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Historic Columbus Baptist marks centennial anniversary

A recent Sunday morning service at Columbus Baptist Church was “extra special” as the congregation hosted its 100th church anniversary.

“Columbus has always been known for its wonderful, spirit-filled music,” said Interim Pastor Ronald L. Cleaves. “But this past Sunday (Sept. 26) was particularly uplifting as we reflected on our history and how far the Lord has brought us.

“One of the highlights for me was a video of Columbus over the years. It was just wonderful to see.

From its very inception, Columbus Baptist Church has been called “a family church.”

“Many of the members at Columbus today are children and grandchildren of those who belonged to the church back in those very early days,” said Cleaves. “I, myself, grew up in Columbus, a little, snotty-nose boy running around here. I never dreamed that I would ever be serving my church as the interim pastor.”

Columbus Baptist Church was organized by Rev. C. W. Brooks in June 1921. After serving as pastor for one year, Brooks was succeeded by Rev. G. W. Hayes.

“I grew up at Columbus, along with my siblings,” said Tisha Rainey. “This was my mother’s church, and she really loved her church. We came to love it as well. I just never left. Stories have been passed down over the years. 

“When Rev. Brooks started the church, there were five members. All five were men who loved God. The Spirit of the Lord has always been at Columbus.”

Under Hayes’ leadership, according to the church’s written history, the church grew to a membership of more than 1,000. Several moves were made to progressively larger buildings to accommodate a growing and vibrant church body. 

With Hayes’ guidance, Columbus bought the plot of land at 324 Decatur St. A large, brick church was built, the same edifice where the congregation worships today.

“Back in the 1930s, our church building was constructed at a cost of $20,000,” said Cleaves. “That was a massive accomplishment for a black church back then. At that time, $20,000 was a lot of money.”

Hayes served as pastor until his death in September 1941. For the next two years, Rev. Jasper Williams Sr. was pastor. He would later plant his own church, Lane Avenue Baptist Church.

In 1944, Rev. A. E. Campbell, the longest serving pastor in the church’s history, began his 43-year stint as the new shepherd.

When Campbell died in 1987, his youngest son, John Jackson Campbell, was elected to lead the church.

Columbus thrived under John Campbell’s leadership. Each Sunday, the church “was filled to capacity,” according to church history. 

In 2010, a change in leadership brought in Rev. E. C. Alexander, who served as pastor for five years. Since that time, the church has not officially installed another pastor. Cleaves stepped into the role of pastor, and has been the interim for years.

“Although we have not elected a new pastor since Rev. Alexander left, the Lord has been faithful in blessing Columbus,” said Cleaves.

“I accepted my own call to ministry in 2010. I had always taught Sunday School and served as chairman of the joint board. That consists of the deacons and trustees. I felt a total calling on my life to preach. I am just filling in until we get a new pastor.”

Cleaves has served as interim for nearly five years. 

“We just continue to press on,” said Cleaves. “People still have to be married. Children still have to be christened and families must have their loved ones buried.

“Serving our people has been my greatest joy these four-and-a-half years. I retired from City Court in 1990. Acting as pastor has been my most satisfying and fulfilling job.”

Cleaves said Columbus will continue to thrive because “the Lord is on their side.”

“We know the Lord has been with us down through the years,” said Cleaves. “However He chooses to do about the pastor’s office is alright. He promised to never leave or forsake us. With God’s help, we’ll be here another 100 years.”

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