The message “We’re still standing” resonates among congregation members at Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church as they prepare to celebrate the historical church’s 160th anniversary this weekend.
Ninth Street was founded in 1863, and though it’s evolved through several name changes and different leadership, the church has remained a constant in the community. Along with St. Luke AME Church, Ninth Street is one of the major historically Black churches standing in Lawrence.
Daphne Payne, who is currently the longest-standing member of the church, recalls being one of few Black teachers in Lawrence Public Schools when she began attending Ninth Street in 1961.
She was teaching elementary school education in the district at the same time as activist Jesse Milan, who in 1954 became the first Black teacher in Lawrence Public Schools and who also in 1960 led the charge to integrate the Lawrence Outdoor Aquatic Center.
For more than 60 years now, Ninth Street has been Payne’s church home, extended family and spiritual anchor.
“I feel proud to have been here as long as I have,” Payne said. “I have made many friends and close relationships where our members care for each other.”
Members said they view Lawrence as a “transit town” because of its flow of college students, which members said has been a blessing to the congregation over the years.
Payne said because of the church building’s role as a meeting place for local organizing during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and because of the congregation’s ability to form ties with visitors, people who have a connection to Ninth Street aren’t hard to come by.
“Wherever you go in the United States, you’re gonna find somebody who knows about Ninth Street,” Payne said.
College student members will often attend Ninth Street while they’re in school and then move away after graduating, but they leave their mark with the talents and fresh ideas they bring. Church member Monique Warren recalls a University of Kansas student who organized a praise dance team at the church.
Warren also reminisced on experiences over her 20 years as a member when she would put herself in a mentor role for young women in the church, being there in their times of need.
“How Ninth Street has impacted me is it has served as a great mentor for young college students as well as furthering my spiritual growth under three pastors during my time here,” Warren said. “It has continued to help me grow spiritually and to be a voice or a mentor to young ladies during their time here.”
Senior Pastor Eric. A. Galbreath has served as Ninth Street’s pastor since 2015. Active church members often participate in women’s and men’s ministries, youth ministries, music ministries, outreach ministries with community groups such as Family Promise and Justice Matters, and more, in addition to weekly bible studies and Sunday services.
Like many churches, Ninth Street worked through a transition to classes and meetings over Zoom and livestreamed services during the pandemic. As a result, Warren said, the church has become more and more technology-savvy, which has allowed for better access and outreach.
With fond memories of the countless paths she crossed throughout her years of membership, Payne led efforts to create a membership memorial page in the 160th anniversary book being made that will honor former church members who have died. The memorial page will give a glimpse into the past and serve as a symbol of the church’s legacy, Payne said.
Church members have been working together on a variety of committees since June last year to plan their 160th anniversary celebration. With the theme of “Faithful Is Our God,” the weekendlong celebration scheduled for this Friday through Sunday will include music, festivities and a worship service, according to an event flier.
• Friday, March 24: The church will hold its “Homecoming Reunion Choir in Concert” at 7 p.m. Friday night at Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church, 847 Ohio St. in downtown Lawrence. Bringing together current and past church members, the large reunion choir will sing in celebration of the church’s milestone. Some former members are even visiting from out of town to join, Payne said.
• Saturday, March 25: For the first time since COVID-19 first hit, the church will be hosting a large in-person event. There will be a chili cookoff and a game night with fun for all ages. The event will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday evening at the church.
• Sunday, March 26: Church service with guest speaker Pastor Rene Brown, who was a past Ninth Street pastor, will begin at 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning at Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church. The choir from Brown’s current congregation, Mt. Zion First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, will sing during service. Afterward, there will be an indoor picnic at 2 p.m. Sunday at Flory Meeting Hall on the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2120 Harper St., which will close out the weekend’s festivities.
Community members are invited to join all anniversary events. To learn more about the church, visit its website, 9stmbc.org, or call the office at 785-843-6472.