Why are there Two First Baptist Churches in Murfreesboro?

Dr. Noel Schoonmaker, Rev. Eugene Cotey, Rev. Richard Willis Gordon, and Rev. James McCarroll.

Dr. Noel Schoonmaker, Rev. Eugene Cotey, Rev. Richard Willis Gordon, and Rev. James McCarroll.

It all started in 1843 when the First Baptist Church of Murfreesboro was founded. This was a single congregation that included slaveholders and slaves. When the Civil War broke out, the church building was used as a hospital, and it sustained considerable damage. Following the war, white church members began meeting elsewhere and gave the old church building to African American church members. Thereafter, two congregations developed, one predominantly African American and the other predominantly white. Each congregation has had an abiding witness ever since, and today one meets at 737 East Castle Street and the other meets at 200 East Main Street.

However, we do not operate separately but in partnership. For example, one Sunday in 2014 we held a pulpit and choir swap. It was such an encouragement to both churches that we planned a special event in 2015 in which both congregations worshipped together under the same roof on a Sunday morning for the first time since before the Civil War. This historic event was called “Legacy Sunday,” and it featured music from a joint choir, a sermon delivered in tandem by both pastors, recognition of our shared history, and celebration of our current partnership. (You can read more about Legacy Sunday here).

Since then, we have held a joint Maundy Thursday Lord’s Supper service, we have started a joint mentoring ministry at a local elementary school called the PEP Team (“People Encouraging Pupils”), and we have held an educational event on the plantation of Burrell Gannaway—one of the original deacons of First Baptist Church—which was led by descendants of those who were enslaved there. We have also had our two choirs join together to sing the national anthem at a Middle Tennessee State football game.

Pastor James McCarroll of Castle Street and Pastor Noel Schoonmaker of Main Street are close friends and colleagues in ministry. Their friendship mirrors many close friendships shared between members of both congregations. Although there are two First Baptist Churches in Murfreesboro, we partner together in worship, fellowship, and outreach for the glory of God and the edification of the community. So there is a sense in which the two First Baptist Churches of Murfreesboro are one.