Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Prayer vigil planned at first permanent site of Historic First Baptist Church in Williamsburg before archaeological excavation

The Historic First Baptist Church in Williamsburg. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg)
The Historic First Baptist Church in Williamsburg. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg)

Williamsburg’s Historic First Baptist Church will hold a prayer vigil at the South Nassau Street site where on Sept. 8, Colonial Williamsburg archaeologists will launch their search for evidence of the church’s first permanent structure.

The event will be on Sunday at 5 p.m.

Rev. Dr. Reginald Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church, will be joined by Rev. Christopher Epperson, rector of Bruton Parish Church where enslaved and free Blacks worshipped before First Baptist Church organized in 1776, according to a news release from Colonial Williamsburg.

The community will come together in prayer, song, and praise to bless the work that will begin “on this nationally significant and sacred space.”

Members of the faith community will lead a prayer for success in excavating this site with a hope that the archaeologists will find artifacts that tell the story of the people who lived and worshiped here nearly 250 years ago.

“This clarion call for the community to come together to understand the past, acknowledging that some of it was filled with pain, and some of it filled with hope, serves as an example to the Commonwealth and the country that there is no better time than now to uncover important history and to engage in important conversations that will lead us all to a place of understanding, hope and reconciliation,” said Connie Matthews Harshaw, president of First Baptist Church’s Let Freedom Ring Foundation.

Colonial Williamsburg archaeologists, under the guidance of The Historic First Baptist Church, will begin excavating this nationally significant site Sept. 8 to find the earliest structure within the city limits where the congregation met.

If successful, the initiative will enable Colonial Williamsburg to expand its Black-interpretative programming through voices that have been silent since the revolution.

RELATED STORY: This project will explore the site of America’s oldest church founded by enslaved and free Blacks in Williamsburg

The Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra’s string ensemble, under the direction of Reginald Fox, a nationally known conductor and accompanist, on Sunday will feature a commissioned work – Devotion – composed by Jeraldine Herbison, a local Black artist and composer.

Alvy Powell, a celebrity baritone, will give voice to the powerful poem written by the Commonwealth’s 17th Poet Laureate Henry Hart, that was dedicated this year to the church’s founders.

A spirit-filled selection to close the ceremony will be offered by a talented quartet from First Baptist Church with actor-interpreter James Ingram, who portrays church founder and Colonial Williamsburg Nation Builder Rev. Gowan Pamphlet, offering remarks on the significance of this project and the historic occasion.

The vigil will dedicate a blessing to the members of the church and its partners, which include The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and William & Mary, for the important work that will begin to explore the site and tell of its rich and diverse history.

In order to comply with state guidelines and limit health risks associated with COVID-19, event attendance is strictly limited and participants are required to observe social distancing and wear protective face coverings. For those unable to attend, the event will stream live here.


John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo ( is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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