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Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at First Baptist Church

Jordan Crawford | 10/31/2013, 3:11 p.m.

Members of First Baptist Church in Hampton put on their Sunday best to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary with a banquet Saturday night at the Hampton Roads Convention Center.

Civil rights leader, media personality and Baptist minister, Rev. Al Sharpton, was the keynote speaker. His message was clear: Blacks have come a long way since the church was founded 150 years ago, but there is still a lot left to do.

The church was founded during the Civil War in 1863 and was built by former slaves. Many newly freed slaves were among the church’s first members, and Sharpton invoked their memory to remind the roughly 700 gathered church members that there are still struggles to overcome.

“The generation that founded First Baptist hadn’t been able to vote, marry or get an education,” said Sharpton. “They couldn’t vote, now we have to beg you to vote. They couldn’t marry and name their kids after themselves, now you won’t stay married and don’t want to take care of your kids.”

Also in attendance was former Virginia Supreme Court Justice John Charles Thomas who was the master of ceremony, U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News, Interim Hampton Mayor George Wallace and Dorothy McAuliffe.

Scott said he had entered First Baptist’s history into the official Congressional Record and read a letter from President Barack Obama recognizing the church’s 150th anniversary.

The church’s role in the community

Why do people come together each week for worship and instruction? Couldn’t they worship at home, read the Bible and listen to a sermon on the radio?

Rev. Al Sharpton believes the church and its people fill a void in the lives of the community that only the church can.

“The role of the church is not to have service but to be of service,” said Sharpton. “Everyone is caught up in their titles. We have too many ministers who don’t minister, too many trustees who can’t be trusted. I’d rather do things with no title than have a title and do nothing…the only thing that will matter two hours or two days after your death is what you did for more than yourself.”

First Baptist Church follows a five pillar doctrine of ministry, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship and worship.

This practice is carried out in the various community programs the church implements such as Healthy Ministry program to increase healthy living, voter registration drives, housing for the homeless through “A Night’s Welcome,” and many others.

Judy Robinson, Kathy Rozier, and Diane Foster work with the “True Love Waits” program about teen abstinence.

“I feel that the church should help and be involved in its community,” said Robinson. “Our ‘True Love Waits’ program teaches our youth about abstinence. We hold a ‘Right of Passage’ ceremony at the end of the program where the youth get an abstinence promise ring.”

According to Sharpton, the church plays an important role in continuing the march of progress for black Americans.

“We have not come this far to drop down into low ethics and confusion. That’s why we need a First Baptist Church,” said Sharpton.

Sharpton wasn’t all fire and brimstone during speech. He talked politics and got some laughs, jabbing national politicians for shutting down the government and Virginia politicians for passing stricter voter ID laws.

“…I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, vote for whoever Bobby Scott tells you to vote for,” he said.

Sharpton urged the audience to put on a strong showing of support for the highly protested Affordable Care Act, saying something as small as a “glitch” website should not hinder an achievement such as insuring the uninsured.

Sharpton ended the event with a soul-stirring benediction. He told of a Black man who told him his high ranking position was of his own doing and not a result of the Black struggle for freedom and equality. “Civil rights didn’t write my resume,” he said.

Sharpton said, “Civil rights didn’t write his resume, but it did make somebody read it. In 150 years, remember where you came from.”