The Providence Baptist Church, the nation’s oldest church, kicked off plans for its bicentennial in grand style last Sunday, with President George Weah walking through the original church on Broad and Center Streets, which was built in 1821.
The church’s senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Samuel Reeves, led President Weah through the ancient edifice, to the Declaration of Independence of Liberia and the first Liberian Constitution, which was signed there on July 26, 1847. The original document is still preserved there.
Addressing the crowded church later in the new Providence sanctuary facing Ashmun Street, the President said he felt a profound sense of awe (amazement, wonder) walking through those hallowed walls, surrounded by history itself.
Providence has made known its expectant 200th Anniversary; but we don’t know whether the second oldest Liberian church, the United Methodist, also remembers its bicentennial; for it is only a year younger, founded in 1822. Providence, believe it or not, was organized in the living room of Lott Carey in Richmond, Virginia, United States of America, just as he and other African Americans had decided to immigrate to Liberia.
According to the Historical Dictionary of Liberia (Dunn, Burrowes and Beyan), others who participated in that Richmond meeting were Colin Teage, father of Hilary Teage, Joseph Langford and their wives. Lott Carey later founded the Lott Carey Baptist Mission, Brewerville, Liberia. The Providence Baptist founders also included Colston M. Waring, one of the six well-to-do former trustees of the Gillfield Church in his native Petersburg, Virginia; Boston Jenkins Drayton, a missionary from North Carolina, and Moore Titus Worrel, a free-born carpenter from North Carolina.
It was most probably from that Richmond meeting that the first set of colonists who landed at this island in the Mesurado River that the early colonists named the island Providence. Thus today we have Providence Island, which they must have named after the Baptist church they organized in Richmond, Virginia.
So next year Providence Baptist Church will turn 200 and the church and its leaders and core organizers are planning an elaborate series of events, tying in with the founding of the Liberian colony the following year, 1822.
We call on the entire Liberian government, led by President George Weah, the National Legislature, the entire government and all Liberians to join Providence in the planning and execution of this important milestone. We say all Liberians because there are Baptist churches throughout the country.
Why are we calling on the entire government and the Liberian people to be involved in this historic celebration? There are three reasons: first, the celebration is a grand opportunity to organize a reunion or homecoming of Liberians from everywhere—from all parts of Liberia; from the Diaspora, especially the United States; but also other parts of the world where Liberians are found. The reunion will include all other nationals who have at one time or another lived in Liberia—Guineans, Sierra Leoneans, Ivorians, Malians, Burkinabe, Ghanaians, etc. This should spell a very big reunion.
Second, all of us Liberians should immediately get busy putting our houses in order—fixing all our roads, especially the main thoroughfares of the capital city — all the main streets of Monrovia, most especially the road leading to the Free Port of Monrovia and Tubman Bridge, Hotel Africa and Bomi County. There is one other major road we need to fix or complete — the road from ELWA Junction past the Paynesville Red Light that leads Liberians and their visitors up country.
We further call on President Weah to contact immediately the Japanese government and plead with them to complete the Somalia Drive THIS YEAR! It has been appropriately suggested that the four-lane highway be renamed after our generous Japanese friends.
And all the Monrovia municipalities should immediately begin to spruce up their cities and towns with cleanup campaigns, renovations and painting, planting of grass and any other thing they need to do to make the places within and around their environs look better and more presentable.
The foregoing makes it clear, then, that all of us need to get involved preparing the Liberian environs for this great HOMECOMING that we the Liberian people, the Liberian government and Providence Baptist Church are planning to execute.
Because the First United Methodist Church will also soon be celebrating their 200th year of existence, we urge the Methodist bishop and all his coworkers and members to get busy now and start planning for these great milestones in which they, too, are involved.
And let us start writing books about these things. These two churches, Providence Baptist and the United Methodist Church, should immediately get their historians and intellectuals engaged to start writing each at least one book about their churches.
There are many other things we need to do to make this ensuing HOMECOMING a BLAST. Let us all start thinking about it NOW and become involved in envisioning other things that need to be done to make this homecoming a reality.