STAFFORD COUNTY, VA. (WUSA9) - The oldest African-American church in Stafford County is ready to celebrate a milestone, 200 years of worship. Even after all this time, mystery still surrounds the church and exactly how it was founded.
Mount Olive Baptist Church is tucked away on the back roads of the growing county. The building and its congregation are rich in history. The original church had just five members when it was founded on May 16, 1818.
With hundreds of members now, the church is still thriving after all these years.
"I remember the white building in the parking lot here which looked just like a house. That was the original church we all remember," said Ralph Johnson, a member of the church.
Dr. Eric Shaw is the newest pastor at the church. He says there is still a strong sense of community, family, unity and also an appreciation for its history. Part of that history, exactly who founded the church and how is still a mystery.
In 1818, slavery was still very much alive. That means there is a good chance the people who founded the church may have been slaves. That is still unclear to the members of the congregation, but it is something they want to find out.
"A lot of the history was not written because a lot of the members could not read or write, so a lot of that history has been lost," said Roxanna Parker, a member of the church.
As church members get ready for its 200-year celebration, they are also digging into its past to try to find those answers.
"We're looking into that history to find out whether or not the early founders of this church were actually free or not," said Shaw.
That is a big piece of this church's history these members hope to have before moving on to the next 200 years.
"I think the founders would be very proud. Very proud of the fact that we have not forgotten about them. They laid the foundation on which we stand on today," said Shaw.
The church is planning a major celebration for its 200th birthday in May.
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