The History of ABCOTS
The late Reverend J. C. Herrin, Program Associate with the American Baptist Home Mission Society was named as the Associate General Secretary for Work in the South from 1959-1971. Sometime during that period he wrote, “our distinctive role in the South (as American Baptist) may well be to encourage and expand an integrated Christian fellowship.” Rev. Herrin pioneered ABC relationships with the Baptist churches, black and white, in the South that wished to develop a more inclusive witness across the divisive barrier of race.
The churches involved also wished to expand their role in the support of higher education as it is carried out through American Baptist related black colleges in the South. Further, these churches were committed to working with the National Council of Churches, the Southern Inter-agency Council and the Fellowship of Southern Churches.
Other persons who pioneered in the development of American Baptist relationships in the South, as “Executive Ministers for Work in the South” were Dr. Paul Stagg, in Valley Forge, 1969-1971 and Rev. Henry Marion Steele, in Atlanta, 1969-1971.
An anonymous grant of $10,000 made in the late 1950’s made it possible to study the feasibility of forming an organization of American Baptist Churches in the South. A special committee consisting of twenty-five pastors and laypersons from churches in the South was formed. This committee put together a program and an agenda for an organizational meeting of the American Baptist Churches of the South.
The organizational meeting was held from April 10 through 12, 1970 in the Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina, hosted by Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, the late Dr. Leon C. Riddick and the late Dr. E. Eugene Owens, Myers Park. The late Reverend Dr. Kelly Miller Smith was the keynote preacher. The proposal coming out of the organizational meeting was ratified by both the first formal meeting of the American Baptist churches of the South (ABCOTS) and the General Board of the American Baptist Churches, USA meeting in November and December, respectively.
The late Dr. E. B. Hicks who had a long and distinguished career with National Ministries, ABC was called as the first Executive Minister of the new Region, its first Annual Session, was held March 19-20, 1971 in Richmond Virginia. The session was held in the Fifth Street Baptist Church of that city. Dr. Hicks’ work began on July 1, 1971, with the offices being located in Atlanta, GA.
111 churches made up the first official listing of ABCOTS. The late Dr. J. B. Henderson, pastor of the Bank Street Memorial Baptist Church, Norfolk, Virginia, became the Region’s first president. From that beginning, a constant attempt has been made to maintain an office staff and elect officers that are racially inclusive and are composed of men and women across a broad age range.
The budget of the American Baptist Churches of the South has grown from $55,000 to almost half a million dollars. The number of cooperating churches has grown from 111to 257. Churches in ABCOTS are giving close to half of the dollars being given to the Union Mission Program by ABC congregations.
The late Dr. E. B. Hicks served as the Region’s Executive Minister through 1976, at which time he retired. Dr. James E. Peters, who came to the office from work with the Fund of Renewal, succeeded Dr. Hicks. Dr. Peters resigned to return to pastoral ministry.
In January, 1979, Dr. Walter L. Parrish, II left the pastorate of the St. John Baptist Church of Columbia, Maryland to become the third Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the South.
August 1, 2015, the fourth Executive Minister assumed duties as the Executive Director of The American Baptist of The South, Dr. James M. Harrison. Dr. Harrison is pastorate of Main Street Baptist Church, Smithfield, VA.