Adam Tyler: A Lament of the Clergy and Lay Leadership of Farmville Baptist Church

Published 11:57 am Saturday, July 29, 2023

On July 28, 1963, a group of African-American worshippers arrived on the front steps of Farmville Baptist Church, seeking to enter the sanctuary and join in the worship of God. This was a planned part of wider protests concerning practices of segregation and inequality in Farmville, but this group sought to legitimately enter the sanctuary and join in worship with their brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow Christians who were of a different race.

Upon arrival, however, they found the door had been locked and admittance was refused. The previous night, the deacon board of Farmville Baptist Church voted (without dissent) “that any and all colored people or white people in the company of colored people be refused admittance to church services of the Farmville Baptist Church.” In accordance with that decision, ushers refused entry to our African-American brothers and sisters. The group proceeded to sing Christian hymns and civil rights songs on the front steps of the church until police officers arrived to arrest them.

On this, the sixtieth anniversary of that event, the church council, consisting of the clergy and lay leadership of Farmville Baptist Church, acknowledges the actions of that day and the ways this decision by the congregation’s leaders of that time did not bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we understand it today.

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Moreover, drawing from the biblical practice of lament, we grieve the ways that the separation of God’s people on the basis of race or ethnicity, particularly on that day, failed to embody the vision of the kingdom of God we find in the Scriptures, namely, the image of heaven we find in Revelation of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9) This picture of worship in the presence of God leaves space for no boundaries that divide God’s people, explicitly naming barriers such as ethnicity, race, and national origin.

We acknowledge, of course, that the picture of heavenly worship we find in Revelation is not yet the reality here in the church’s earthly sojourn. However, we also acknowledge the clear teaching of Jesus, who taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) Jesus’ followers, including we at Farmville Baptist, struggle to live into that prayer, and our desire and practice is to be a welcoming congregation where every person is accepted as the child of God they are. We recognize that a specific time our church failed to embody this provision of the prayer took place sixty years ago.

We lament even more because Farmville Baptist Church began with a commitment to embodying the kingdom of God, imperfectly but hopefully, through a multiracial membership. Among the charter members of Farmville Baptist Church were Phil White and his brother Sam, free Black members of the Israel Hill community; they and members of their family continued to be active worshiping members of the congregation up to and even after the Civil War. In its founding, Farmville Baptist sought to reflect the vision of heaven we find in Revelation, however imperfectly.

Farmville Baptist continues to desire that today. Sixty years after the events of July 28, 1963, our congregation acknowledges the harm that was caused by the decision that day, and the wider negative impact of racial segregation upon the worshiping congregations of every ethnicity in the Farmville area during those difficult years. Where we ourselves have reflected those actions and attitudes in our own day, we offer not only lament but regret, and we pledge to uphold, to the best of our ability, and with God’s help, the spirit from our founding: that all worshippers and seekers after God will find welcome within the bounds of our fellowship, and that we will seek to embody the prayer of Jesus, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Rev. Dr. Adam Tyler is pastor of Farmville Baptist Church and chair of the church council. He can be reached at