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Church History

History of First Baptist Church of Ocala, Florida

Published July 2, 2000

First Baptist Church was organized on July 3, 1850 with five members and the Rev. Isaac Newton as pastor. The church was located where the new courthouse is now located. The next pastor, Rev. William Royall, came in March 1851.

In 1863 the First Baptist Church had 90 African-American members, but by 1867 the entire African-American membership withdrew and organized Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. Between 1868 and 1873, the First Baptist Church of Ocala was without a pastor, and the church all but died. Mrs. Fannie R. Gary was known to be the only remaining member in 1873. Whether all of the other members had moved away, joined other churches or died is not known.

In December 1882, the pastorate of Rev. C. H. Nash began and lasted until 1891. During this time, the First Baptist Church took giant steps forward. The church sold the property on which the present courthouse now stands, bought a lot on Magnolia Street, and built a beautiful brick church. It was located where the Marion Hotel now stands. The First Baptist Family worshipped there until 1927.

On October 1, 1927, the First Family occupied a beautiful new brick complex on Southeast Third Street. Under the leadership of pastors Rev. H. G. Wheeler (1933-1941); Rev. Hoke Shirley (1941-1944); Dr. Malcolm B. Knight (1945-1950); Rev. Earl Stallings (1951-1961); Rev. J. Connally Evans (1962-1971); Rev. James Pharr (1972-1977); Rev. Donovan Davidson (1978-1981); and Rev. Joey Hancock (1981-1982), the church made great strides.

The present Pastor (Emeritus), Dr. Edward Johnson, assumed leadership in 1983. Under his direction, the church began another period of growth. He also led the church to overcome a devastating fire that demolished the church building on third Street in October 1991, leading the First Family to relocate to its present location on Southeast Maricamp Road. What will God do next in and through the First Baptist Family? Only He knows! What He asks of “His Church” is to be faithful, stay committed, and praise His name wherever and however He leads!


Published November 23, 1975

Selected from materials compiled by Mrs. Pauline Wood

1850 – First Baptist Church organized with five members. Rev. Isaac Newton is first pastor. First building is placed on site of present county courthouse.

1858 – Mrs. Fannie R. Gary joins church, earliest known member.

1863 – Church reports 90 African-American members.

1867 – African-American members organize Mount Moriah Baptist Church.

1868-1873 – Church declines numerically with Mrs. Fannie R. Gary the only remaining member.

1882-1891 – Rev. C. H. Nash is called as pastor, church property sold and new brick building erected on new property located on Magnolia Avenue where Marion Hotel now stands.

1902-1905 – Rev. L. B. Warren is called as pastor, membership increased from 153 to 442 and Baraca Hall or B.Y.P.U. building is erected. Mrs. Mary Tillman, Mrs. Mary Akin Cannon and Mrs. Laurie Izlar present concerts and entertainment to help defray expenses.

1911 – Dr. J. D. Chapman leads church to purchase lot on corner of Silver Springs Boulevard and Watula Avenue for construction of new church but idea given up later when site of present buildings was selected.

1920-1930 – Dr. C. L. Collins preaches to church in old Temple Theatre building while present church is under construction and continues ministry after moving into new building in 1926 when Deacon Steven’s Bible is placed in Cornerstone. Margie Shumate Circle is organized and first Girl’s Auxiliary and Royal Ambassadors is begun by Mrs. Calvin West.

1930-1933 – Dr. G. J. Rouseau guides church to adopt unified budget system and to organize a Young People’s Department. The Marys and Marthas Missionary Circle, Miss Mary Burford, Chairman, helps to raise $4,000 toward the purchase of a new Skinner pipe organ still in use today. Mrs. Bland Ware becomes first organist.

1933 – 1941 – Rev. Grady Wheeler emphasizes a departmentalized Sunday School having the lower floor divided into assembly and classrooms. The Pastorium on Lake Weir Avenue is built. Mrs. Mary Wheeler, Rev. Wheeler’s wife, leads out in special Brotherhood programs. Isaac Shepherd serves as Custodian, growing beautiful chrysanthemums as a hobby. Mrs. Hilda Cromartie begins serving as Church Organist.

1941-1944 – Rev. Hoke Shirley guides the church to redecorate the auditorium during World War II years and strengthens work with youth.

1945-1951 – Dr. Malcolm Knight initiates construction of Youth Building (East Wing) which includes kitchen and social hall. Missionaries J. H. Ware and Charles W. Knight receive partial support from church.

1948 – Mrs. Mary Catherin Adams Brothers, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. B. L. Adams and sister of Mrs. Eva Adams Theus, is appointed as a missionary to Nigeria.

1950 – Centennial Sunday is observed on July 2 with Rev. Grady Wheeler, Rev. Hoke Shirley and Dr. Malcolm Knight leading. Mr. D. Neil Ferguson gives summation on “100 Years.” A Dedication of the Bells, donated by the D. Neil Fergusons, is observed.

1951-1961 – Rev. Earl Stallings leads the church in extensive growth in membership and finances. The church begins broadcasting its morning worship over station WMOP and continues to this day. Oakcrest and Highlands Baptist Missions are begun. Both are now constituted churches. The auditorium is redecorated and air-conditioning is installed. The Paul Durrands make a gift of a new elevator in the auditorium. A new West Building is added containing church offices, nursery suite, and ten departments for children and youth. Ralph Crawford, John Senterfit and Hoyt Wilson serve as Ministers of Education over consecutive periods. Ken Breitenbecker begins serving as Building Superintendent. Robert Lecorn and “Mickie” McCloud as added to janitorial staff. Marvin Spry serves as Minister of Music and organizes an outstanding program of graded choirs. Mrs. Jessie Ohlinger assumers position of Church Organist on July 19, 1957.

1960 – Miss Louse Sparkman is appointed as a missionary to Nigeria.

1962-1971 – Dr. J. Conley Evans leads in establishing South Ocala Baptist Mission, now a constituted church. Veo Gray serves as Minister of Music and Bill Simpson serves as Minister of Education.

1972 – Rev. James L. Pharr begins ministry as pastor, leads in organizing a Bus Ministry and guides complete renovation of Central Building including the auditorium. Rev. John Sible becomes Minister of Education and Rev. Glen Parker becomes Minister of Music. Miss Carol Crawford serves as Director of Youth Education.


Published October 2, 1949

The following historical facts were compiled by a committee consisting of Judge W. S. Bullock, Mrs. S.A. Standley, Mrs. E. T. Helvenston, Miss Nellie Stevens, and W. T. Gary, all of whom have been members of the church for twenty five years or more.

The First Baptist Church of Ocala was constituted July 3rd, 1850, with five members. The first pastor was Rev. Isaac Newton. The successive pastors to the year 1868 were Revs. Wm. Royal, C. B. Jones, F. C. Johnson, C. B. Jones and R. W. Perry. The first known Baptist church-house was on block 23 Old Survey, Ocala (The present site of the County jail). Although the deed to this lot appears on record dated October 12th, 1877, it is more than probable that services were held there for many years prior. This deed was made to S. M. G. Gay, John Cordero and W. C. Jeffords, trustees for the church. When this property was sold, the proceeds were used, with other funds, in the purchase of the lot now occupied by the Marion Hotel and the erection of a brick building, the home of the church until occupation of the present edifice.

There is but little accurate information concerning the earliest activities of the church. The earliest known member was Mrs. Fannie R. Gary, who joined the church in 1858, and in 1873 was the only remaining member. The W. M. S. of this church is named for Mrs. Gary.

In 1863 the church had ninety African-American members; and in May, 1867, the entire African-American membership withdrew and organized Mount Moriah Baptist Church, fronting on Pond Street.

From 1868 to 1873 the church was without a pastor. The pastors from 1873 to 1882 were Rev. P. P. Bishop, G. T. Gresham, M. W. Sams, J. A. Crompton and T. J. Murphy.

The pastorate of Rev. C. H. Nash began in December, 1882, and extended to 1891. Under his wise leadership the church made great strides forward, and built during the time the church-house that formerly stood on the lot now occupied by the Marion Hotel. Bro. Nash is still living in Tampa.

His successor was Dr. A. W. Lamar, yet active in the ministry; and he, in turn, was succeeded by Dr. L. D. Geiger, later secretary of the State Board of Missions for several years.

During the period from 1895 to 1902, the church was pastured by Rev. T. J. Davenport, J. E. Oats, J. L. Rogers, W. E. Bogart and W. J. Williams.

Dr. L. B. Warren became pastor in 1902, and during his ministry of three years the membership increased from 153 to 442. An annex to the church was built during this time. He was succeeded in 1905 by Dr. C. C. Carroll, who served the church for a little more than four years; followed by Rev. Henry E. Gaby in 1909, who remained two years.

Rev. J. D. Chapman began his work in the Fall of 1911. During his pastorate the church purchased a lot at the corner of Ocklawaha Avenue and Watula Street, with the expectation of erecting a church and pastorium there. Later the ideas was abandoned, a more suitable lot having been found and purchased, on which is erected our present building. A portion of the lot purchased through the efforts of Dr. Chapman has recently been sold at a nice profit and the proceeds used in liquidating entirely the debt then remaining in building our present church home.

Rev. Bunyan Stephens came to us in 1912 and remained until 1918, when he entered the Y. M. C. A. work during the World’s War. Perhaps no minister who had ever served us left more friends when he relinquished his work.

Dr. W. H. Wrighton came to the church in 1918 and served for about a year, and the church was richly blessed in many ways under his leadership.

Dr. W. P. Himes next served the church for a short while; and was succeeded by Dr. C. M. Brittain, the present capable and beloved secretary of our State Mission Board. Under his leadership the church responded liberally in the seventy-five million dollar campaign of Southern Baptists.

Dr. C. L. Collins came as pastor October 1st, 1920, and continued for almost ten years. Our present beautiful edifice was erected during his pastorate.

Dr. G. J. Rousseau began his ministry here October 1st, 1930. The church was dedicated during his ministry, and the Skinner organ was purchased and installed. The church adopted the Budget system, also at this time. Dr. G. J. Rouseeau served the church 3 ½ years. A leave of absence of 3 months was granted him to return to Cape Town, Africa to visit his aged mother, who was hopelessly ill. During his absence, Drs. Ed. Solomon and Tinnan served as supply pastors most acceptably. Within a year after his return, Dr. Rousseau’s health failed and he resigned.

Dr. Grady Wheeler began a nine year pastorate. He was especially interested in departmentalized Sunday School work and during his pastorate the lower floor was divided into assembly and class rooms. A pastorium was built on Lake Weir Avenue.

Dr. Crutcher followed as supply pastor for several months until Dr. Hoke Shirley was secured. For 3 years he shepherded the flock and saw to it that the auditorium had a coat of paint and a red carpet.

Dr. Bowers supplied until Dr. Malcolm Knight was secured as Pastor some four years ago. Being especially concerned for the young people, Dr. Knight began early to emphasize the need of a youth building and money was contributed to that end over a period of three years. The church also became more mission minded and began to support partially two missionaries, J. H. Ware and Charles W. Knight. Last year Mary Catherine Adams volunteered for the Foreign field. Dr. Knight is most evangelistic in his preaching and the church has prospered greatly during his pastorate. We now have some 1465 members and the budget for 1949 was $64,000.00.



July 3, 1850

Rev. Isaac Newton

March 1851

Rev. William Royall


Rev. Charles. B. Jones


Rev. F. C. Johnson


Rev. R. W. Perry


No Pastor


Rev. P. P. Bishop


Rev. G. T. Gresham


Rev. M. W. Sams


Rev. J. A. Crompton


Rev. T. J. Murphy

December 1882-1891

Rev. C. H. Nash


Dr. A. W. Lamar


Dr. L. D. Geiger


Rev. T. J. Davenport


Rev. J. E. Oats


Rev. J. L. Rogers


Rev. W. E. Bogart


Rev. W. J. Williams


Dr. L. B. Warren

1905 Dr. C. C. Carroll
1909 Rev. Henry Gaby


Dr. J. D. Chapman


Rev. Bunyan Stephens


Dr. W. H. Wrighton


Dr. W. P. Himes


Dr. C. M. Brittain

October 1, 1920-1930

Dr. C. L. Collins

October 1, 1930-1933

Dr. G. J. Rousseau

October 1933-1941

Rev. H. Grady Wheeler


Dr. Crutcher, interim


Rev. Hoke Shirley


Dr. Bowers, interim

March 19, 1945-1950

Dr. Malcolm Buckner. Knight

May 20, 1951-1961

Rev. Earl Stallings

     Rev. Ralph Crawford, Minister of Education
     Rev. John Senterfit, Minister of Education
     Rev. Hoyt Wilson, Minister of Education
     Rev. Marvin Spry, Minister of Music
January 1962 Dr. Charles Millican, Interim
April 1962 Rev. Hoke Shirley, Interim


Dr. J. Connally Evans


   Rev. Veo Gray, Minister of Music


   Rev. Bill Simpson, Minister of Education

August - December 1971 Rev. Billy N. Wolfe, Interim


Rev. James Pharr


   Rev. John Sible, Minister of Education


   Rev. Glen Parker, Minister of Music


   Miss Carol Crawford, Director of Youth Education

March 1978-1981

Dr. Donovan Davidson

     Rev. Bill Stephens, Minister of Education
     Rev. Tom Wells, Minister of Music and Youth
     Rev. Jim Van Matre, Minister of Music and Youth

July 1981 - April 1982

Rev. Joey Hancock


Rev. Dave Boaz, interim

May 22, 1983 - December 2006

Dr. Edward Johnson

January 2007 - December 2007

Dr. Glen Owens, interim

January 2008 - November 2008

Dr. Mark Cummins

January 2009 - May 2010

Dr. Jim Henry, interim

June 2010 - present Dr. Darren Gaddis, Senior Pastor


Significant Dates

July 3, 1850First Baptist Church Organized on the site of the current courthouse
by 1891Moved to Magnolia Street and Silver Springs Boulevard
until 1927Met temporarily in the Temple Theater Building on Fort King Street
October 1, 1927Moved into the Southeast Third Street Sanctuary
October 2, 1949Dedication of Memorial Youth Building
July 2, 1950Centennial Sunday
November 23, 1975125th Anniversary
March 15, 1988Purchased SE Maricamp Road Property
February 26, 1991Opened Annex Building at SE Maricamp Road Property
October 24, 1991Southeast Third Street Buildings Destroyed by Arson
1991 - 1993Met Temporarily at Forest High School and Highlands Baptist Church
May 16, 1993Dedication of Education Building on SE Maricamp Road
September 10, 1995Dedication of Sanctuary Building: Enter His Presence
July 2, 2000Celebrating 150 Years: I Love My Church
September 24, 200079-rank Wicks Pipe Organ Dedication
January 24, 2003Purchased Adjacent Acreage
April 25, 2010Calling of Our 38th Senior Pastor, Dr. Darren Gaddis
May 2, 2011Paid Off the Mortgage Debt


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