The West Virginia Baptist State Convention has served traditional African-American churches of West Virginia since 1878. The convention’s buildings and grounds are at Hilltop, near Oak Hill in Fayette County. This complex is used throughout the year for meetings, camps, retreats, and administrative work. The staff publishes a quarterly newspaper, Baptist News.
The convention’s story begins with the African Zion Baptist Church at Malden, the ‘‘Mother Church of Negro Baptists’’ in West Virginia, where Booker T. Washington once taught Sunday School. This and other early churches developed the Mt. Olivet Missionary Baptist Association and founded the West Virginia Baptist Association in 1874. Those who helped develop the convention include Washington, I. W. Smith, James Lewis Rice, Daniel Stratton, R. J. Perkins, Nelson Barnett, I. V. Bryant, R.D.W. Meadows, and Byrd Prillerman. The convention’s district associations now are Flat Top, Guyan Valley, Mt. Zion, New River, Tug River, Tygart Valley, and Winding Gulf, as well as Mt. Olivet. There are about 150 individual churches.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a West Virginia Seminary and College, founded by Rev. R. J. Perkins, occupied four acres of the present grounds of the Baptist State Convention. Fire destroyed the building in 1908, and after two years the school closed. The Jones brothers of Red Star Coal & Coke Company donated 50 acres to the seminary in 1914, largely due to the influence of Henry Jared Carter, the seminary’s president. The seminary operated again from 1919 to 1926. The land was not used for 26 years.
In 1953, the convention began to meet at Hilltop during the third week of August, and the tradition continues to the present. The Women’s Missionary and Education Convention and Youth Convention meet at the same time. During the year, other meetings include the Congress of Christian Education, Music Auxiliary, Laymen and Ushers, Youth Bible Bowl competition, and graduation for seminary extension students.
Convention President S. A. Abram began redevelopment of the old seminary grounds in 1952 and completed five buildings in ten years. After Executive Secretary Warren S. Lewis led the major updating in 1972, the main building, named for Abram, had a sanctuary, meeting rooms, kitchen and dining hall, offices, and sleeping quarters under one roof. The overall complex was named the Hilltop Baptist Center. It includes a picnic area, swimming pool, and semi-rustic dormitories. The newest addition is the Big Creek-Cook Dormitory, with modern rooms for guest speakers, officers, and church ‘‘messengers’’ or delegates.
The West Virginia Baptist State Convention is affiliated with the National Baptist Convention, USA, and supports its objectives, including foreign and home missions.
This Article was written by Anna Evans Gilmer
Last Revised on November 12, 2010