FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Historic Saint James Missionary Baptist Church in Fayetteville held its Black History Month celebration on Sunday.
A service dedicated to celebrating African Americans and learning about the Black church’s history.
Senior Pastor Curtis Smith of St. James says their motto is to provide “love, value, and appreciation.” The Black church has provided physically and spiritually for the Black community for centuries.
“Our whole goal is to elevate the lives of people spiritually, mentally, and emotionally in every area of their life and so we enjoy the grassroots approach to engaging people in the community,” Smith said.
Pastor Smith says St. James Baptist Church is overflowing with history as it was first established in 1865.
“Our church was started after the civil war by a gentleman by the name of Squire Jehagen who was a freed slave,” Smith said.
Today, was not just a day to reflect only on the history of St. James but also on the history of African Americans.
“We celebrate the contributions, accomplishments, and humanity of the African Diaspora,” Pastor Janae Pitts-Murdock said.
Pastor Janae Pitts-Murdock of New Bethel Baptist Church says with those accomplishments there were trials along the way.
“This is the one time of the year the country listens to the atrocity it has committed against her African siblings,” she said.
An unfortunate past that Pastor Smith says continues to repeat itself.
According to Fayetteville Police Department around mid-September of 2022, a man was arrested after threatening to burn down St. James.
“I think that the shameful part about it is that it wasn’t a surprise and so that is probably the most disturbing thing,” Pastor Smith said.
Although this situation occurred Pastor Smith says that man or any others can’t stop the plans God has for St. James Baptist church.
“It doesn’t change our mission, it doesn’t change our vision, it doesn’t change anything about us, we will continue to move on and to continue to make a difference in people’s lives,” Pastor Smith.
For many people in Northwest Arkansas, the Black church holds semimetal value.
“It’s been a journey growing up from such a young age right to where I am now where the church is such a big deal and everyone here is family to me,” Nac Williams said.
For Williams, the church formed a sense of self-identity and educated him on his culture.
“From slavery to hymns or maps to be able to you know get to freedom so it’s just from the very beginning whether it’s cogic, missionary, it’s all within us,” Williams said.
Pastor Smith says St. James Missionary Baptist Church will continue to serve the Northwest Arkansas community and provide a safe space where everyone is welcome.
“I want them to feel loved, I want them to feel valued, and I want them to feel appreciated,” he said.