In The Beginning…
In 1914 a group of former members of Trinity Baptist Church organized to form a new congregation, in the name of the Lord. Their initial meeting was held Wednesday, October 28, 1914 at a business on Eighth Avenue North operated by Sis. Bertha Riley. Six persons were in attendance.
A subsequent meeting was held Wednesday, November 3, 1914. Ten members were present, including Rev. S. M. Rucker who suggested that the group invite Dr. O. C. Booth to the next meeting. Dr. Booth met with the group on two occasions. During the second meeting, he explained to them that since all members had letters from Trinity to join other churches it was not a split church. He gave his blessings to them and the meeting was adjourned.
On November 22, 1914, the first Morning Worship service was held at the home of Rev. and Sis. Rucker. A business session followed in which a committee was selected to locate a place of worship. The committee reported, the same day, that a site had been located on Joseph Street.
Until December 21, 1914, the group worshipped as a mission in the Deyampert Hall. On this date at 3:30 p.m., the Saint Joseph Baptist Church was properly organized by a council of four ordained ministers. They were Rev. J. H. Kelly, Rev. B. A. Hawkins, Rev. Allen, and Rev. Avon. There were seven charter members, Bro. A. C. Ward, Bro. S. M. Rucker, Bro. John Lewis, Sis. Bertha Riley, Sis, Dora Mell, Sis. Daisy Love, and Sis. Susie Sanders. New members were added to the church that same night.
Rev. S. M. Rucker was called as the first pastor. He had a brief tenure and resigned because of ill health. At this time the church had two ordained deacons. They were Deacon John Lewis and Deacon James White.
In its ninety-nine year history the church has installed 15 pastors. Their tenure is as follows:
Rev. S. M. IRucker 1914-1915
Rev. P. A. Hawkins 1915-1917
Rev. Smallwood 1917-1918
Rev. J. S. Saunders 1918-1925
Rev. Ramsey 1925-1926
Rev. I. T. Simpson 1926-1927
Rev. W. M. Pickens 1927-1929
Rev. J. S. Saunders 1929-1930
Rev. F. S. Jones 1931-1936
Rev. G. W. Jackson 1938-1944
Rev. M. C. Vanhorn 1945-1949
Rev. B. H. Harris 1950-1952
Rev. R. C. Cunningham 1953-1967
Rev. A. L. Woods, Jr. 1967-2008
Rev. Boykin L. Hunter, Jr. 2010-Present
During the summer of 1916, under the leadership of Rev. Hawkins, the church erected a new building and moved to its present site.
From 1938 through 1944, under the leadership of Rev. G.W. Jackson, the church experienced its greatest percentage of growth. Its membership increased from thirty-four members to 417 members. Other noteworthy achievements were also made. During the five-year pastorate of Rev. Vanhorn, pews were purchased and a baptistery installed. Under Vanhorn’s successor, Rev. Harris, a parsonage was purchased.
Rev. R. C. Cunningham was called to the pastorate in February 1953. Under his leadership the church experienced increases in membership and offerings and it was renovated. He served longer than any of the previous pastors and resigned in 1967.
In 1967 Rev Abraham L. Woods, Jr. was called to the pastorate of St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church. Some accomplishments under his leadership follows:
We had seven Deacons and Trustees. The three of these were ordained in 1996. Two of our long time deacons, Bro. Leon Alexander and Bro. Timothy Marshall have gone from labor to their reward. In 1999 another one of our long time deacons, Bro. Otis Towns, went home to receive his reward. In 2000, Bro. Samuel Elms, who had moved to Florida, passed away. Bro. Charlie Womack left this vale of tears in 2001. Bro. Calvin Sexton, Bro. Henry Peterson and Bro. Alfred Green no longer serve and Bro. George Moore recently moved his residency from Birmingham to Buffalo, New York. Bro. Gregory Brown moved his membership in 2006. In 2008 we had four men on trial for deacons. They were Bro. Roy Cox, Bro. Kimble Pettway, Bro. Joe Richardson and Bro. Eddie Smith, Sr. They were ordained in 2009.
In 2008 we had four associate ministers who assisted Rev. Woods. They were Rev. Vincent Johnson, Rev. Boykin Hunter, Jr., Rev. Frank Dukes and Rev. George Turner. There are two other ministers who had membership here but were serving other churches, Rev. Joseph Jackson and Rev. Vincent Curtis. Rev. Vernice Paige, went home to receive his reward in November 2002 after serving Friendly Baptist Church for thirty-seven years. Rev. Hudson Williams has now passed on and Rev. Herbert Shorter went to his eternal in 2006.
St. Joseph was one of the first black Baptist churches in Birmingham to add a white family to its membership and it was the first to ordain a white minister, Rev. Fox.
A scholarship committee was organized in 1983, which has annually awarded scholarships to college-bound high school graduates. A number of these recipients are now successful in the field of law, engineering, business and other professions. The church supports Birmingham Easonian Baptist Bible College, Miles College and Selma University. On November 7, 2008 the Lord called his servant, the Rev. Dr. Abraham Woods, Jr. home. Rev. Woods, a husband, father, a Civil Rights Activist, an educator, a world renown traveler and lecturer, a man called by God to preach his Word and a man sent by God to be our Pastor to feed us with knowledge and wisdom has left this vale of tears. He fought a good fight, he has finished his course, he has kept the faith. Therefore a crown of righteousness is laid up for him, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give him at that day: and not to him only, but unto all them also that love His appearing. On Saturday, November 15, 2008 Rev. Woods was laid to rest just as he had planned, for he had made his wishes known several years ago. It was truly a home going celebration. In December of 2008, Miles College held a program in his honor and renamed the auditorium the Abraham Woods, Jr. Lecture Hall.
In 2009, in honor of our late pastor, a great humanitarian, the City of Birmingham named Eighth Avenue after him. It is now named the Abraham L. Woods, Jr. Boulevard.
Rev. Boykin Hunter, Jr., one of our associate ministers, served as pulpit conductor. Later this year (2009) he was named the interim pastor. Some of the accomplishments under his leadership are: we have had two church clean-ups, a youth fun day, a women’s conference, a men’s fellowship breakfast, a church t-shirt drive and we have begun in Wednesday night bible study to study other books. We have just completed “The Blessings of Obedience” by Andre Murray.
The Deacon Board deleted the annual days from the church calendar (i.e. Deacon and Trustee, Women, Youth, Missionary, Choir and Men Day). We still however, have Homecoming (Church Anniversary). The Women of St. Joseph held a Women’s Conference and spirit-filled women throughout the city came with a word for God and blessed the women in attendance, young and old.
This year, 2009 with the leadership of our moderator, Rev. Tommy Lewis the four men on trial for deacons were ordained. They are Deacon Roy Cox, Deacon Kimble Pettway, Deacon Joe Richardson and Deacon Eddie Smith, Sr.
During the Church Business Meeting of 2008, Rev. Hunter introduced the Seed Sowers of Faith project. To be a member of the Seed Sowers, a member would give $700 in seven months. Church members began to join immediately and this project was a great success. The Seed Sowers was extended to the end of the year.
Sis. Marian Ann Dowdell Woods, wife of the late Abraham L. Woods, Jr., was called home on June 16, 2009. She was a great encourager for us here at St. Joseph through word, deed and example. She often told the story of how she completed her B.A. degree while raising six children and her Master’s degree while pregnant with her seventh child. Also like her husband she was a great humanitarian.
The Search Committee completed its task. It took applications from all around the city, state and country but in the end God sent us a pastor from among us. Rev. Boykin L. Hunter, Jr. now serves as pastor. The Search Committee did an excellent job with the process. They set up an official election which was well organized and beautiful. With their task complete they disbanded. On Sunday June 27, 2010 Rev. Boykin L. Hunter, Jr. was installed as our fifteenth pastor of St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church. We celebrated 100 years of service on December 7, 2014.