A HISTORY OF FAIRPORT BAPTIST CHURCH
Up until 1882, the Baptists of this community worshipped at the Fairfields Meeting House at Burgess, which later became Fairfields Baptist Church, the Mother Church of Fairport. Given limited means of travel and primitive road conditions, journeys to the Mother Church were not undertaken lightly. To take care of the religious needs of the growing community, a Sunday School located in the community was organized in about 1875. Organizing this small independent group of people into a Sunday School was sponsored and accomplished by the untiring efforts of Walter Biddlecomb and his wife, Elizabeth Trew Biddlecomb, the parents of Alfred W. Biddlecomb and the grandparents of Walter J. Biddlecomb, all of whom served the church faithfully.
The first early services were held in the open, and later, a brush arbor was erected for protection against the elements. As a child who attended these services, Mrs. Corrine Dodson Jones recalled that the catechism was taught together with some textbook studies. Mr. Biddlecomb was superintendent, and his wife taught Bible studies. This group was the forerunner of Fairport Baptist Church.
In 1877, a parcel of land was given by Nelson S. Woodhull on which to build a meeting house for the worship of God. Recognizing the increasing need, Mr. and Mrs. Biddlecomb, Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer L. Dodson, and Mr. and Mrs. William H. Haynie of Fairfields Baptist Church, with the interested people of the community, established a church in Fairport. The cornerstone of Fairport Chapel was laid on July 4, 1878. To celebrate, a full day of festivities was planned.
Following the laying of the cornerstone, there was a dinner, a prominent speaker, multiple games and amusements, and ended with a supper and a play. The Chapel remained under the care of Fairfields Baptist Church until 1886. During that year, letters of transfer were granted to all members of Fairfields who desired to establish membership at Fairport, and Fairport became an organized and independent church.
The first minutes of Fairport Baptist Church read, “Fairport Baptist Church was organized January 15, 1887.” The first deacons were Richard F. Walker, J. Willard Bellows, and Alfred W. Biddlecomb. The first trustee was Samuel P. Blundon. The Reverend Doctor William Heath Kirk, pastor of Coan Baptist Church, and local lay leaders supplied until the first pastor was called.
In the 1890s, the promise of wealth that the Bay’s menhaden fishing offered attracted many people from the North. These people added much to the church. In addition to the Woodhull family, Mrs. Albert Morris headed a list of subscribers to purchase an organ and became the first organist. For many years, Mr. Henry A. Gardner and his family graced the church with their music. Mrs. John W. (Ethel Gardner) McNeal organized the first Women’s Missionary Society and served as its president for many years. It is interesting to note here that the wedding of Miss Ethel Gardner to John W. McNeal was the first wedding to take place in Fairport Church.
Fairport’s women have always been intensely interested and active. Not only were they mission-minded, but they saw to the everyday needs of the church and its families through the Ladies Aid Society. Their love and selfless efforts surely stand in comparison to the ablest of deacons.
The first pastor, Reverend Charles N. Betts, came to Fairport in 1888 and served until his death in June 1902. From then until 1904, Reverend Doctor George W. Beale served as pastor, preaching twice a month on Sunday afternoons. At intervals, the pulpit was supplied by Reverend J. S. Wallace from Bethany M. E. Church, Reedville.
In 1904, Reverend Tyree C. Whitehurst was called and served the church until 1907. It was during his ministry that plans to build the present church building were culminated. The minutes of the church record that on December 28, 1901, a motion was made, seconded, and carried unanimously that Brothers Henry A. Gardner and Clarence C. Woodhull draw plans and specifications and prepare a cost estimate for a new church. It was further voted that the old church would be moved and the new church built on the same site. It was recorded on November 10, 1904, that the plan presented to the church was accepted, and Reverend Whitehurst was made chairman of the Building Fund. The present church building was completed and was dedicated on the first Sunday in June 1908. Members recall that the bricks for the church were made from the sand in the local creeks and that the men from the church hauled them by horse and work carts.
Reverend E. M. Ramsey was called and served for a year and was followed by Reverend Samuel N. Habel in 1908. Under Reverend Habel’s pastorate, the young peoples’ societies, the Royal Ambassadors, and the Girls Auxiliary were organized. Reverend Habel was the first pastor to bring his family and live in the community in a home rented as a parsonage.
In 1911, Reverend Habel was followed by Reverend A. Judson Reamy, Sr., who, with his son, A. Judson Reamy, Jr., co-pastored four of the area churches – Fairport, Fairfields, Smithland, and Coan. In 1912, Reverend Reamy Jr. became ill, and the four-church field was split. From 1912 to 1925, Reverend Reamy Sr. continued to pastor Fairport and Fairfields churches, which constituted one field until 1954.
Reverend B. L. Mozingo followed Reverend Reamy and served until 1928. Reverend Mozingo and his wife, whom he married while pastor at Fairport, were active with the young people, especially the B.Y.P.U. Reverend Mozingo was followed by Reverend John F. Stone, who served from 1928 until 1935. Reverend Thomas N. Toombs was called in May 1936, and during his pastorate, the first Vacation Bible School was organized, and the custom of observing “Fellowship Day” in the spring and “Loyalty Day” in October was established. He
also gave the church the slogan “The Friendly Church.”
Reverend Toombs was followed by Reverend Len E. Davis. Both Rev. and Mrs. Davis were gifted musicians whose talents added much to the church service.
Reverend Rufus H. Corbett came to Fairport in 1947. Through his untiring leadership, the Church grew in spirituality and number. He took a special interest in the young people, in particular the Royal Ambassadors. Under his leadership and through the great interest of Mr. Reuben M. Beane, the church treasurer, the first furnace was installed, and the sanctuary windows were restored.
Reverend John F. Stone returned in 1951 to serve as pastor of the church for a second time. Through his unflagging efforts and scholarly sermons, the Church continued to grow. Mrs. Stone enriched the Women’s Missionary Union with her leadership and teaching. Reverend Stone remained at Fairport until his death in 1953.
Reverend Irving Baldwin came as pastor in 1953 and was the last pastor to serve Fairport and Fairfields jointly. He left in 1954 to serve as the first full-time pastor of Fairfields Baptist Church.
During 1954 and 1955, closely bound by the commitment to call a full-time pastor, the church worked to build a parsonage. The descendants of Mrs. Elizabeth Dodson McNeal — Mrs. William T. (Idelle McNeal) Covington, Mr. A. Vernon McNeal, and the family of Kenneth L. McNeal — donated a lot adjacent to the church, and on that site, the first parsonage was built.
In 1955, Reverend Ernest P. Hart served as the first full-time pastor of Fairport. During his ministry, he made many innovations that added to the spiritual life and the beauty and dignity of the worship. He saw the need for an educational building, and a building fund was started.
Through the efforts and leadership of Mrs. Hart, the Women’s Missionary Union was recognized as one hundred percent in mission work.
Reverend Thomas Smith was called to Fairport in October 1957. During his ministry, the enthusiasm and plans for the Building Program continued. Mrs. Smith worked with the WMU and served as a counselor for the young people.
Reverend James A. Coates was called in July 1962, and through his zeal, the church grew spiritually. During his ministry, the construction of the educational building was begun, and under his enthusiastic leadership and through untiring work, together with the dedication of
faithful and loyal members, the building was completed. It was dedicated on Loyalty Day,
October 1966. In appreciation for their work, a room in the building was dedicated in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Coates. The plaque reads, “For their untiring efforts, this room is named in honor of Mr. and Mrs. James A. Coates.” Mrs. Coates, a gifted musician, contributed much to the worship service.
Reverend Robert W. Andrews was called to be the pastor on July 16, 1967. During Reverend Andrews’ pastorate, the church grew in many directions. He organized Sunday School and Church Councils to discuss problems and plan for the future. Weekly prayer services were conducted, and quarterly fellowship suppers were held and enjoyed by all. Spurred by his enthusiasm, members added many appointments to the sanctuary, which the church still enjoys today. He also instituted Men’s Day and Youth Day to encourage lay participation in the worship service. Mrs. Andrews was active in the Sunday School and Women’s organizations.
Failing health forced Reverend Andrews to retire, and in January 1974, the church called Reverend Doctor Charles E. McDaniel as its pastor. Reverend McDaniel’s unique teaching and preaching style truly revealed the meaning of the scriptures. During his ministry, he sought to deepen the congregation’s knowledge and personal relationship with the Lord through Sunday night study classes, Wednesday night prayer meetings, visitation, evangelistic weekends, and extensive youth programs. Through worship services such as bayside sunrise services, Thanksgiving Communion, Christmas in July, and special occasions such as Memorial Sunday and family communion at the altar, he constantly reminded the church that the Lord should take priority in all things. Several capital improvements were made to the church, including the presentation of the cross in the choir loft and a new piano. Mrs. McDaniel, a dedicated Christian, directed her talents to the reorganization and expansion of the church’s music ministry. Answering God’s call to serve another church, Reverend McDaniel left Fairport in October 1984.
In May 1985, the Church called Reverend James M. Eads. Fairport was Reverend Eads’ first full-time church, and we feel fortunate to participate in his maturation. He truly believes and preaches the word of God. Recognizing the importance of training our youth, he participated freely in their activities and encouraged them to become involved in the church through such means as planned recreational activities and Sunday sermonettes. Mrs. Eads was president of
the newly organized WMU Night Circle and was active in the Choir and Sunday School.
In the 1990’s Reverend Ken Sodergrin served from 1988 – 1991, and the Reverend David Cooper served from 1992 – 1999. During this time, the church went through multiple restorations. Specifically, the stained glass windows, the woodwork in the sanctuary, and the communion set were restored and refurbished.
In 2000 Reverend Neale Schools was called, and he served until 2022, when he retired. Under his leadership, the church completed many new projects. In 2003, the church purchased land for a remote drain field site. In 2004, a new roof was installed, and the parking lot was
expanded. In 2006, the present fellowship hall was remodeled, and a large addition was constructed, complete with a large modern kitchen at a cost of $404,274. It was later dedicated on October 1, 2006. In 2013, the original church pews were repaired and refinished. In 2014, a new parsonage was purchased on Fairport Road, and in December 2014, the sanctuary underwent major roof repairs to correct a collapsing ceiling. Ingram Bay Homes were contracted to complete the work. During the repairs, the contractor had to support the roof, and
the sanctuary could not be used, so services were held in the Fellowship Hall. They replaced support beams and installed steel columns on concrete pads in four corners for support. In October 2015, a celebration luncheon was held, and services once again could be held in the sanctuary. In 2020, a property was purchased on Boatyard Road that included a house that was later renovated. This provided additional meeting space and parking.
Also, under his guidance, the church supported many missions. In 2010, Fairport, along with other area churches, provided funds to the Shalom Garden Orphanage in Kenya to purchase property and build an orphanage close to their water source. We began providing funds to a Guatemala mission, which we continue today. We partnered with a church in Warrenton for the Caring and Sharing Appalachian ministry. Over the years, through this ministry, Fairport has donated hundreds of turkeys and food boxes, which provided complete Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. In 2014 and again in 2017, the WMA completed and sold cookbooks to support their many mission projects. In 2017, $15,000 was donated to Samaritan’s Purse to
help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. In 2018, the church donated $2,000 to the Young Life/Wyldlife youth program and began a monthly pledge of support. These missions continue to be supported by Fairport and the WMA today.
In October 2022, Reverend David Schneider was hired as an interim pastor and in February 2023, was ordained and hired as the full-time pastor. He brings considerable experience working in numerous Christian ministries and other much-needed roles within the Northern
Neck area. He is getting to know the community and wants to provide ministries and support to people right where they are, with the unconditional love of Christ.
All of the people we’ve mentioned today were ordinary people. We are just ordinary people. As we look at these 136 years, we see that only true dedication and love of the Lord have brought us from a Sunday School in a brush arbor to where we are today. We must accept our forerunners’ challenge: that their commitment lives on in us, that we strive to continue to make Fairport a light in this community, and that we strive to conduct our lives in such a way as to
always carry God’s word in front and forward.