Hawthorne Kinlaw leans back in his chair, scratches his chin and tries to recall the history of the church he’s bee a member of all his life — First Baptist Church, 900 College St. At age 101, he readily admits he’s seen a lot of history there and now, he sits, trying to recall some of it.
After a few minutes, he smiles at the memories, returns his focus to the question at hand and says quietly, “It’s a wonderful place, my church. I’ve been going there since I was probably a little baby. My mama and daddy probably carried me there from a very early age. I grew up in that church, been part of a lot that’s gone on there.”
And now Kinlaw hopes to be a part of the church’s biggest celebration to date — its 143rd anniversary, a weekend that promises to be filled with worship, music, testimony and special memories that church members can carry with them.
“I’m excited about the celebration,” Kinlaw says, “and I hope I’m going to be able to do. I want to go if these legs will carry me.”
As the church’s oldest member, Kinlaw has seen a lot of celebrations there, but he believes this one will be one of its biggest yet.
“I hear it’s going to be something special,” he says.
And special it is going to be, attests First Baptist pastor, the Rev. Thomas Farrow Jr., who has served in his position with the church now for three years.
“We wanted to do something really nice this year, and I believe we’ve come up with just the right things to make it that way.”
The celebration will begin Friday night, March 8, with a banquet being held at the Agri-Exposition Center. Special guest speaker for the evening will be the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, pastor emeritus at Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago. Joining him for the Friday night celebration will be the Big 4 Choir, a group from Winston-Salem made up of alumni members from the four African-American high schools there before integration.
“We are excited to have Dr. Wright and the choir with us. We believe they will be a tremendous blessing to all those who attend,” Farrow said. “I really believe it is going to be a very, very special evening.”
But the celebration won’t end Friday; in fact, that’s just the beginning.
On Sunday, at First Baptist, the Rev. Dr. Rickey Harvey Sr., pastor of Mount Olivet Baptist Church, Rochester, NY, will be the 11 a.m. guest speaker and the First Baptist choirs will provide the music.
“That, too, is going to be special,” Farrow stressed about the Sunday services. “Our choirs have been rehearsing for the past two or three months under the director of Dr. Alfonzo Williamson Jr.. He’s a Clinton native who’s been coming down here and working with the combined choirs. They’ve worked very hard to put together something very special for our celebration.”
Farrow estimates that some 500 people will attend the banquet, being catered by Jenny Evans.
“Oh, yes, I expect we’ll have a big crowd. People are planning to come from all over the state … people impacted by our church directly or indirectly, some will be family members of church members, others will be friends of the church. All are welcome.”
Farrow sees the celebration as a way to honor what he called the “exciting times” going on at First Baptist.
“It really is an exciting time to celebrate what the Lord has done and continues to do.”
That sentiment isn’t lost on Kinlaw, who believes this celebration is just one more example of how the church is growing and advancing, drawing more and more people into its fold.
“It’s always exciting when the church does something that improves its standing. It’s good to let the world, so to speak, see the things that God is doing and to let everyone know that the Lord has all the power in heaven and on earth in his hands, and that the church is celebrating that.
“I’m so very proud, so very, very proud of my church, our pastor and the good things we are doing,” Kinlaw said.
A past trustee, deacon and member of the male chorus, Kinlaw said he has seen how the church has grown.
“We have a lot to celebrate,” he said.
Farrow believes that is true, too.
“We are growing and that’s good to see in a church. I think we’ve accomplished many good things, but we have more things we want to do as well.”
This celebration is among them. “We wanted to do something good, something awesome as we celebrate our church’s history. I believe we will have accomplished it,” Farrow.
The Rev. Dr. Wright
Wright became pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in 1972 and, within a matter of months, demonstrated an understanding and deep commitment to help the church achieve its motto and vision, a biography about the pastor states. That motto, “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian,” was phrase coined by his predecessor, the Rev. Dr. Reuben Sheares, and was officially adopted by the congregation shortly after Wright began his ministry.
A student of black sacred music, ethnomusicology and African Diaspora studies, Wright is a historian of religions. The foundational strengths gained from these studies, the bio states, shaped his vision for prophetic ministry.
Under Wright’s leadership, the membership of Trinity grew from 87 members in 1972 to over 8,000 members while he served as its pastor. He retired from the pastorate of Trinity after serving 36 years.
He has lectured at seminaries and universities across the United States and has represented Trinity and the United Church of Christ around the world. He is recognized as a leading theologian and pastor and has authored numerous articles for academic journals.
Big 4 Choir
The choir is made up of once graduates of the four historically black high schools in the Winston-Salem area — Albert H. Anderson, Simon G. Atkins, George W. Carver and John W. Paisley high schools.
The group has kept the concept of giving back as their mantra and for the past 18 years proceeds from events they’ve held are donated to various charities and community organizations throughout the Winston-Salem and surrounding areas to make “each day better for future generations in the name of those schools.”
The choir is currently under the musical direction of Eddie M. Bines Jr., who attributes his style of teaching and directing to the late Dr. Howard T. Pearsall and the renowned Jester Hairston.