.

The Interior

One Of The Beautiful Stained-Glass Windows

Our Present Day First Baptist Church

The current pastor, Frances Day, was ordained by ABCUSA as Reverend Frances Day on August 23, 2003. On October 19, 2003, Frances Day was installed as the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church.

The First Baptist Church is a reflection of the cultural differences of our city. A once predominately Anglo Saxon congregation, it is now an "International Church", whose congregation consists of proud African-American, Caribbean, Latino and Filipino families

A Jewel For The Eye, The Mind, And The Soul

"Celebrate Our Legacy . . . Face Our Future"

Need More Information?
Call Pastor Frances Day