Union Baptist Church History

The Union Baptist Church has its origins in the Fourth Baptist Church of Elizabeth. Available records indicate that, as early as 1873, a community of African Americans called the Fourth Baptist Church existed in Elizabeth. The Shiloh Baptist Church was also organized out of that congregation. After a failed attempt to merge Shiloh and Fourth Baptist, a few members of Shiloh joined with Fourth Baptist in forming The Union Baptist Church. The Reverend Joseph H. Bailey became the first pastor of the church after its incorporation on March 11, 1891. The cornerstone for the church was laid in March, 1893 and the building was dedicated on June 25, 1893. Dr. Lewis led a building program in the 1940s that included the elevation of the church to create a fellowship hall, addition of the vestibule and balcony and an extension at the rear of the building. 

Reverend J. Wendell Mapson, Jr. accepted the call to Union in 1969. Under his gifted leadership, several auxilia­ries were added to the church and the ministry was directed to serve the present age. Dr. Mapson led the church in the building of the new sanctuary and fellowship hall and instituted the first Christian broadcast originating in Elizabeth. He also initiated the Clothing and Van Ministries as well as the daycare center. Dr. Mapson’s fruit­ful tenure at Union ended in 1987 when he accepted the pastorate of the Monumental Baptist Church of Phila­delphia, Pennsylvania. 

On February 24, 1988, Union extended the call to R. Lenton Buffalo, Jr. Pastor Buffalo was installed as the ninth pastor of Union on June 5, 1988. Christian growth and service are at the core of our pastor’s vision for Union. He initiated a teaching ministry that is a blessing to our church and the community. The Church School, weekly Bible studies, discipleship class, Vacation Bible School, as well as periodic thematic courses, pro­vide opportunities for development and growth of Christian character. 

The pastor has also instituted a Women’s Ministry. In addition to fundraising, each fellowship of the church has a mission. This has resulted in the formation of a church pantry, increased visitation of sick and shut-in mem­bers, expansion of the Van Ministry’s mission and institution of the Matthew 25 Community Outreach Minis­try. Pastor Buffalo’s leadership in “Building One New Jersey,” a faith-based, state-wide, grassroots community organizing coalition, has placed Union at the center of New Jersey’s social justice movement. Union also hosts the Overcomers Outreach; a Christian recovery support group and the Urban League of Union County’s Sum­mer Youth Program. 

We thank God for blessing our work and worship for 129 years. We pray that God will keep us strong in faith, instant in service and firmly committed to a purposeful partnership with Christ, so we can “exemplify excellence in all things.” (Colossians 3: 17) NIV

~ Our Pastors ~

Rev. Joseph H. Bailey (1891-1901) 

Rev. William P. Lawrence (1901-1907)

Rev. Henry H. Mitchell (1907-1909) 

Rev. Lewis W. Boyington ( 1909-1913)

Rev. Lilburn C. Hurdle (1913-1922) 

Rev. Andrew D. Moore (1923-1930) 

Rev. Dr. A. Alexander Lewis (1932-1968)

Rev. Dr. J. Wendell Mapson, Jr. (1968-1987)

Rev. R. Lenton Buffalo, Jr. (1988-Present)

Union Baptist Church was organized March 11, 1891.  However, the Union Baptist Church story began many years before it adopted its present name. Records show that in the year 1873 there existed a witnessing Christian community of our denomination and race named the FOURTH BAPTIST CHURCH, incorporated in 1884.  Out of this church came persons who would organize the Shiloh Baptist Church, also in Elizabeth.  Rev. C. Miller is listed as a pastor of Fourth Baptist Church during the period of the early 1880’s.  By the late 1880’s, Fourth Baptist Church, then worshipping in ‘Old’ Library Hall located on Broad Street, was pastored by Rev. Mr. Whitehead. Rev. Joseph H. Bailey served as pastor of the Shiloh congregation.

At this time, a movement was initiated by Rev. Bailey to reunite both churches, to be named, UNION BAPTIST CHURCH.  Even though representatives from both churches met, the merger never quite materialized. Instead, Fourth Baptist Church changed its name to Union Baptist Church, and contained in it a few families from the Shiloh group who still supported the merger.

Union Baptist Church was incorporated, under its present name on March 11, 1891, and elected as first pastor, Rev. Joseph H. Bailey, at a salary of $48.00 per month. The church, with an old congregation and a new name, continued to worship in Library Hall for the next two years. The Old Fourth Church had previously purchased land on East Grand Street near Madison Avenue, and under the agreement, the property was transferred to the Union Baptist Church for the fee of one dollar.  Soon thereafter, work was begun on the new church building, and its cornerstone was laid in March, 1893. The church was dedicated June 25, 1893, at a cost of $4200.  The wood frame structure carried a belfry with a bell purchased from the McShane Bell Foundry, Baltimore, Maryland, and is dated 1893. The bell was purchased through the efforts of the Union Baptist Church Literary Club, which staged a debate and play in ’Old’ Library Hall Theater to raise funds. The first pews and pipe organ were donated to the newly established church.

Some of the original deacons were: Wilson Purteller (chairman), Jesse Harris, James Chase, Solomon Walker, William Brown, Joseph Lewis, and James Treadwell.  The trustees consisted of the following: Joseph Porter (chairman), Coodwin Davis (associate clerk), Isaac Richardson, Payton Whiting (who later served as the second chairman of the board), Felix Richmond, William  Miller, and Robert Saunders. The first organists were: Fanny Porter and Katherine Treadwell.  William Miller served as the first sexton.  Madame M. L. Simmons would soon serve as organist, a position she would hold for many years. Of the sixty-six original families, a few are listed below:

John Love

Joseph Morris

Betty Reed

William Frazier

Mr. Ross

Stith Henderson

John Gill

John Fields

William Saunders

Mrs. Philips

Augustus Threets

Georgia Davis

Mattie Berriman

John Tucker

George Major

Marie Williams

B. J. Gaines

Oliver Banks

Thomas J. Taylor

Joseph Bradshaw

Thomas Bradshaw

Hattie Walker

Alice Batts

Tillie Blaines Jones

James H. Haardy (clerk)

Rev. Bailey, a Virginian, was known as a humanitarian and civic worker.  He was one of the pioneer organizers of the New Jersey Afro-American State Convention and forerunner of the General Baptist Convention of New Jersey.  After pastoring the church for ten years, Rev. Bailey retired in 1901, and was succeeded by Rev. William P. Lawrence, who was called to the church in February, 1901.

Rev. Lawrence was described as “a student of philosophy, a brilliant speaker and writer”, and possessing “unusual talent and executive ability”.  In an article written in “Who’s Who Among the Colored Baptists”, it states that Rev. Lawrence was “a firm believer in the doctrine of the betterment of the Negro along mental, moral and material lines”.  Although born in Virginia, Rev. Lawrence came from Syracuse, New York.  During his pastorate, the mortgage on the church was burned, and a parsonage was purchased next door to the church in 1906 at a cost of $1,800.

Rev. Lawrence left Union in June, 1907 after a six-year pastorate, and was succeeded by Rev. Henry H. Mitchell.  Rev. Mitchell’s ministry at Union was of short duration, lasting only two years.  Rev. Lewis W. Boyington, the fourth pastor, assumed the leadership of the church in 1909, and served until 1913.

In March, 1913, Dr. Lilburn C. Hurdle was called to pastor the Union Baptist Church.  Known as a great theologian and scholar, Rev. Hurdle also served as Dean of Northern University, then located in Rahway, NJ.  During Rev. Hurdle’s tenure, the mortgage on the old parsonage was cleared.  Deacon John Wright was added to the Deacon Board, and would serve Union in that capacity for the next five decades.

Rev. Hurdle resigned the pastorate of Union in 1922.  The interim was filled by Rev. Leonard Johnson, who supplied the pulpit until February, 1923.

Dr. Andrew D. Moore accepted the call to pastor the church in March, 1923.  During his ministry at Union, a fire of small proportion damaged a section of the interior, destroying the pipe organ, and causing the congregation to temporarily relocate in the VFW Hall for a short length of time.  After the damage was repaired, Rev. Moore resigned because of ill health in August, 1930.  Rev. E. D. Davis served as interim from September 1930 until August, 1931.

Dr. Austin Alexander Lewis, the seventh pastor, accepted the call to Union March 10, 1932, after leaving the pastorate of the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, Saratoga Springs, NY.  By this time, John Tucker, William H. Black, Samuel O. Bolden, and William Hunter were added to the Board of Deacons, and Isham Jones to the Board of Trustees.  William H. Black, Samuel O. Bolden, and Isham Jones were elevated to the position of chairman of their respective boards, and served many years as faithful men of the church.  Other men who would be placed on the Board of Deacons within the next decade were: Henry Bolden, Henry Mobley, James Brown, David Bolling, Isaac Collins, John Andrews, James Brake, and William Fogg.  Other men would be elected trustees were: John Skinner (chairman), B. L. Womack (clerk), J. L. Bradshaw (treasurer), Charles Oliver, Charles Adams, John Smith, James Hardy, Hugh Jackson, Cassie Talley (financial clerk), and Bravel Nesbitt, who would follow Isham Jones as chairman of the Board of Trustees.  Andrew Beamer would serve the next three decades as Superintendent of the Sunday School.

During the thirty-six-year pastorate of Rev. Lewis, a rebuilding program was undertaken, and on February 17, 1941, a building permit was obtained. On March 1 of the same year, ground was broken for a project which would include: the addition of a basement to include restrooms, choir room, kitchen, and a recreation hall.  This was awarded to one of the few black contractors at that time, Jones and Lewis Engineering Co.  The architect was C. C. Bell of Cranford.  A. Cuzzo and Son of Newark was hired to raise the building fourteen feet higher, which took several weeks.  The building program, which proceeded in stages, also included the addition of a thirty-foot extension at the rear of the original structure, and the addition of a vestibule and gallery.  In 1946, an organ and piano were purchased, along with kitchen equipment.  In 1947 a lot on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and East Grand Street, measuring 100×75, was purchased at a cost of $8,000.  The lot was purchased at a cost of $8,000.  The lot was purchased from Local 715, Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

In July 1948, the church tower, which extended 50 feet above the street, was judged unsafe, and it was partially torn down.  The U. K. Richard Building Co., Elizabeth, was hired to do the work of cutting the tower from 20 feet to 12 feet.  The tower project, which took one year, was completed July 30, 1949, at a cost of $800.00.

At this time the following men would serve as Deacons during the coming decade: Elisha Paulk, William T. Black, Hamilton Fletcher, and slightly later, Randolph Young.  Trustees would include: Wellington Morrison, James Payne, Elijah Jenkins Sr., David Womack, Edward Thoms, Eusebrio Lopez, Alexander Williams (clerk), Annabelle Jackson (financial clerk), and Charles Ross (treasurer).

In 1954, the sanctuary was remodeled, which included new pews, oak floors, and carpeting.  Most of this work was supervised by Edward Thoms, under the auspices of the Union Baptist Men’s Club.  On Sunday, September 14, 1958, a new cornerstone was laid, which climaxed the $14,000 rebuilding program.

In 1965, a two-family dwelling at 175 Madison Avenue was purchased, and in 1968, a new parsonage was bought at 173 Madison Avenue.  Under Rev. Lewis’ leadership, the following auxiliaries were added: The Young Married Women’s Club, The Women’s Progressive Club, The Nurse’s Unit, and The Ida Gibson Flower Club.  Rev. Lewis was noted for his keen interest in the youth, which took shape in the formation of “The Buds of Promise”.  Deacons placed on the Board during the sixties were: Ralph Crosby, Sr., (the present chairman), James Bolden, Eddie Matthews, and Benjamin Sims.  Trustees added were: Roland Hill (the present treasurer), John Oliver, Sr., Mildred Thompson (financial clerk), and Charles Jarrett (clerk).  Rev. Lewis emphasized education, property ownership, and job opportunity, which was reflected in his involvement in civic and socio-political affairs.  On May 3, 1968, Rev. Lewis was taken by death, and the church was for the eighth time in its history, without a leader.

As God had done in the past, He sent to Union a young, energetic, well-prepared minister, who was destined to lead the church to unimagined heights.  On the fourth Sunday in May, 1968, Rev. Jesse Wendell Mapson, Jr., preached in the pulpit of Union Baptist Church, at twenty-three years of age.  Immediately, the spirits of congregation and minister met, and on September 21, 1968, Rev. Mapson was asked to serve as supply minister.  On May 7, 1969, at a special church business meeting, Rev. Mapson was extended the call.  Upon accepting the call, Rev. Mapson preached his first sermon as pastor on Mother’s Day 1969.  On Sunday, October 12, 1969, Rev. Jesse W. Mapson was installed as the eighth pastor of Union Baptist Church.  Finding a congregation low in spirit, and decreasing in membership, the newly installed pastor set out to discover the needs of the congregation, and to chart directions for the future.  The first project was the paving of the parking area.  The money was raised and the project completed in a period of one month.

Next, the sanctuary was given a fresh coat of paint, the newly acquired parsonage, never occupied by and previous pastor, was redecorated and made suitable for occupancy.  A demand note of over $8,000 was liquidated in a short time.  The Pastor’s Aid Fellowship was organized to articulate the collective concern of the membership for the pastoral family.  The Music Department was expanded with the addition of the Inspirational Choir, and the Male Chorus.  The Youth Choir was reorganized and strengthened.  The Youth Fellowship was organized to reach the young people in the church and was supervised by an adult staff of advisors.  Rev. Mapson established Annual Youth Sundays, whereby the youth conduct the morning worship service.  The Youth of the church have spearheaded drug clinics, distributed Thanksgiving baskets to needy families, sponsored panel discussions and Family Nights; and published a monthly newspaper entitled: “UBC’s Youth Expressions”.  One of their finest hours was when, in 1976 they sponsored “Youth Extravaganza”.  This affair culminated in the donation of $4,000 to the building fund, believed to be the largest single effort by any auxiliary in the history of the church at that time.

In 1970, Rev. Mapson organized the First Annual Women’s Day, now observed on the third Sunday in May each, year.  In 1976, through the efforts of the Women’s Day Service, $11,000 was raised for the building fund.  In 1972, the pastor organized the First Annual Men’s Day, observed on the second Sunday in November each year.  In 1975, the men of the church contributed over $9,000 through Men’s Day event.

Other achievements included: Annual Installation of Officers; and the expansion of the Boards of Deacons and Trustees; representation of the church in the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.

Upon accepting the call to the church in 1969, Rev. Mapson sought to test the congregation’s willingness to fulfill its long dream to build a new church.  At that time, each member was asked to give $25.00 per year toward the building fund.  Upon Rev. Mapson’s arrival, there was $30,000 in the building fund.  There was evidence that the congregation was ready to embark upon the greatest building effort in its history.  In 1972, Rev. Mapson introduced a building program that would fulfill the dream, and lead to the construction of a new church, dedicated to the glory of God, and the service of mankind.  Rev. Mapson gave the building fund top priority, and organized the church membership around this common goal.  During this time, the following men were added to the Board of Deacons: William Lassiter (vice-chairman), Roosevelt Brown, and Alton Jones.  The Board of Trustees was expanded to include the following: Michael Fitch (chairman), James Hill (vice-chairman), Bessie White, Joseph Brown, Sr., James Osborne, James Williams, and William Avery.

Rev. Mapson immediately began a search for a quality architect, and recommended to the church the architectural firm of Fulton-Heath Associates, Uniontown, Pennsylvania.  In the spring of 1973, the architects began drawing the plans for the new edifice which would be of contemporary design, yet capturing a traditional flavor.  The new church would be accented with laminated wood beams, stained-glass windows, cushioned pews, wall-to-wall carpeting, a spacious modern kitchen, new rest rooms, a sanctuary seating 450, and a social hall seating 300.  Alonzo E. Cotton of Elizabeth was contracted to act as Superintendent of construction, assisted by James Bolden of Roselle.  Enthusiasm began to mount as the congregation moved forward with great anticipation.  The estimated cost of construction was placed at $500,000.

At this time, the nation was plagued by economic recession and lending agencies were caught in a money crisis.  As a result of this crisis, the dream was postponed.  Nevertheless, the congregation did not give up.  By the end of 1975, the building fund swelled to nearly $200,000.  On March 14, 1976, ground was broken for the construction of the new Union Baptist Church.  On that blessed Sunday morning, the pastor preached from the subject: “Getting Ready for the Journey”.  On Sunday, June 6, 1976, the congregation worshipped for the last time in ’Old Union’.  The pastor preached from the subject: “Forgetting, Reaching, and Pressing”.  Beginning the second Sunday in June, 1976, the church worshipped in the auditorium of Winfield Scott School #2.  That first Sunday morning away from home Rev. Mapson preached from the subject: “Living in Tents.”  On Sunday, October 10, 1976, Cornerstone Laying Ceremonies were held on the grounds of the new church.  Participating in the service was the M. W. Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., State of New Jersey.

On Sunday, December 26, 1976, in two inches of snow, Rev. J. Wendell Mapson led the procession of officers, members, and friends of Union Baptist Church from the school auditorium, across Madison Avenue to the door of the new church.  The ribbon was cut by Mrs. Kathleen Daniels, and the door was opened by Deacon Randolph Young. The congregation marched into the sanctuary singing, “We’ve Come This Far By Faith.”  The pastor preached from the subject “New Church – Same God.”

At the time of the design of the original building, an era of Church Architecture known as Renaissance Revival was prevalent.  This style was readily adapted to the architectural needs of the new edifice, which is a mixture of Classic, Roman and Romanesque Architecture.  The architects attempted to salvage the basic simple shapes of the original building into the rectangular nave and gable roof solution of the new building.

The new building reflects both the majesty of God, and the needs of man.  A 24-foot steeple with a four-foot aluminum gold anodized cross sits atop its roof, and the overall shape of the building recalls the symbol of the cross.

The clear glass opening over the doors separating the narthex from the nave allows a view of the beautiful large front window made of colorful faceted glass, showing the ever-widening rays of the sun.  The windows of glass are a combination of various colors and textures that combine to soften the outside light and provide a beautiful and worshipful atmosphere.

Each of the eight nave windows depicts a symbol:  Prophecy of Isaiah, Nativity, Baptism, The First Miracle, The Lord’s Supper, The Garden of Gethsemane, The Crucifixion, and The Resurrection.  The six Narthex windows depict The Corporal Works of Mercy.

The kitchen contains stainless steel equipment, counter tops, and cooking units, which enables groups to prepare food for large or small gatherings.  A multi-purpose area in the basement serves for dining, meetings, recreation, classrooms, and other purposes.

In order to reach a larger audience, Rev. Mapson approached the managers of radio station WJDM concerning the possibility of a radio broadcast.  In July, 1979, the church began broadcasting Sunday morning services, which continues to be heard each Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m., thus becoming the first black congregation to broadcast over this station.

In 1979, Rev. Mapson organized the Chancel Ushers to supplement the existing ushers.  Other deacons added to the board during the late 1970’s were: Henry Smith, Robert Folkes, and William Avery.  Added to the Trustee Board were: James Powell, Allen Martin, Frank Williams, and Joseph Turner, Joseph Brown, Sr., who was and remains the current chairman of the Trustee Board.

One of Rev. Mapson’s dreams was to provide child care facilities for families in the community.  In 1979, work was begun to finish the renovation of the unused basement of the, old church.  After complying with city and state building codes, the Union Baptist Church Day Care Center was opened and dedicated on Sunday, October 6, 1980. The center is staffed by a state certified teacher, and the school is licensed by the state of New Jersey.  The center participates in the State Department of Education’s Child Care Food Program.

Under Rev. Mapson’s leadership two additional parcels of land were purchased at 179 and 177 Madison Avenue, in 1979 and 1980 respectively at a total cost of $33,000.00, and paid for in cash.  The buildings were demolished in the same year, and the additional 5,500 square feet is now used for parking.  The church currently owns all the property from the corner of East Grand Street and Madison Avenue, south to East Grand and William Streets.

During Rev. Mapson’s pastorate, he obtained a Doctorate of Divinity Degree from Crozer Theological Seminary, Chester, PA and led the congregation in burning the mortgage for the new sanctuary and renovation of the old building four years ahead of schedule on November 27, 1983.

Dr. Mapson initiated the Clothing Ministry, the Van Ministry and the Senior Nutrition Program.  These ministries continue to form the core of community outreach by the church.  Dr. Mapson’s fruitful eighteen-year tenure at Union ended in August, 1987 when he accepted the pastorate of the Monumental Baptist Church, Philadelphia, PA.

On February 24, 1988, Union extended the call to Rev. R. Lenton Buffalo, Jr.  Pastor Buffalo accepted the call and was installed on June 5, 1988 as the ninth pastor of Union.  He expanded the Deacon’s Fellowship to include Roland Hill, Charles Jarrett and Lawrence Akins.  A building and beautification program was initiated which included refurbishing the “Old Union” bell, erecting of a 40-foot lighted bell tower to house the bell and interior renovations to increase the usefulness of the fellowship hall.

Christian growth and service are at the core of Rev. Buffalo’s vision for the church.  The outreach ministries are thriving and the pastor has initiated a teaching ministry that has been a blessing to the congregation and community.  The Progressive Missionaries were formed in 1994 and have made the pastor’s vision for community evangelism and increased outreach a reality.  In addition to fund-raising, each auxiliary of the church has a mission. This has resulted in the formation of a church pantry; one-stop ministry for hot food, clothing and child care packages, increased visitation of sick and shut-in members and expansion of the van ministry.  All of these efforts have brought a new excitement to the church.

Union is on the move.  Hope has been rekindled.  Broken hearts have been mended.  Christ is preached with joy and power.  Souls have been saved.  We pray that God will keep us strong in faith, instant in duty and rooted in commitment to Christ.  We thank God for the magnificent works he has wrought among us during these one hundred and five years of growth and Christian service.