Two Dinwiddie Congregations Celebrate 150th Anniversaries Together
Local churches come together for a shared celebration
“It dawned on me that there was a church—a Baptist church—founded in the exact same year…and I started toying with the idea of: What if we were to celebrate together?”
Shortly after beginning his first-ever, full-time pastorate at Central Baptist Church in Dinwiddie, VA, Jacob Drake drove around his church’s area and noticed a sign at Rocky Branch Baptist Church—only a few miles down the road from Central—saying they, like Central, were also founded in 1873.
Central Baptist Church, upon its constitution in 1873 following a merger with nearby Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, was comprised of white members. That same year, Rocky Branch Baptist Church, a Black congregation, was founded only five miles away. For 150 years, these two separate Baptist bodies have operated independently of each other, and both churches have flourished.
Drake began thinking about whether the two churches might celebrate their 150th anniversaries together in 2023. The Covid pandemic delayed some of their thinking and planning, but sometime in 2022, Drake talked with congregants at their weekly prayer meeting and now recalls, “It all kind of coalesced.”
“I called them [at Rocky Mount], kind of out of the blue,” he remembered.
At first they asked, “So…where are you?”
“Which was kind of sad,” he commented, “that we were so close—yet so far.” He further explained that they weren’t exactly looking to do a racial reconciliation thing, but “God has a way of working.” Rocky Branch thought the joint celebration was a good idea, and plans for a special worship service began to come together.
Alexandria“Alex” Rhodes has been an active part of Central for the past seven years, since she attended Vacation Bible School there as a fourth grader. She attends their weekly prayer meetings on Monday nights, and she remembers the actual meeting when, discussing their history, they began talking about their upcoming anniversary. Alex and her mother, Tabitha Rhodes, are two members of the onlyBlack family at Central Baptist. They both developed a vision for how the life-changing power of the gospel could be illustrated by these two churches—separated by race at their “births”—coming together to celebrate themselves and each other at a significant milestone in their histories.
“Dinwiddie…our whole country…has history of division and separation,” said Alex. “And it’s not a coincidence that there’s a white church celebrating its 150th anniversary and there’s a Black church up the road. We talked about some ugly things in our past but also about our hopes for the future.”
She remembers Pastor Jacob bringing up the idea of the two congregations celebrating together and that it all came together in a beautiful way, as they began meeting together to plan a service that would be reflective of both congregations.
“I never.expected the church to go for this,” Drake said. “We’re actually on a Civil War battlefield here; the Battle of Five Forks was right down the road, and it’s living history. But to see something spiritual grow out of the dirt here…I’ve got no words for it.
On October 15 and 29, 2023, Central and Rocky Branch realized their vision of coming together and held joint worship services to commemorate their sesquicentennial celebrations with joint choirs and a wonderful luncheon. “The culmination of the services was the intentional act of Communion together,” Drake explained,“because the table of God is the perfect picture of what we’re trying to do.”
The joyful, shared experience was moving for Alex, who said, “It touched my heart to see so many diverse faces in our church, which doesn’t look like this every Sunday. Itwas really beautiful.”
“We’re not trying to join two churches together, or to get everyone to be best friends, or to get everyone to think alike,” Drake said further. “We’re just trying to say to ourselves and to the world that we are Christians together, and this is what we’re about. We celebrate Jesus and we remember his death and his resurrection, and that gives us purpose and gives us life.”
And while the two churches didn’t set out to make this celebration anything besides a joint worship service recognizing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ,“There’s a lot of excitement bubbling up about future partnerships,” Drake commented.
When asked about some things he learned from the experience, he reflected, “It showed me how hungry people are for real community. And that when we look outside of ourselves, we see God at work.”