St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church in Archer, will celebrate its 148th anniversary this November. St. Joseph is the first African-American church in the Gainesville community. The church hosts an annual celebratory program where former members (who no longer live in the area) are invited back to the church. The celebration is one of history, and acknowledges the significance of the church in Alachua County.
“We are planning a souvenir booklet,” said Lizzie Jenkins, founder and president of the Real Rosewood Foundation Inc. “We are planning to add history from obituaries. We keep members’ obituaries over the years, and we pick out a few words, which are historic.”
The booklet is an opportunity to add some of the older members of the church, Jenkins said. For example, Jake Dotson, a deacon, was the church’s oldest member who lived to be 107 years old.
“Family is what has kept the church alive,” Jenkins said. “All of us are family. We go off to college, but when we come back home, we go back to the church.”
Some of the church members even commute from surrounding cities, such as Gainesville. The current members love and respect the history of the church, and they want to keep it alive, Jenkins said. The church has its own cemetery for members.
Part of the reason the church has been kept alive is that every day is treated like a celebration, Jenkins said. The pastor allows time to “hug a friend” during the service, and everyone embraces each other.
“That’s who we are,” Jenkins said. “We built the church. Our ancestors built the church.”
The church has had a rich history of pastors, and within the last year, it welcomed its newest pastor, Willie Caison. Caison is excited for the celebration, and he said the church reminds him of his hometown in Ohio.
“It is one of the few churches that has been foundational for over 100 years,” Caison said. “I think it’s incredible that our ancestors started something that this generation can continue to see and keep it going.”
The celebration is both personal and spiritual, Caison said. Eighty percent of the church’s membership had grandmothers, great grandmothers and great-great grandmothers who attended the church prior to them.
“The vision of the church, literally, is to take traditional history and teach it in contemporary times,” Caison said.
The history is important to Caison because it allows him to do foundational teaching, so the church may be able to catch all facets of humanity in education, spiritual growth, entrepreneurship and helping those who are less fortunate.
“My attitude is very personal because I give God my all,” Caison said. “I receive this assignment from him as something that can bring a different life to the city of Archer to allow others to be successful in Christ.”
The celebration in November is a celebration of family. It is a crucial part of history for the city of Archer, and the congregation of St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church are proud to be such vital parts of history.
IF YOU GO
148th Anniversary Celebration
November 18 // 11 a.m.
18107 SW 107th St., Archer, FL