Mt. Helm Baptist Church

601-353-3981

admin@mthelm.org

300 E. Church Street

Jackson, MS 39202

Weekly Services

Sunday School: 9:30 AM

Sunday Worship: 11 AM

Children's Church: 11 AM

Wednesday Prayer Service: 6:30 PM 

Wednesday Bible Study/OLI: 7 PM 

@2017 by Mt. Helm Baptist Church. Proudly created by McClenty Digital Media 

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Founded in 1835, Mt Helm is the oldest black church in Jackson, MS. It began with several enslaved blacks worshipping in the basement of First Baptist Church – Jackson and became a separate body in 1867 (the year the 13th Amendment was ratified). 

Mt Helm is a history making church. The Baptist State Convention, the Church of Christ Holiness (USA), and the Church of God in Christ can all trace part of their denominational histories back to this church. A number of prominent Baptist churches were generated from the Mt Helm congregation as well. Also Jackson State University (formally Jackson College) was for a time housed at Mt Helm.

Located in the heart of Downtown Jackson and the historic Farish Street District, Mt Helm has a rich tradition of worship, witness, and service to God and humanity. This historic church has persevered for nearly two hundred years by the grace of God and will continue to be a leading congregation in our city, our state, and our world.

Below are some links to institutions that have historic connections to our church: 

First Baptist Church – Jackson
General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi
Church of Christ Holiness (USA) 
Church of God in Christ 
Jackson State University

Antebellum & Civil War Era: Humble Beginnings

The congregation of Mount Helm Baptist Church, the oldest black Baptist church in the city of Jackson, had its beginning in the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi. The membership of First Baptist Church, organized in 1835, was made up of both blacks and whites. In the Mississippi territorial period and during early statehood, slaves were allowed to become members of churches, but only with the consent of their masters.  The slaves and their masters worshiped together--seated separately, but still in proximity. In 1841 the first extant report of the First Baptist Church to the Union Baptist Association revealed that First Baptist had a membership of 42, of whom 31 were black. In the next three years the membership increased to 54, but the white members numbered only 14. No explanation was found for the larger black membership, but it can be reasoned that the hope for a better life in heaven gave meaning and purpose to the lives of people who had no hope for improvement in their lives on earth. 

 

The First Baptist Church building was constructed in 1843 from bricks made by the slaves of Prior Lee, a white lay preacher who worked among blacks. He donated the bricks on condition that blacks would be allowed to use the church basement.  The white members’ approval made it possible for the black members to have their own services separate from those of their masters. From 1835 to 1867, they used the basement for a variety of services, but mostly for prayer meetings. Because of Poindexter’s Code and the sentiment engendered among whites by Nat Turner’s Rebellion, whites oversaw the separate black services. This was the environment in which Rev. Marion Dunbar, the slaves’ black pastor, operated for two years before their exodus from First Baptist.

Reconstruction era: a new identity

When slavery was abolished, blacks withdrew from the First Baptist Church at the request of its deacons. Without a building in which to worship, the former slave members of First Baptist Church had to erect a church of their own. Thomas E. Helm, a white Presbyterian businessman, and his wife, Mary, gave them eighty square feet of property at what is now the corner of Lamar and Church Streets. Here, in 1868, the former First Baptist members built their first church, a wood-frame building that stood for forty-two years. The Helms’gift also included money to assist with building the church. To show their appreciation and to honor their benefactors, the blacks named their sanctuary Mount Helm Baptist Church, the name it bears today.

the Pastorate at Mt. Helm: Launching pad for ministry

A church’s history can often be told best by the accomplishments made under its leaders. The members of an organization play an essential part in its advancement, but whether the organization thrives can sometimes be dependent upon the dedication, the skills, and the ambitions of the people who lead. This narrative, therefore, chronicles highlights of events that occurred during the pastorates of the twenty-two men who served Mount Helm prior to April, 2010.

Reverend Marion Dunbar: Circa 1843 – 1888

Rev. Marion Dunbar continued to lead the congregation that exited from First Baptist, thereby becoming the first pastor of Mount Helm. The trustees of the newly organized church were George Nancy, Peyton Robinson, and Dave Askew. The first deacons to serve the church were John Brinson, Henry Mason, Sampson Hammond, Turner Patterson, Charles Rollins, King Rhymes, George Harris, Peyton Robinson, Jack Bass, John Lee, James Peacham (?Penchance), Frank Shepherd, and Ned Slaughter. Rev. Cyrus Myers also served. According to Clemmons, Deacons Bass, Lee, Mason, Penchance, Robinson, Slaughter, and Shepard gave the church its name.1

 

During this period, the church became Mount Helm Missionary Baptist Church, putting emphasis on support of missions to Africa. Rev. Dunbar’s missionary efforts led to the organization of the Colley Missionary Society which is still active at the church. During the early years as an independent congregation, Rev. Dunbar helped to establish the first permanent Negro Baptist Association in the state, the Jackson Baptist Association; and he became its first president. Mount Helm, therefore, had prominence and a leadership role among member churches of the Association.  The church’s support for education led it to provide housing for Jackson College (now Jackson State University) when problems left the college without classroom and administrative facilities. For two years, from 1883 to1885, the church made its building available and erected temporary rooms adjacent to the south side of the church to be used as classrooms for the college’s increasing enrollment. Rev. Dunbar was pastor of Mount Helm until his death in 1888.

Reverends Elbert B. Topp (1888 - 1893), Charles Fisher (1893 - 1894), Patrick Henry Thompson (1895 – 1895)

The first split of the Mount Helm membership came in 1893 when Rev. Elbert B. Topp, the second pastor, and a large number of Mount Helm’s members left to form Farish Street Baptist Church. The underlying reason for the split was disagreement and confusion over the state of the church’s finances. Following the departure of Rev. Topp, Rev. Charles Fisher became pastor, but his tenure lasted only one year. Mount Helm’s fourth pastor, Rev. Patrick Henry Thompson, also left the position after one year in order to give full time to his duties as instructor at Jackson College.  Rev. Thompson wrote The History of Negro Baptists in Mississippi, an invaluable reference on the history of black Baptists in Mississippi.

Mt. helm: giving birth to new denominations

Reverend Charles Price Jones (1895 – 1903)

In 1897 the seeds for the Church of God in Christ denomination were planted at Mount Helm in the collaboration and friendship of Rev. Charles Price Jones, pastor at Mount Helm, and Rev. Charles Henry Mason.  The seeds germinated and grew as Jones, Mason, and others formed a fellowship of churches described by Jones as “interdenominational and in spirit anti-sectarian.”2 Mason called the fellowship “The Church of God in Christ.” A two-week “Holiness Convocation” held at Mount Helm in 1897, which Mason attended, was an outcome of the fellowship. In 1906 Jones appointed Mason, J.A..Jeter, and D. J. Young to attend the 1907 Pentecostal Azusa Convention in Los Angeles. Upon their return from the convention, Mason strongly advocated the Pentecostal teachings advanced at the convention. Jones opposed some of the Pentecostal tenets; and, in 1907, an amicable dissolution of the fellowship occurred.  Mason won legal rights to the name Church of God in Christ and went on to establish headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. The Church of God in Christ’s incorporated status (the first Pentecostal body to obtain this status) led to credentialing of both black and white ministers,

The next few years saw momentous events that resulted in the second split of the congregation. When Rev. Charles Price Jones became pastor of Mount Helm Missionary Baptist Church in 1895, he assumed leadership of a Baptist congregation. Rev. Jones soon felt a need for the church to be identified more by “holiness;” and this conviction led him to his hosting the previously mentioned “Holiness Convocation” at the church in 1897. In 1898, he made an effort to have the name of Mount Helm changed to “Church of Christ,” a designation which was in use prior to 1900 according to records of “Christ’s Association of Mississippi of Baptized Believers,” a break-away group from the Jackson Missionary Baptist Association.4 The majority of Mount Helm’s members did not approve of a name change, and court actions ensued. The Mississippi Supreme Court, after an initial favorable ruling by a lower court, ruled that the name of the church could not be changed because the property had been given for a Baptist Church. Rev. Jones was asked to leave the church, and many of his followers left as well.  These events eventually led to his founding the denomination Church of Christ (Holiness) USA.

Reverends Samuel Major Duke (1903-1907), James Alexander Mitchell (1907-1910, & James W. Brown (1910–1912)

For a time, Mount Helm remained in a state of turmoil following the events that led to Rev. Jones’ departure from Mount Helm. Rev. Samuel Major Duke, the next pastor, assumed the pastorate in 1903. Though he remained for three years, he was unable to bring harmony to the church. It was Rev. James Alexander Mitchell, a scholar, orator, and writer, who helped to bring some peace and reconciliation to the church.  Under Rev. Mitchell’s leadership, the membership increased and a new church was built at a cost of $2,400. His tenure, having begun in 1907, ended the year the new church was completed. Rev. James W. Brown, described as “well educated and well informed,” followed Rev. Mitchell as pastor in 1910. Rev. Brown left after only two years. 

Reverend Benjamin J. Perkins (1912 – 1919)

The next seven years saw Mount Helm’s largest growth in membership--due, in part, to the dynamic man who served as pastor. A well-known evangelist and officer in the National Baptist Convention, Rev. Benjamin J. Perkins, assumed the pastorate in 1912. Rev. Perkins commuted by train from Memphis on alternate Sundays to preach for the congregation. His emotional preaching style resulted in standing room only services, with many people standing outside the church to hear his sermons. Services were often held late so that members of other churches could attend the services. Evening services sometimes lasted until midnight.  Hymn singing was an integral part of the worship services. The singing of hymns remains today an important part of worship at Mount Helm. After seven years, Rev. Perkins left Mount Helm to become pastor of a church in Ohio.

Reverends Willie Lewis Varnado (1919 - 1924), William Griffin Wilson (1924 – 1927)

For the next five years, Rev. Willie Lewis Varnado was pastor of Mount Helm. His leadership resulted in significant improvements to the church and the parsonage. He left the church in an enviable position:  “A new spirit of unity and harmony existed, many new members united with the church, and the church became debt free.” The next pastor, Rev. William Griffin Wilson, served for three years. He was followed by Rev. Adolph Lemuel Rice, who led Mount Helm’s congregation for thirty years.

Reverend Adolph Lemuel Rice (1927 – 1958)

Rev. Rice’s tenure resulted in both positives and negatives. Highly intellectual, he was also employed at Jackson College, serving at various times as Dean, Chaplain, faculty member, and counselor.  Under his leadership, the church discontinued revivals and memberships in various conventions and boards. Instead, the church resumed support of missions to Africa, donating both money and goods to the Klee Industrial Mission. The Baptist Young Peoples Union (BYPU) was discontinued, but new organizations were instituted, among them the Brotherhood Bible Class and the Ollie Love Bible Class, organizations which are still active today. When Rev. Rice proposed elimination of the words “Missionary Baptist” from the name of the church so that the name would be “Mount Helm Church,” the members agreed to eliminate only the word “Missionary.” The church therefore became Mount Helm Baptist Church, the name which has endured. Rev. Rice started religious study courses, the Christmas Candle Light Service, and a pledge system for financing the church. His diligence in enforcing the payment of pledges led to loss of many members, and church attendance declined considerably. During his pastorate the church was frequently renovated and redecorated both inside and out. A new lighting system, a new piano, an organ, new pulpit chairs, and carpet for the pulpit were among improvements made during his pastorate. Rev. Rice’s death in 1958 led to the call of Rev. Thomas B. Brown to serve as pastor of the church.

Mt. helm: founding groundbreaking initiatives

Reverend Thomas B. Brown (1958 – 1979)

Rev. Brown was pastor of Mount Helm from 1958 until 1979. Illness kept him from actively leading the congregation during the last years of his tenure. Beloved by the members and very active in the religious activities of the city, the state, and the nation; he led the church in some of its most important ventures.  A new church was built on the corner of Church and Dreyfus Street on property where once the parsonage had stood. Relocation from the original church site caused sadness among some of the members, as the original location was more historically relevant to them. The new church was financed through sale of church bonds, a financing approach new to the church’s members. 

 

Dedicated to tithing, Rev. Brown encouraged the members to tithe or, at least, to increase their contributions. Many complied, substantially increasing the church’s income. The first church constitution was written during his administration. The membership of the church increased so greatly that on some Sundays chairs had to be put in the aisles to accommodate the worshipers.  For a number of years the church operated a very successful day care center during Rev. Brown’s tenure. Many of Jackson’s parents of young children took advantage of this service. The center was discontinued after Rev. Brown became ill. One of the church’s most effective ministries during this time was its ministry to the deaf. The church not only transported African American children who attended the Mississippi School for the Deaf to and from Sunday School, but also provided an interpreter for them. Though the children no longer attend, the church still provides an interpreter for the deaf during Sunday worship service. 

 

During this period, the children’s church was established to provide a worship experience more suited to the youth of the church. In this setting, the children carried out their own worship service while they learned leadership skills they could carry over to their participation in the regular worship service once they were older. Initially, the children’s service was under the direction of Rev. John C. Chapman and his wife, Mrs. Julia Chapman. After its initial success, other adults assisted the Chapmans and provided wholesome entertainment and refreshments while the children waited for the regular worship service to end.

Reverend B.T. Hobbs (1977 -1979)

From 1977 to 1979, Rev. B. T. Hobbs ably led the church during Rev. Brown’s illness and until the time a new pastor was named. A long-time member of the church, Rev. Hobbs had served as Assistant Pastor during the pastorates of both Rev. Rice and Rev. Brown. Admired and respected by the members, his sermons were succinct, but always relevant and thought provoking. He gave careful and continuing attention to all of the church’s activities. In June of 1979, the church held a special program to express their gratitude to him.

Reverend Levi Benjamin Baldwin, Jr. (1979 – 1983)

Following Rev. Brown’s long tenure, the church embarked on a period where its pastors served much shorter periods. The first of these pastors was Rev. Levi Benjamin Baldwin, Jr., who served for four years. A dynamic preacher, Rev. Baldwin led the church in several noteworthy accomplishments.  The Board of Trustees was expanded, the first females were added to the Board, the church’s income increased, and a cash management system was established. He initiated a 24-hour Dial-A-Prayer system, began publication of a church newsletter, “The Mount Helm Herald,” and oversaw revision of the Constitution and By-Laws. A pictorial directory of members was published during his tenure. Rev. Baldwin resigned in 1983 and took a pastorate in Seattle, Washington.

Reverend Walter Bowie, Jr. (1984 – 1988)

Rev. Baldwin’s departure left a void that was again filled by Rev. B. T. Hobbs as Interim Pastor. Rev. Hobbs led the church until Rev. Walter Bowie, Jr., was called to be its pastor in 1984. A native of Chicago, Rev. Bowie early set forth his agenda of evangelism, Christian education, and social action. He encouraged members to donate blood, and arranged for blood donations to be given at the church. He inaugurated a Sunday Devotional Hour, began a Pastor’s Bible Class, and started a Berean class. The new organizational structure he established for the Wednesday night prayer service resulted in an increase in attendance. During this period, the church held birthday socials to promote camaraderie among members. Harvest festivals held during this time also provided an opportunity for members to fellowship with one another. The second pictorial directory of members was published as a project of the History Committee under his leadership. A teacher as well as a preacher, Rev. Bowie’s tenure at Mount Helm ended in1988 after four years as pastor. When he left the church, several members joined him in the eventual establishment of a new church.

Reverend Hubie Nelson (1989 – 1993)

Rev. Hubie Nelson, a former military chaplain, became pastor in 1989 and remained until 1993.  The church, under his leadership, twice held “Good Samaritan” fairs where church members donated clothing and household goods and provided useful information to persons who lived in the mid-town community. As a project during his ministry, the women of the church visited homes in the church vicinity in an effort to register voters. Church records revealed the pastor’s interest in youth activities and his representation in various religious, civic, and community initiatives. The church, during this time, was involved in acquisition of property on Church Street and disposal of property on Dreyfus Street. Following Rev. Nelson’s departure, the church board made the decision to discontinue Sunday evening worship services. Shortly thereafter, an automated security system was installed; and, at the suggestion of local police, a wrought iron fence was placed around part of the church property for the safety of worshippers.

Reverend Donaldson Jones (1993 – 1994)

Rev. Donaldson Jones, the next pastor, who was called to the church in 1993, is remembered for his colorful delivery style. Rev. Jones served less than a year. For a brief time after Rev. Jones’ departure, a youthful member of the church, Rev. Darryl Wansley, served as guest minister while the Pulpit Committee sought permanent leadership.

Reverend Anthony Jackson (1994 - 1997)

When Rev. Anthony Jackson, a New Orleans, Louisiana, resident, came to Mount Helm in 1994, the members had great expectations for a long tenure with possibilities for growth and renewal. For these expectations, Rev. Jackson’s youth served him well. Under his leadership, the choir began to sing praise songs immediately before the 10:50 worship service began, a practice which continues today.  He initiated a weekly noon Bible study class, and he started a Watchmen’s Prayer Service “to remind the Lord of His promises and covenants with His people . . . and to remind the people of the Lord’s presence and protection.” The objective of the prayer service was to have a large number of people praying throughout the week to fulfill the ministry of Christ. Because congregational hymn singing is a major part of worship, the church acquired new hymnals in 1996. The “Catch the Vision” drive was begun to generate funds to purchase vacant property in the immediate area of the church. Rev. Jackson started the process of developing a mission statement for the church. The youthful pastor put forth great effort to get to know members personally, often visiting them at their homes and on their jobs. For a single year, the church operated after school tutoring for neighborhood children. The funds to support this effort were the result of a proposal written by one of the church’s members. Rev. Jackson’s departure from the church came in 1997, three years after he was called.

Reverend Charles Towner (1997 – 1998)

For a period after Rev. Jackson’s departure, Rev. Bennie Newell provided pastoral services. Rev. Newell’s steadfast service helped provide stability while the church searched for a permanent pastor. Later in 1997, the pastoral call went to Rev. Charles Towner. Personable and well liked by the congregation, Rev. Towner is remembered for his compassion for the sick and the elderly. Rev. Towner passed away in 1998 before he could make a lasting impact on the church and its people. For a time after Rev. Towner’s death, Rev. Newell again served until a successor for Rev. Towner was found.

Reverend John Johnson (1998 – 2002)

The next call was to Rev. John Johnson, who began his tenure in December of 1998. A U.S. Navy veteran, Mount Helm was his first pastorate.  Under his leadership, the church revived its newsletter, published membership directories, and started distribution of a church calendar. The church’s women held a Saturday retreat giving them an opportunity to discuss themes and issues of interest to them.  The Children’s Church was strengthened, with Rev. Terence Greene, Sr., serving as its leader. Amiable and conscious of political and social issues, Rev. Johnson resigned after four years to become pastor of the Jackson church in which he grew up. While the Pulpit Committee actively searched for Rev. Johnson’s replacement, Rev. Randy DeJohn, who was only recently ordained into the ministry, provided guest ministerial services.

Reverend Charles H. Spann (2002 – 2009)

In 2002, the congregation welcomed Rev. Charles H. Spann to serve as pastor. Rev. Spann had spent many years as an educator, which was evident in the special attention he paid to youth, always urging them to be achievers and to have respect for themselves. His dedication to his ministry evidenced itself in his friendliness, his caring attitude for the members, and in his willingness to reach out to them whenever and wherever he was needed. During his pastorate, the church made improvements to the sanctuary that made it more efficient and more aesthetically pleasing. The improvements included installation of a lift that made the pulpit handicapped accessible. A practice room for the choir, new restrooms (some handicapped accessible) and renovations to the Education Building’s kitchen were other improvements made to the church. Pastor Spann supervised the development of a long-range plan and the revision of the church constitution and by-laws to guide the church in achieving its goals and managing its affairs.  The church began a Health and Wellness ministry that focused on the health of the congregation, and it started a Pantry and Clothing Ministry to provide aid to the needy in the community. The format for the Sunday worship service was changed to include altar prayer at the conclusion of the service. On fifth Sundays, the church began to hold Sunday School and worship services earlier to allow members the opportunity to attend services at other churches if they desired to do so. Rev. Spann’s resignation in 2009 for reasons of health caused much sadness among the congregation.

Mt. helm: Launching into the deep

Reverend C. Edwards Rhodes, II (2010 – present)

In 2002, the congregation welcomed Rev. Charles H. Spann to serve as pastor. Rev. Spann had spent many years as an educator, which was evident in the special attention he paid to youth, always urging them to be achievers and to have respect for themselves. His dedication to his ministry evidenced itself in his friendliness, his caring attitude for the members, and in his willingness to reach out to them whenever and wherever he was needed. During his pastorate, the church made improvements to the sanctuary that made it more efficient and more aesthetically pleasing. The improvements included installation of a lift that made the pulpit handicapped accessible. A practice room for the choir, new restrooms (some handicapped accessible) and renovations to the Education Building’s kitchen were other improvements made to the church. Pastor Spann supervised the development of a long-range plan and the revision of the church constitution and by-laws to guide the church in achieving its goals and managing its affairs.  The church began a Health and Wellness ministry that focused on the health of the congregation, and it started a Pantry and Clothing Ministry to provide aid to the needy in the community. The format for the Sunday worship service was changed to include altar prayer at the conclusion of the service. On fifth Sundays, the church began to hold Sunday School and worship services earlier to allow members the opportunity to attend services at other churches if they desired to do so. Rev. Spann’s resignation in 2009 for reasons of health caused much sadness among the congregation.