In 1920 through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the need for a church in the Lincoln Park area of Penn Township Mrs. Hester Stewart met with a group of concerned Christians in her home on Somerset Street for the purpose of worship. This nucleus of dedicated Christians went from home to home until it was necessary to find a larger place of worship. A small tool shed on Torrence Street was rented and under the name Apostolic Baptist Church. They continued to worship with a membership of ten and three ordained deacons. The Rev. J. B. Waller, pioneering minister from Mt. Ararat Baptist Church of the East End district of Pittsburgh became the first pastor. The church grew in size rapidly. Rev. Waller led the church until he suffered a stroke in 1924. The church then called Oliver Carter, a licentiate from Mt. Ararat Baptist Church. He was ordained in 1926 and became the second pastor.
Under Rev. Carter the church continued rapid growth due in part to the population growth of Penn Township due to the “Great Migration” of African - Americans from the southern portion of the USA to the north. This created a need for a larger edifice. A lot was purchased and a church was erected on the current site. The name of the church was changed from Apostolic Baptist Church to First Baptist Church of Penn Township. Two auxiliaries were added, Sunday School and Ushers. Between 1925 and 1926 some members of the church departed to form Second Baptist Church of Penn Township. The Union Baptist Association between 1926 – 1927, recognized First Baptist Church of Penn Township as a Baptist congregation. Upon the resignation of Rev. Carter, Rev. S. A. Johnson was called as pastor of First Baptist Church of Penn Township.
In 1930 Reverend Herbert Gaines, a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church (Hill District), became pastor. He served as pastor for 13 years. The congregation worshipped at Lincoln Park School due to a fire that occurred during construction of the first unit of the edifice. Penn Township and the church membership continued to rapidly increase in number. A hallmark of Rev. Gaines’ pastorate was a well-organized church that licensed Rev. John Ross in 1941 to preach the gospel in addition to two other licentiates, ordained 2 deacons and had an official board of 7 deacons, 6 – 8 trustees and 22 auxiliaries.
In August of 1945, just before V. J. Day (Victory over Japan Day, August 15, 1945 in which Japan ceased fighting in World War II), Reverend Eugene L. Roberts became pastor of First Baptist Penn Hills. He had pastored for six years at Mt. Carmel Baptist in the Crestas Terrace section of North Versailles, PA. He was a member of Carrone Baptist Church of the Homewood section of Pittsburgh. The church accomplished much under the leadership of Rev. Roberts. Penn Township and the church continued to rapidly increase in number. Rev. Roberts enjoyed a wonderful fellowship laboring with the officers and members in planning and executing a program toward a new sanctuary that was finished and dedicated in 1954. The new sanctuary was built on top of the previous sanctuary that now serves as the lower level of the church. The sanctuary was modeled after Monumental Baptist Church (Hill District). God blessed First Baptist Church to have as its chairman of the deacons Mr. E. L. Smith, Sr., who also was a local building contractor who constructed the new sanctuary. His wife Mae Florence Smith served for 45 years as the church musician. The mortgage was burned September 17, 1967. First Baptist Penn Hills had a large membership composed of a wide variety of persons working in a wide range of professions e.g. law, college administrators, teachers, as well as business owners, tradesmen and steel workers. In 1970’s and 1980’s the decline in the steel industry resulted in the loss of jobs, resulting in many departing from this once thriving community to move to other areas of the nation. Abandon houses appeared, then vacant lots as families relocated to other areas. Just as the “Great Migration” had been the impetus for rapid growth of First Baptist, by 1989 the decline of the Steel industry coupled with the departure of some members resulted in a rapid numerical decline in the church’s membership. Rev. Roberts who had served First Baptist Penn Hills faithfully for 44+ years resigned and became pastor emeritus. Rev. Roberts continued to support First Baptist Penn Hills for over a decade as a dedicated member with his presence, prayers and financial support until his death.
After much prayer and fasting the congregation called Rev. James Emory Hunt in November 1989 as its pastor. He was a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church (Hill District) and the former pastor of Second Baptist Church of Leechburg, PA. Upon accepting the call to First Baptist Penn Hills, Pastor Hunt and his wife Rev. Dr. Sheila Johnson – Hunt, became pioneers since because they were the first clergy couple in a Baptist Church in the Pittsburgh area of the Allegheny Union Baptist Association (AUBA), where the pastor’s wife was an ordained Baptist minister. In addition, Pastor James E. Hunt and Rev. Dr. Sheila L. Johnson - Hunt are the first African American clergy couple in Pittsburgh and vicinity where the wife of the Senior pastor was also the executive pastor of the church. Rev. Hunt was the right person at the right time. His vision of restoration and reconciliation has brought many blessings to First Baptist including increase in church membership and church finances. Pastor Hunt has transitioned First Baptist Penn Hills through media initiatives and upgrades, facility upgrades, while also focusing church ministries on a three prong approach to ministry; evangelism, discipleship and outreach. The church has moved from a neighborhood church to a regional church that focuses on training and sending its congregants as missionaries locally, nationally and internationally; family ministry that strengthens men, women and youth; fine arts and outreach ministry (Western Penn Hills Community Action Inc.). In addition, Rev. Hunt’s technology initiatives via online giving, computer lab, web site, television commercials, Facebook (social media), blogging, e-blast, twitter and lykedin announcements. The music ministry released its first recording in 1999 and First Baptist aired its radio program for 10 years in 5 different states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Arizona). Evangelistically, congregants have been commissioned as missionaries to the countries of Haiti, Jamaica, Liberia, Germany, Russia, Kenya, Mexico and other countries of the world in addition to other local and national mission efforts. Clergy have been licensed, ordained installed as pastors, deacons and deaconess; children of the incarcerated have been mentored; over 500 teens in 15 years have participated in Summer Youth Employment Community Beautification Program through Western Penn Hills Community Action Inc. (501.(c) 3 and so much more has been accomplished. We are our brother’s keeper. For at First Baptist Penn Hills, Jesus Christ is saving, discipling and sending change agents into the world. “The Hunt’s,” as they are affectionately called throughout Pittsburgh and beyond, are more than musicians and preachers, under the leadership of Pastor Hunt, they have modeled for the Christian community what a ministry family can accomplish.
© Copyright 2013: First Baptist Penn Hills