Festival to mark 300 years of Baptist witness in Virginia

Event marks the arrival in 1714 of an English “messenger” who organized the first Baptist church in the colony.

By Robert Dilday

Three centuries after an English “messenger” arrived in Virginia to organize the first Baptist church there, a celebration this spring will mark 300 years of Baptist witness in the state.

The May 16-17 event will include both a service of remembrance and thanksgiving as well as a “Heritage Festival” on the campus of the University of Richmond featuring entertainment and exhibits.

Festival ImageIn 1714, a small group of Baptist settlers in the Virginia colony asked leaders in England for a minister to help them organize a congregation. On May 19 of that year, Baptists in London appointed two “messengers,” instructing them “to go to Virginia with all Convenient Speed.”

One of the messengers died on the voyage but the second, Robert Norden, arrived in the colony in the spring of 1715 and quickly established a Baptist congregation known as Burleigh. It met in private homes in Prince George County on the south side of the James River.

Since then there has been a continuous Baptist presence in Virginia, said Fred Anderson, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society and the Center for Baptist Heritage, which are sponsoring the celebration.

The remembrance service begins at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 16, at River Road Church, Baptist, in Richmond.

The Heritage Festival is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 17, in Stern Plaza, adjacent to the Historical Society’s headquarters on the University of Richmond campus.

“The evening program will be a grand affair worthy of a great people, and the festival should be a fun day for the Baptist family with something to appeal to all ages,” said Anderson.