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Beargrass Missionary Baptist Church's 141 Year History

One hundred and forty (140) years ago (February 8, 1880) the Beargrass Baptist Church was organized in a two room cottage at Guetig (at the time an area of St. Matthews). It all began with a small group of African American men who wanted to have a church of worship in their own community. The early membership included William Pendergrast, Oliver Fountain, Edward Humble, Ed Dickerson, Robert Jackson and Thomas Jackson.


The officers were Henry D. Cox, Jr.; clerk, Cicero Strickland, James Lawrence, and Richmond White as deacons. Rev. Elijah P. Marrs was the pastor. (The 1880 stone cornerstone is now in the vestibule of our current church).

 In 1889 Rev. Marrs purchased Lot Number 54 of the Raymond Subdivision at Jane and Payne Streets. He and his wife Bettie sold the lot to Beargrass in 1890. It was during the same year that the church became officially incorporated. The cornerstone was laid by Rev. D.A. Gaddie, pastor of Green Street Baptist Church, on May 18, 1890. Our church, at its current site, was the first African American Baptist church built in the Clifton community.

Rev. Marrs helped to establish and became the first administrator of State University (now Simmons College of Kentucky). He is credited with being the organizer of Louisville's Pleasant View Baptist Church and Marrs Memorial Baptist Church. Under Rev. Marrs' leadership the membership at Beargrass grew. He served faithfully for thirty years until his death on August 30, 1910.


Over the years other ministers followed who preached the Word and the membership increased. These included Reverends J.W. Lewis (1880-abt. 7 weeks), G.W. Ward (1911-1922), G.H. Winstead (1922-1929), C.A. Saunders (1930-1936), C.H. Owens (1937-1942) and W.H. Sullivan (1942-1959).

A building fund was started by Acting Pastor J. Purvis (1959-1960). Thereafter when Rev. B.T. Bishop became the minister, he and the church members built the fund to the sum of $35,000. The Church had no trouble getting a loan for $30,000 more to build a new house of worship. Plans were then drawn and a committee selected to erect our present building. Rev. Bishop, who had served from 1960 through 1966, resigned to accept the leadership at First Baptist Church of Elizabethtown, KY.


On July 3, 1966, Rev. Joe Brown was selected as Acting Pastor. He served the church faithfully and was the minister during the construction of our present building. On November 4, 1966, Rev. C.C. Wood accepted the pastorate. The old building was raised and a new one started. During the construction, our church worship services were held at the Simmons Bible College (now Simmons College of Kentucky). On December 18, 1966, a motorcade of members singing “We’re Marching to Zion" left Simmons traveling to our new church where we had our first worship and Lord's Supper. Rev. Wood later resigned to become the pastor of a church in Indianapolis, IN.

Rev. Brown again served as Acting Pastor until God sent us Rev. Charles H. Duncan who was unanimously chosen by the members. He became our pastor on November 3, 1968. Thanks to Mrs. W. G. GIies, a benefactor, the mortgage burning was held February of 1973. In March of 1985, after seventeen years as our pastor, Rev. Duncan accepted the call to become the pastor of the First Virginia Avenue Baptist Church. He did not leave until the congregation had selected another minister. We were blessed to have one unanimously selected by the church from our own membership.


Rev. Calvin D. White was officially installed on July 14, 1985. Under Rev. White's leadership, the church grew in membership and financially. Additional properties were acquired for church use and financial assistance was provided for the building of sister churches in Ghana and Nigeria West Africa. Rev. White, after eighteen years of service, on June 2, 2003 announced his retirement and moved with his wife Patricia to Hampton, Virginia. The Lord called him back Into service in 2005 as the minister of Union Bethel Baptist Church (Chesapeake, VA) until his death in 2011.

Rev. James Hinkle, a member and an Associate Pastor of Beargrass - upon the recommendation of Pastor White and the consensus of the entire church - became our Interim pastor in 2003. We saw him respond to the call which he had prepared for under the leadership of both Rev. Duncan and Rev. White. The membership and financial contributions continued to grow under the leadership of Rev. Hinkle. We thank God for his year of leadership and the work he continued to do at our church.


In November of 2004, Rev. Matthew E. Smyzer, Jr. formerly of Zion Hill Baptist Church of Park City, KY became the pastor of Beargrass. In June of 2006, Rev. Smyzer, Rev. Dr. Ogedl Omenyinma, Deacon Dennis White - both also of Beargrass - traveled to Nigeria to see the progress of the new church under construction with financial assistance from Beargrass and Union Bethel Baptist Church of Virginia. Since that time - including 2020 - Dr. Rev. Omenyinma has returned to Africa with some contributions from church members to help finalize the construction of the Umuod Village Church In Nigeria

Under Rev. Smyzer's leadership, 5.3 acres of land has been contracted for purchase at 5101 Fegenbush Lane for the future building of a new church sanctuary. New members, by baptism, as the result of souls being saved through the Lord's work has increased our church membership.


In 2019 the women's restroom was beautifully remodeled bringing great joy to the women of the church!


Our prayer is that the Beargrass family and all who come to know her will continue to grow in Jesus Christ and live His teachings so that others will come to know Him also. This ls our prayerful mission and has been since 1880. We will continue this mission until Jesus Christ comes again.


J.L White -Acting Historian 2020

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