Ninety-eight years ago in December 1922, Olivet Baptist Church’s humble beginning on East 23rd Street in Baltimore, Maryland became part of the vision of the Rev. J. C. Sweeney along with co-founders John and Eliza Turner, Benjamin and Julia Gross, and Florence Barnes. The church was later moved to Laurens Street.
The following spring of 1923, Olivet entered as a member into the Organization of the Federation of Churches. The Pastor and the membership worked later on to acquire a larger edifice at the corner of Druid Hill Avenue and Robert structure was established. These organizations included: the Deacon Board, the Trustee Board, Sunday School, BTU, Missionary Circle, Pastor’s aid Society, Willing Workers, Male and Female Usher Boards, Flower Circle, Pulpit Committee, Senior and junior Choirs and Scout Troop. Prayer Meeting was held every Friday Night. Bible Study was held every Wednesday Night. Church Meeting was held every quarter. In 1928, the church was able to lease the property at Winchester Street and Parrish from the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.
The church’s biggest goal of “winning souls to Christ” was always the focus. Finances and maintaining membership were always challenges. With the help of Revivals and various Church fundraisers, the church has been able to “stay the course.”
During the Great Depression Olivet along with the rest of our Country experienced the downside of the slump in our nation’s economy. Nevertheless, God still prevailed and Olivet along with a new Pastor survived and continued to stay the course of soul saving in the name of our blessed Savior. The Rev. Benjamin Thompson came to Olivet in 1934 as a non-salaried servant. He played the piano and preached the Gospel Sunday after Sunday with the Devine inspiration and renewed energy that was so uplifting to a people who needed a rallying cry to move forward. Rev. Thompson remained very faithful and conscientious until his death in 1949.
On June 19, 1949, Olivet installed its third Pastor, Rev. William L. Evans. During his service at Olivet he reorganized some of the smaller ministries. He also worked diligently with the officials: Deacon Benjamin Gross, Trustee Herbert Hinds, Deacon Hezekiah Braxton, and Sis. Henrietta Harris to move into another building located at Riggs Avenue and Woodyear Street. Rev. Evans not only preached the word of God, but he had a very melodious voice that would sing the word of God in son with or without the choir as he accompanied himself with the piano. He loved going throughout the surrounding neighborhood inviting the people to Olivet. Many times he had the church sponsor outdoor rallies to encourage new converts to come to Christ. Rev. Evans remained faithful in his service to Olivet until his health problems cause him to retire in 1962.
In the spring of 1962, Rev. Wilburn S. Watson became the fourth Pastor of the Olivet Baptist Church. Here again we had a pastor that could not only preach, but could also play the piano, sing, teach, direct the choir, serve in many capacities during services and in the neighborhood. He was a big promoter of young people and youth Programs. He gave a tremendous boost to the Sunday School that allowed them to travel around the city to visit other churches during their Sunday School time. This gave rise to the Young Adult and Youth Choirs and revamping of the Young Adult and Youth Ushers. He also initiated live broadcast from the church for over a year.
He had a background in singing in quartets and other Christian Groups. Therefore, it was no surprise when he started to invite well known singing groups, singers, preacher evangelist and preachers of local or national fame to come to Olivet for services and fundraisers. Sometimes he would also be hosts to some of the candidates for political offices. Many of these activities continued until we moved and lasted when the church and the staff could no longer handle the enormous crowds.
Through his encouragement and leadership, the church was able to move to its present location at the corner of Edmonson Avenue and Edgewood Street with the entire church marching from the old location to its new location. Bishop Watson was also able to maintain a ten year tape ministry on radio station WBGR. The Sunday School was always a major focus for Pastor Watson. He worked diligently with many superintendents and teachers to increase basic biblical knowledge and attendance. For many years the Sunday School was in competition with other city Sunday Schools to compete for a trophy that Olivet still has to this day. He also had a Senior ministry at a local McDonald's where he would share the word of God with all who came five days a week.
After several years of worshiping in the new location that originally had been a converted movie theatre, it was time for the interior to take on an entirely different appearance. With the suggestions from the congregation and the officials, the Pastor assisted the architects to complete a more user friendly sanctuary for Olivet. The Pulpit area and two classrooms were included in the new design. The baptismal pool was relocated and the choir stands received a new look. The membership did a furniture drive to purchase new pews, choir seats and new carpet. The lights were refurbished and dimmers were added. New paint was added inside and outside. Under Pastor Watson’s leadership, he worked with the Pulpit Aid and the United Women to buy furniture, sconces, and brass letters for outside the building. He worked with the choirs to get new robes for choir members. He was instrumental in the purchase of three additional properties for the church. One now is the renamed Wilburn S. Watson Worship Center and the other two have been sold. Prior to the purchase of any of these properties, the upstairs area of the main sanctuary was used for the pastor’s study, classrooms and a fellowship/banquet hall. These areas were used between Sunday school and morning worship to serve doughnuts and beverages to members to provide a time to fellowship between the two services. This same area was also used for small church banquets to be held. Our building Fund is still on going and our church properties are still in need of upkeep and repair to be ready for any and all worship services and related Christian training activities. We need to keep this building ready to stay the course of winning souls to Christ.
Pastor’s biggest and greatest challenge was maintaining the congregation throughout the many changes in the world, our Country, our neighborhood and our homes. There were many workshops, retreats, and revivals and other training sessions both on site and at other locations to strengthen the choirs, ushers and security, Sunday school, vacation bible school, deacons, trustees, deaconess, missionaries, new members, members, the officers and the other ministries that are not listed here.
During Pastor Watson’s 47 years of uninterrupted service, he also earned the title of Bishop and the corner of the Church’s street was renamed in his honor. He left us with such a rich legacy that we can only pass it on to those who will come after us to give them the strong leadership and foundation that we have had. Sadly, Bishop Watson passed away six year ago which prompted a search for a new pastor.
On January 1, 2012, Rev. Alex O. Stone became the Pastor-elect of Olivet Baptist Church. He hit the ground running and he hasn’t stopped yet. He has put his focus on preaching the gospel, teaching the word of God, fortifying our study and worship, and giving us an uplifting spirit to take us to another level of servicing and praising our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Rev. Stone was officially installed as the new Pastor of the Olivet Baptist Church on Sunday, May 6, 2012. We look forward to that next milestone in the history of the Olivet Baptist Church.
This is an abbreviated history of the Olivet Baptist Church.