The origins of the Abyssinian Baptist Church began in 1917 with a few Christians who were formerly members of Hopewell Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey.
Rev. D.C. McCoy presided over the meeting as they voted to organize a church. After the church was duly organized and named Friendship Baptist Church, Rev. McCoy became the first pastor. For the first six years, Friendship Baptist Church was located in two rooms on the second floor of a building at 110 Prince Street. The second pastor was Rev. Osborne. Rev. Osborne served until 1923 and the last service rendered at the Prince Street address was his farewell sermon, “If we do these things under the green tree, what shall be done under the dry."
After Rev. Osborne's farewell, the church extended the call to Rev. Robert Daniel Ponder, a native of Camilla, Georgia, to serve as the third pastor. His acceptance sermon was delivered at the new church site, 315 Norfolk Street, Newark, New Jersey. Rev. Ponder served as pastor for eleven years before he suffered a stroke in 1933 while vacationing in Georgia. During Rev. Ponder's illness, Deacon John Henry Morrison, Chairman of the Board of Deacons, asked Rev. Burr to serve the church. Church members were not pleased with this arrangement, and subsequently Rev. Burr was terminated. Despite his ailing health, Rev. Ponder returned and served as pastor until he resigned in 1934. His farewell sermon was entitled, "I come to seek and to save that which is lost."
Following Rev. Ponder, Rev. Jackson and Rev. Reavis were the fourth and fifth pastors respectively. When Rev. Reavis resigned in 1939, he took the name "Friendship Baptist" with him. Consequently, the remaining members had to reorganize themselves. So, on June 11, 1939, a meeting was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Allen, 296 West Kinney Street in Newark for that reorganization. Eighteen members were in attendance and Deacon Tank K. Flanagan presided over the meeting. The church was reorganized and renamed to Norfolk Baptist Church with the Assistant Pastor, Rev. Bounty, serving as supply minister.
In 1939, Rev. A.M. Means was extended the call to pastor Norfolk Baptist Church. He came and noted the work that had to be done, but did not accept the call. Instead, he recommended his younger brother, Rev. Raphus P. Means, a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina. Rev. Raphus P. Means became the next pastor of Norfolk Baptist Church. He pastored the church from January 1940 until May 1961. Under his leadership, the church flourished and was noted as one of the greatest Black Churches in the nation. The church purchased a new church home for the sum of $50,000. Quite a project for such a small congregation! On February 2, 1947, the congregation marched to their new church home at 224-228 West Kinney Street and Norfolk Baptist Church became the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
After Rev. Means resigned, the call was extended to Rev. Horace P. Sharper. Rev. Sharper launched a new era under his pastorate. Many auxiliaries and support programs were established and still exist today. The edifice of the church also underwent dramatic changes ($150,000 worth of remodeling) to meet the ever-changing needs of the congregation and community. Rev. Sharper resigned in November 1972, but his pastorate didn't expire until February 1973.
After February 1973, Rev. Ester Ivy served as the supply minister until February 1975. Rev. Ivy was a steadfast and faithful minister until his death. His efforts have not gone unnoticed, for later, during the tenure of Rev. Dr. Perry Simmons, Jr., Broom Street was renamed to Rev. Ester Ivy Boulevard.
Rev. Elton T. Byrd pastored the church for seven years and resigned in May 1982. Rev. Byrd emphasized programming for youth and the revitalization of the church's Building Fund.
In June 1982, the church called Rev. Dr. Perry Simmons, Jr. as it's 9th pastor. Under Rev. Simmons’ pastorate, many programs and ministries were added. We have a complete Youth Ministry: Youth Institute, Striving for Excellence, Praise Dancers, Mimes, Step Team, Men-to-Boyz, Sisters United; a Department of Christian Education; a Singles Ministry; a Couples Ministry; a Prison Ministry; a Women’s Ministry; a Laymen’s Ministry; a Gifted & Anointed for Purpose Ministry (ages 18 – 40) and full participation in all phases of Baptist work, and more than 1,900 new souls have been added to the Body of Christ. This is some of the work that has been done: construction of the Thomas O'Neal Annex, the expansion of the pulpit and choir stand, which includes the Baptismal Pool, Choir Room, the Deacons, Deaconesses and Ushers rooms, new offices, expansion of the Trustees office, total renovation of the Sanctuary - stain glass windows, central air conditioning throughout the church, purchase of a new organ and piano, padding and covering of the pews, new lighting, new steps have been added, paving of the parking lot and a new fence around the church, renovation of the parsonage, purchase of three vans, and the hiring of a full-time Office Administrator. In 2009, an elevator was installed and a Daktronics Display was added to display church activities. A Drug Prevention Program has been added, plus facilities have been made available to a Drug Anonymous Group, and other community outreach programs for their weekly meetings and activities. The church has become a 100% tithe and offering supported church. June 2017 Pastor Simmons retired after 35 years of dedicated service. In July, 2017, The Joint Board of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, with the support of the Congregation, bestowed upon him the honor of Pastor Emeritus.
January, 2018 the Abyssinian family welcomed Rev. Barry R. Miller as the Pastor Elect. On June 10, 2018 Pastor Miller was installed as the 10th pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Rev. Miller resigned in May 2021.
We are a Purpose Driven Church for the 21st Century. Through our Media Ministry the Gospel of Jesus Christ is spread throughout the world. Utilizing videos, CD’s, DVD’s, and our Website, individuals are provided with the opportunity to experience our Worship Services. Each Sunday our Worship Services are broadcast live.
Abyssinian Baptist Church has gone through many changes, it has withstood much criticism, but through it all, persecution has not crushed it nor have outside powers beaten it. The Church's foundation is built on the Solid Rock of Truth.
In future years, may this church continue to stand as a living monument of Christ our Savior, who died that sinful men might live.
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