KINGSPORT — Much has changed in Kingsport and the surrounding area since Central Baptist Church was founded 100 years ago.
But through it all, the church’s dedication to service and community has not only allowed it to survive, but to thrive.
“Central Baptist Church takes its responsibility of being the oldest African-American church in the area with sincerity and with humility,” said Linda Kincaid, church historian. “The church bears a deep commitment to nurture, to provide spiritual guidance, to initiate and expand community programs, to mentor and most assuredly to extend and display exemplary Christ-like behavior to our fellow churches.”
Central Baptist Church was organized in 1918, just one year after the city of Kingsport was chartered. The church had 21 members at the time and was first located on the corner of Dale and East Center streets, where Seaver’s Bakery stands today.
In 1941, the church began building at its current location in what would later be known as the Riverview community. Construction was completed in 1943 in the midst of World War II, and since then the church has continued to expand in both size and in membership.
More recently, the church finished construction on its new sanctuary in 2004. The old sanctuary was remodeled and renamed in memory of the Rev. William Stokley, the longest-serving pastor of the church, and will be used primarily for youth services.
One of the church’s newest additions is its puppet animation ministry, which began last year under Senior Pastor Perry Stuckey and Administrative Pastor Billy Pearson. The goal of this initiative, Kincaid explained, is to “spread the Word of God through the art of puppetry.”
Central Baptist has a longstanding tradition of service that stems from V.O. Dobbins Sr., whose garden provided food to church members and the surrounding community for many years.
Today, Dobbins’ son, Van Dobbins Jr., carries on that tradition by leading the church’s food pantry and Manna Meal ministries, which collectively serve around 150 people each week.
The church also provides scholarships to graduating high school seniors and has assisted a number of community outreach organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Family Promise and others.
Though the church kicked off its centennial celebration on May 1, several more events that are open to the community will be taking place throughout the month.
• Sunday, May 13: Women in Central’s History
• Saturday, May 19: Community Partners Cook-Out & Sing-Out (begins at 2 p.m. in the V.O. Dobbins field)
• Sunday, May 20: Present and Past Pastors
• Saturday, May 26: Centennial Banquet (begins at 6:30 p.m. at MeadowView Conference Resort & Convention Center)
• Sunday, May 27: Centennial Sunday (11 a.m. service and 4 p.m. service)
The cost for the Centennial Banquet is $35 for adults and $15 for youth 12 and under. Those who would like to attend should notify the church by May 20.
The next 100 years
Church deacon John Harrison said three things — unity, modeling grace and relationships matter — are currently at the forefront as the church moves forward.
“Our theme for this year is ‘Relationships Matter,’ ” Harrison said. “That’s relationships within the body, relationships with people outside, relationships with community partners, business partners. Wherever there’s an interaction one person with another, it’s important that you value the relationship.”
Kincaid added that the church hopes to expand its youth and transportation ministries and become “the fastest-growing multicultural church in the region” over the next 100 years.
“We believe in being there for the neighborhood, the community,” Kincaid said, “as well as meeting people’s spiritual needs.”