In 1864, a year after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in these United States, wards where black people resided in the District of Columbia continued to have disparaging labels, i.e., “Hell’s Bottom,” “Cow Town,” and “Vinegar Hill,” to name a few. It was in the “Hell’s Bottom” ward that the Reverend Henry Bailey and ten like-minded Christian believers began worshipping in an abandoned Civil War barracks. Later, they pooled their resources, purchased a frame house, renovated it, and established it as the Fourth Baptist Church of the District of Columbia, valued at $2500.00. Among those ten believers was a Mr. Wiley Jordan, grandfather of our own Mrs. Moncerie Woolfolk. During Rev. Bailey’s pastorate, the congregation became known as “heaven-bound in Hell’s Bottom.” Construction of the Fourth Baptist Church would mark our first period as “a church in transition.” Reverend Bailey resigned in 1870 after six years of leadership.
That same year, 1870, Fourth Baptist Church called the Reverend Robert Johnson as its Pastor. Among the most significant changes during his thirty-three year tenure are: (1) the Church was reconstructed from the frame building it was to the Victorian Gothic style it is today – marking our second period as “a church in transition;” (2)the name of the Church was changed to The Metropolitan Baptist Church (Colored) in 1888; (3)the membership was organized into fund-raising clubs, many names of which are familiar to some of us today, i.e., Helping Hand, Ideal Working, Metropolitan Relief, and Vigilant Clubs; and (4) a strong Usher Board was established from which Reverend Johnson often chose official leaders of the Church. Reverend Johnson went to his reward on December 18, 1903.
Sixteen months later, on April 10, 1905, Dr. Moses W. D. Norman of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, was called to shepherd this flock. His twenty-one year pastorate brought us an even greater organization of the laity to provide a sounder financial basis for the Church through tithing. As a result, material improvements and accomplishments included: (1) the installation of a magnificent pipe organ, steam heat, and electric lights; and (2) the liquidation of church indebtedness along with the burning of the mortgage. He was also a powerful speaker and the congregation grew exponentially. Reverend Dr. Moses Wilberforce DeWitt Norman passed on December 26, 1926.
Just under two years later, on June 29, 1928, Dr. Ernest Clarence Smith of Richmond, Virginia, was elected as our fourth administrator. During his forty-eight years with us, Reverend Smith, while maintaining a sound financial base, also sought to biblically solidify and undergird the spiritual foundation of Metropolitan’s membership. Subsequently, he established the Baptist Training Union, the Leadership Training School, the Christian Education Institute, Vacation Bible School for Children with Mrs. Moncerie Woolfolk as its first Director, and Chil- dren’s Church with the late Mrs. Jessie Corbin as its first Director. He also orga- nized the Adult Sunday School Department and appointed the late Attorney Ruth Hankins-Nesbitt to the Trustee Board as Metropolitan’s first female representative to hold a legal Church Official post. Additionally, and while yet nurturing Metropolitan’s families, Reverend Smith; (1) guided us through the construction of Mon- ument Hall and the E. C. Smith Youth Center; (2) served for 23 years as an instructor at Howard University’s School of Religion; (3) authored books, pamphlets, and articles; (4) preached with power and traveled extensively throughout these United States, yea, even the world. After forty-eight years of unstinting service, Reverend Smith retired on January 31, 1977, and remained as “Pastor Emeritus” until his passing on January 12, 1988.
On June 17, 1977, the Metropolitan Baptist Church elected Dr. Henry Beecher Hicks, Jr., from Houston, Texas, as its fifth administrator. Besides his young and attractive family (a wife and 2 boys, and later, a beautiful baby girl), Dr. Hicks brought to us new and innovative methods of solidifying the membership base while simultaneously “spreading the Gospel to others.” Among other things, he (1) started a closed-circuit video worship service, (2) established a Weekly Radio Ministry as well as a 24-hour Prayer Line Ministry, (3) organized a Prayer Partners Ministry and a Lay Ministry (designed to touch every member regardless of location), and (4) part- nered with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority to jointly-sponsor a Literacy Program ena- bling young men and women to acquire at least a GED certificate. In 1985, Dr. Hicks also guided the Metropolitan family through the renovation and complete restoration of the Main Sanctuary. He embraced and encouraged men and women to the Preaching Ministry as well as the infrastructural development of the church. Subsequently, Dr. Cheryl Price Clemetson became Metropolitan’s first female to be ordained to the Preaching Ministry, and, on December 12, 1992, Carolene Gloria Johnson, Virgie Hamlin Jones, Clara Baines Love, Brenda Girton Mitchell (now Reverend), Georgia Bishop Whitted, and the late Barbara Elaine Wilkinson were Metropolitan’s first females ordained to the Diaconate Ministry now led by CHAIRWOMAN B. J. Brooks.
Great is Thy Faithfulness: The Metropolitan Baptist Church choir and congregation, under the direction of Rev. Nolan Williams, Jr. sing this great hymn of the church, accompanied by Richard Smallwood on piano and John Stoddard on the organ, during the 143rd Church Anniversary.
Like his predecessor, Dr. Hicks is a well-known author. His “Preaching Through A Storm” is now in its twelfth printing. Some of his other writings include “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks,” “Correspondence With A Cripple From Tarsus,” and “Kindling Wood,” co-authored with the late Dr. E. C. Smith. At this moment in our history, we find ourselves in another transitional mode. However, we are a praying people who trust in the Lord as we continue our march to Zion. Once in a while, though, we do pause to ask ourselves ‘are we doing all we can?’ “Is our all on the altar?” Yet, we do know that our souls are anchored in the Lord.