The church will celebrate its long heritage this morning with Pastor Nim B. Russell giving his sermon at 8:45 a.m. in the sanctuary at 935 Spider Webb Drive.
Minister Bryant Raines of New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Macon will speak his message at 10:45 a.m., and the Rev. William Smith of Israel Baptist Church in Atlanta will give an evening sermon at 5 p.m.
Thankful Baptist has a rich history of past and present members who have made significant contributions to its heritage.
According to historical documentation released by church officials, the church began 150 years ago with a congregation of newly freed slaves who settled in the Five Points area near the intersection of today’s North Broad Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The area became a nexus for the black people of Rome.
The group built its first edifice in a small clearing adjacent to a stack of railroad tracks banked near the edge of the Etowah River. Working collectively, they cleared a swath of land where they built a log shack, Bush Harbor, as the site of religious services for blacks.
Bush Harbor was destroyed by fire, but for the church’s congregation, the foundation had been laid and the “Colored Baptist Church” remained intact. The congregation continued to hold worship services in the basement of the all-white First Baptist Church, with the understanding that it was a temporary arrangement.
The church members struggled to save enough money to rebuild their church. According to church historical documents, women sold berries for a dime a gallon and men sold wagon loads of wood for 50 cents.
On July 10, 1868, they were able to purchase land to build again on the site of the church’s current structure. In those early years, the first “church” was a wooden building that, in addition to housing worship services and weekly meetings, also served as a school.
After the structure was again destroyed by fire, a second Bush Harbor was built and served as a meeting place until the current structure was built.
Church records indicate the name was chosen after the building was completed.
Hannah McClendon said, “Well, well, I am so thankful that we can go in.” Another member seized on the statement and said, “We’ll call the church “Thankful.”
The Rev. Jefferson Milner was the first pastor and served until his passing in 1895.
Russell began his pastorship in 1991. A native of Hurtsboro, Ala., he’s been married to the former Julia Pink for 33 years. They have three children — Octavius, Nichole and Rachael — and nine grandchildren.
Russell led the Second Missionary Baptist Church of Wetumpka, Ala., for six years before taking the pastorate of Thankful Baptist. Under his leadership, the church has grown to approximately 1,500 people. The 14,000-square-foot, $1.2 million Russell Family Life Center was built in 1994.