EBAN celebrates annual awards during Homecoming Nov. 4, 2017. [Photo courtesy of Elon Black Alumni Network]
The Elon First Baptist Church is hosting several events this February in honor of Black History Month. Every year, the church organizes outreach and awareness programs to unite members in faith. This year marks 96 years of the church’s operation.
The Gospel Choir will be holding a Black History Month performance on Elon University’s campus on Sunday, Feb. 18. This Sunday, the church will also be hosting an event called “African-American First,” in which a member is chosen to dress up as a prominent black figure, either living or dead, and speak on their lives and achievements. One Sunday out of the month is an “African Attire” day, where members come to church in traditional African dresses, headdresses and cloths. The congregation hopes to instill a sense of African-American pride in its youth, and encourages them to continuously do good in their lives.
Despite the national designation of February as Black History Month, the church maintains the memory of its ancestors more than one month out of the year.
“Black History month is everyday, and we make that known to the members of our church,” said the Rev. James Wilkes of the Elon First Baptist Church. “The history of our church is always accessible.”
Founded in 1922, Elon First Baptist Church was the first African-American church established in Elon. John McMullen, a former slave, founded the church at Elon College in the early 1900s. The church was originally built on McMullen’s land on Ball Park Ave. With the help of his congregation, McMullen remodeled the church from wood to brick.
In 1990, the old church was torn down and replaced with the current Elon First Baptist Church on 113 Lynn St.
The church works in partnership with several university organizations including the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education (CREDE), Teaching Fellows and Elon Athletics. On Jan. 14, the church and the CREDE sponsored a Burlington area middle school-wide essay contest in which students were asked to write an essay on Martin Luther King Jr. Three winners were selected, one from the sixth, seventh and eighth grade. The winners were asked to speak at the church’s Martin Luther King Jr. event and were recognized at the following Saturday’s Elon men’s basketball game. Additionally, Elon University Teaching Fellows participate in a tutoring program at the church to assist children and teens in their academics. Elon Athletics also provides church members with tickets to women’s basketball games. Billy Baker, Community Director at the Station at Mill Point, participates annually in the church’s Hallelujah Night, an event in place of Halloween festivities.
Elon First Baptist Church provides several early childhood programs to its members as well. The church holds youth Bible study every Wednesday, and designates the fourth Sunday of every month as “children’s church,” with classes for teens and younger children. It also offers a Sunday nursery program for mothers with children ages six weeks to 5 years old.
Marilyn Slade, program assistant at the CREDE, noted that although unconfirmed, the Elon First Baptist Church is said to be the oldest church in Elon.
“[The church is] inspirational, encouraging. . .sometimes it can be lively, we praise God,” said Slade.
She emphasized the hospitality of the community, and that most newcomers notice the friendly and warm environment above all else.
Slade acts as the bridge between the CREDE and the church, where she has worshipped since she was young. The church strives to make a difference through spreading good news and good work, and encourages its congregation to continue God’s work in their lives.
“Whether you look like us, dress like us, whether you are from Elon, we always plug you into our family,” Wilkes said.