Posted on : Friday September 28, 2018

By Sharon Mager

NANJEMOY, Md.,—Nanjemoy Baptist Church (NBC) is celebrating 225 years of continuous faithful ministry in Charles County. They’ve been incredibly fruitful, planting four churches who replicated themselves including Marbury Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Welcome,  Maryland Point Baptist Church, first called, “The Mission at Lower Nanjemoy,” and later, Hughesville Baptist Church, with the help of First Baptist Church, Waldorf.

NBC now has seven “grandchildren,” seven “great-grandchildren,” and at least two “great-great-grandchildren.” The seeds planted are unfathomable, and the harvest won’t be seen this side of heaven.

Members of NBC reflected on their past and looked to their future at a special service on June 10, followed by a catered dinner under the church pavilion. The church gave away souvenir 225th-anniversary pens, cups and napkins imprinted with a photo of the church and a church history book written by Betty Mae Willett, who heads the history committee with Erica Moore and Connie Gilroy.

Nanjemoy Baptist Church’s history committee preserves many precious memories

The week prior, church members excitedly watched as leaders unburied a time capsule and pulled out souvenirs from the 200th-anniversary celebration. “The kids were so excited,” Gilroy said. “They wanted to help so bad to dig it up. I told them, ‘The next time, you’ll really like it!’ We put pictures of them in the new capsule,” she explained. That will be fun for them to see themselves 25 years later, in 2043, and remember when they buried it, she added with a smile.

Following the dinner, Country Gospel Band “Walls of Jasper,” shared the music in the afternoon. The church also had a variety of historical items on display, old photographs, an ancient organ used between the late 1800’s and 1940’s, the actual spire placed on the church steeple in 1923, a 48-star American flag, spitoons, and other historical keepsakes.

To put the incredible heritage into perspective, in 1793, when the church started, George Washington was president, Eli Whitney applied for a patent on the cotton gin and the “Reign of Terror” began in France.

Nanjemoy Baptist Church stood firm through the American Civil War, two world wars, the Vietnam war, the depression years, and so many other earthshaking national and international events. Through it all, God held them in His hand.

Visitors enjoyed the 225th-anniversary cake.

According to the church’s history booklet, compiled by Willett,  NBC had its humble beginnings when four men, William Fristoe, Jeremiah Moore, Andrew Leach, and Henry Hagan, crossed the Potomac River and began preaching the Gospel in the Nanjemoy area of Charles County. They faced persecution. In “History of Baptist Churches in Maryland Connected With The Maryland Baptist Union Association,” Author John Weishampel writes that Hagan was once dragged into the Potomac River and held under water until he almost drowned. “On raising him, his persecutors asked him (probably sarcastically) if he ‘believed,’ for the Scripture says none but believers should be baptized. Nearly exhausted, Mr. Hagan replied, ‘I believe that you intend to drown me.’” The opposition called attention to the preaching, and the Gospel message spread.

David Benedict, in “History of Maryland Baptists,” wrote, “Persecution raged against these early pioneers in the Baptist cause; they were, not infrequently, not only interrupted in their preaching but were often subjected to personal insult and abuse.”

In spite of the early persecution, the church began in 1793 and became part of the Ketocton Association in Virginia; an association formed ten years before the American Revolution. Elder Andrew Leach was NBC’s “planter,” and they moved forward with 63 members. The church left Ketocton Association and joined the newly formed “Columbia Association,” in 1820 as a founding member, one of sixteen churches.

George Washington was president when Nanjemoy Baptist Church began in 1793.

In 1836 they transitioned to the Maryland Baptist Union (now the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware BCM/D), formed that year in opposition to the growing anti-mission movement prevalent at the time. Almost ten years later, The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) began in 1845 and NBC affiliated that year. Read more about BCMD/history on our website.

There are no records to show when the church erected their “meeting house,” but an analysis taken in 1993 from the current structure shows the wood to now be 195-230 years old.

Through the many decades, the church withstood change. During the Civil War years, according to the church’s history, a report to the association in 1862 read, “Church much injured in its interests by the presence of (the) army. Several valuable members have died…”

By 1905 the church reported being “gloriously revived,” with 30 new converts and 243 church members. Almost three decades later, the Great Depression caused the nation angst, including the churches. “We must face facts squarely and acknowledge the fact that the depression has hit us,” reads a 1932 report. Funds were low. They borrowed from one fund to pay another, and the pastor agreed to a $20 per week salary cut.

Visitors browse displays of historical items and photo albums

Within a short time, they again revived, with notes dated from 1925-1957 stating, “We have so much to be thankful for because we have new members who have put life into the old ones.” They built Sunday school rooms in 1935. The church continued to grow and expand. They added an educational building in 1961.

In 1963, the church hosted the first meeting of the Potomac Baptist Association, an offspring of the “Southern Baptist Association,” which included  Southern Maryland churches in addition to those in Annapolis, Laurel, and Glen Burnie.

Since the turn of the century, Nanjemoy has continued to enjoy many blessings.

Current Nanjemoy Baptist Church Pastor Michael Spencer, and his wife, Bobbie, came to Nanjemoy in 2014. Spencer brought the experience of serving more than 17 years as a senior pastor in Florida, and over two years as a church planter.

Many members, if not most, have long memories. Connie Gilroy has been attending NBC all her life, as did her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Gilroy’s great-great-grandparents lived near NBC and they donated part of their property to the church. Gilroy said her grandmother led the “Sunbeams” missions group for young children. “Right there in the corner, (Gilroy pointed where a speaker now sits), that’s where a chimney used to be. She’d bring all the children in and sit them there by the woodstove while the pastor was preaching. Grandma loved to tell that story. She loved her sunbeams. Daddy still tells that story.”

(l-r) Pastor Michael Spencer, Betty (Willett) and Connie Gilroy

Willett has also been at Nanjemoy all her life. She began playing the piano for the “training union” in 1948 when she was 11-years-old. She’s been the church music director since 1971.

Slowly reflecting over the years, she recalled gas rationing during World War II. “People didn’t get here as much then,” she said. That included her family, who had to cut back on their travels and would often drive to Maryland Point Mission to worship because it was closer, three miles up the road as opposed to seven miles to get to NBC.

She fondly recalls church planting, hailing it as a very big part of the church’s heritage. “Hughesville—that was quite interesting from the beginning with the first planning meeting,” she said. “We had prayer meetings in homes, and they grew so rapidly,” she said.

Another highlight that Willett shared was a considerable growth spurt in Sunday School attendance in the early 70’s. Looking over a children’s classroom that now holds a half dozen children, Willett could almost see vividly the room overflowing with students from years ago.

Many members have passed and are buried in the church cemetery, lovingly maintained and indexed by a cemetery committee.

Nanjemoy is an old and tightly knit community. “We pretty much all grew up together,” Gilroy said. “Back in the day you went to school together and went to church together. The interesting part was when the school teacher came to church with you and your mom’s sitting there, and you did something bad that week,” she laughed.

The stories are endless, some funny, some sad. The church, like all living organisms, has had much joy and much sorrow, some recent in the loss of members through death, some choosing to move on, and all departures leaving gaps in the fellowship and ministry. With a fraction of the numbers of the past, the church faces the continual uphill battle of reaching their communities, but they push on.

Spencer appreciates that stability and the remarkable heritage and history, yet he knows the church has to move forward.

“We can’t get hung up and live in the past,” he said, “but you don’t want to forget it either.”

“We’re trying to reach the younger people,” he said. ”It’s difficult,” he acknowledged, but members are working hard to get to know their community. They’ve got a variety of events coming up including a “Singspiration,” on Sept. 30, cornhole on Oct. 13, and a fall festival on Nov. 4.

On Oct. 31, the church will have a “Light the Night for Jesus” event with 20 trick-or-treat stations set up along the gravel road around the church cemetery. Gilroy said the church had the event last year and it drew a large crowd. They’re anticipating more this year as word gets out.

Speaking to the church’s spiritual legacy In the foreword to Nanjemoy Baptist Church History booklet, Spencer wrote, “In Zechariah 4:10, the Lord asks through His prophet, “’Who has despised the day of small things?’ I wonder if those four men who crossed the Potomac River in 1790 to begin preaching in the Nanjemoy area had these words in their heart? Surely it would have been difficult for them to grasp the concept that 225 years after they started that work, it would still be flourishing!

“Whether Christ returns in our lifetime, or tarries for a couple of hundred more years, I have absolutely no doubt that Nanjemoy Baptist Church will still be preaching the Gospel at the Parousia!”



Nanjemoy Baptist Church has an incredible legacy of church planting.