December 1903, a few of God’s people assembled themselves in a small three room house on Davis Street, now known as Northside Drive. Under the pastorship of Reverend Whatley, these persons worked faithfully and spiritually for many years striving to reach their goal. The church grew tremendously under the leadership of Rev. Whatley and a faithful few. After the passing of Rev. Whatley, the members continued to work in God’s name to make the church what God wanted it to be, under the leadership of Rev. Robert Thompson.
As the years passed, the following ministers pastored the Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church: Rev. B. J. Johnson and Rev. J. H. Daniel. Rev. Daniel decided to resign as pastor and a few members left with him and organized what is now known as the Greater Vine City Baptist Church.
The next pastor to be elected to Mt. Gilead was Rev. Anderson Hall. Rev. Hall pastored Mt. Gilead from March 1946 until March 1964. During this period, Rev. R. L. Haynes was his assistant. Rev. Anderson Hall became ill and Rev. Bennie E. Smith was elected to pastor Mt. Gilead Baptist Church. During Rev. Hall’s illness, Rev. Haynes remained Assistant Pastor and worked faithfully with Rev. Bennie Smith. Rev. Anderson Hall implemented the first renovation to the church and purchase of a gas heater. Also, under the leadership of Pastor Anderson Hall with the assistance of Rev. Bennie Smith, we were able to acquire the houses in the rear of the church for the development of additional parking.
Rev. Bennie E. Smith served Mt. Gilead until his death, December 2, 1965, serving only two years. After his death, Rev. Edward Hall, son of the late Rev. Anderson Hall, was elected to pastor the Mt. Gilead Baptist Church, March 1966.
Several ministries were organized under the leadership of Rev. Edward Hall. The church was renovated from a small building to its present size. We purchased property surrounding the church, provided additional parking space and built the Anderson Hall Fellowship Hall. Our first radio ministry was started (The Hour of Power), and many ministers were ordained under his great teachings. Out of these great works under the leadership of Rev. Hall, came our present Pastor, Dexter L. Johnson. The EverReady Choir was organized under the leadership of Pastor Emeritus Edward Hall and remains to this day, in which Pastor Johnson grew up in this choir. Rev. Hall retired in 1994 and served as Pastor Emeritus until he went home to be with the Lord.
Our present Pastor, Dexter Johnson, who grew up here at Mt. Gilead, became the Pastor in January 1994. He has already left his mark in our hearts and minds. He brought a fresh new approach to the Word of God, appealing to people of all ages. Pastor Johnson adds a new vision to all aspects of our church’s un-sustaining growth. He restructured all the adult choirs as one choir, named the New Vision Choir, which was later renamed the Mt. Gilead Singers. As part of his vision, we have become a part of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.
By the grace of God, under the pastorate of Pastor Johnson, we were able to pay the mortgage off on the church, August 26, 1997. Since that time, we have been able to purchase additional property around the church.
In 1998, the visionary, our Pastor, has moved us into the renovation of our current edifice. Phase I, the Anderson Hall Fellowship Hall, was completed in September 1999.
In 2001, we:
- Demolished old houses next to the church
- Expanded the parking area
- Acquired property adjacent to the church
- Opened a Community Resource Center
In 2002, we:
- Opened our first Summer Day Camp.
- Opened our Computer Lab.
- Held our first Entrepreneur Workshop.
- Assisted over 500 families in the Vine City Community and surrounding areas with clothes, furniture, food, housing, etc to rebuild their lives after the flooding in different areas throughout the city.
- Worked with the American Red Cross for the first time as a “point of contact” during this catastrophe.
- Renovated our present sanctuary, inside and out with a new appearance.
In 2003, we:
- Marched back into our newly renovated facility the 1st Sunday in March.
- Are In hot pursuit of Phase III—“City of Hope”.
We are elated that we are at the threshold to cross over into Phase III, “The Oasis of Vine City— The City of Hope.” This will encompass:
- Senior Citizen Housing/Healthcare Facility
- Multi-Generational Housing
- Adult Day Care
- Multi-Purpose Recreational Facility
- Child Development Center
- Transitional Housing
- Restaurants, businesses and banquet facilities
- Office Space
March 2008, a storm tore through the city and our church suffered great damage. God began to speak to our Pastor about the spiritual condition of the church; “tell my people that they have dwelt around that mountain long enough; it is time to go to Higher Ground. As God began to Reposition us, HE said to our Visionary, “Friend, go up higher then thou shalt have worship in the presence of them that sit at meet with thee (Luke 14:10b).” The next twenty months were filled with many challenges. Praise God we overcame them all!
The fall of 2009, our Exodus came to pass, we:
- Demolished the apartment complex next to the church
- Demolished the store on the corner
- Demolished the Resource Center
- Renovated our entire facility
- God changed our name to “Higher Ground Empowerment Center” officially September 1, 2009
- Our spiritual Birthing & Dedication Services took place December 6, 2009.
We thank God for our valley experiences and our new beginning. Truly, God has restored, regenerated and revived us. We pray for continued favor as we “Grow Together in Christ, with a New Vision we are; Empowering the people of God, for the Kingdom of God; on our way to “Higher Ground!”.