N to Z! This the second half of Winter the Bear’s alphabet of churches in Hampton, Virginia. If you missed the first half, check it out! While Winter has “fuzz for brains,” she is transported in this tour by David Bains who is a Hampton native and has a Ph.D. in American religion from that august Puritan school in Cambridge, Mass. We hope you enjoy!
N is for New: New Life Seventh-Day Adventist Church
New Life Seventh-Day Adventist Church sits at 1808 Shell Road, just six blocks from Winter’s home base in Hampton. An old road between Hampton and Newport News, Shell Road received its name from the oyster shells that paved it. Sitting between the railroad line (along Pembroke Avenue) and the former streetcar line (today’s Victoria Boulevard), this two-lane road became heart of a number of African American communities including Garden City and Dunbar Gardens. It is directly, across from a Boys & Girls’s Club that was built on the site of the Greenbriar School, the US’s 5,000th Rosenwald School. New Life is the historic African-American Adventist church in Hampton.
O is for Our: Our Lady of Vietnam Roman Catholic Church
This church on Whealton Road is very near Hampton’s western border with Newport News. As people moved to the suburbs, a number of houses of worship from downtown Newport News moved over the line into Hampton. These included Rodef Sholom synagogue. In 1959, it was the first congregation to develop this site. It moved here from its 1921 building across from Newport News High School on Huntington Avenue. The synagogue stayed here until the 2010s when it moved further uptown to 401 City Center Boulevard. At that point the local Vietnamese Catholic community moved here from another location in Hampton (coming up as X!). The Catholic built a new worship space but retained the auxiliary buildings.
(Do you see Winter? She’s interested in Mary.)
P is for Phoebus: Phoebus United Methodist Church
A introduced us to the first of four Methodist denominations. This is our second. Phoebus United Methodist Church sits just across Mill Creek from Ft. Monroe (see C). Ft. Monroe remained under Union control throughout the Civil War, and the “Yankee” legacy is strong in Phoebus. The Masonic lodge just up the street from the Methodist church is named for the USS Monitor, the Union vessel in the famous battle of the Ironclads. This congregation was founded in 1870 as part of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the “northern” or, more truly, “national,” denomination after the Methodist schism of 1844.
(If you haven’t found Winter yet, here’s a hint: she’s checking out the cornerstone.)
Q is for Queen: Queen Street Baptist Church
Queen Street Baptist Church was organized in 1865, two years after Hampton’s first African American Baptist church was organized by members withdrawing from Hampton Baptist Church (H). Queen Street Baptist states its founding members came from the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, organized in 1776. (That church has been much in the news because of excavations of its original site.) Queen Street’s current building, completed in 1903, is a classic medieval revival auditorium church. It is meant to have a spire on tower, but the building holds its own without it. If you want to learn more about churches like this, When Church Became Theatre by David’s friend, Jeanne Kilde
(Have you found Winter? She’s right in the middle, thinking she’s the queen.)
R is for Rose: St. Rose of Lima and the Korean Martyrs Roman Catholic Church
If N was only six blocks from Winter’s home base, this church is only two! It is Hampton’s second oldest Catholic church, the oldest is coming up at S This church is in Wythe, and you can learn a lot more about this neighborhood in David’s earlier essay about this and the other 4 churches within two blocks of his Hampton home. Initially erected as St. Rose of Lima in 1952, the dedication of this church was extended to the Korean Martyrs in 2013. when it became the home of Hampton Roads’ Korean Catholic community.
(Where’s Winter? She’s looking at Jesus.)
S is for Saint, Star and Sea: St. Mary Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church
With three initial “S”es in its name, St. Mary Star of the Sea had to be our choice for S. For many decades it was Hampton’s only Catholic Church. It is on Ft. Monroe (though unlike “C”, it is not inside the moat) and was the only diocesan Catholic church on a U.S. military installation. This fine Gothic building is unique in Hampton and was dedicated in 1903. Like Queen Street Baptist, it lost its spires due to damage, but the building still holds its own. It is the ninth-oldest church in the Roman Catholic diocese of Richmond!
(Have you found Winter? She’s on the platform, by the side door.)
T is for Temple: Bethel Temple Church
Todds Lane runs west through Hampton to the Newport News line. There have long been lots of churches on it, and now they are joined by a Buddhist temple and an Muslim mosque. Perhaps the largest house of worship on the street is the one David knows as Bethel Temple Assembly of God.
The congregation has favored shorter forms of its name in recent years, such as Bethel Church, but it is still part of the Assemblies of God denomination. The church’s first units were what Jay Price calls “mid-century traditional,” but in the late 1980s it build this broad saucer-like auditorium. Charles Ricks, Jr. has been senior pastor of the congregation since 2018. He is the first African American to hold that post.
(See Winter? She’s right in the center, trying to hog the show.)
U is for United: First United Methodist Church
First United Methodist is Hampton’s second-oldest church. It was founded two years before Hampton Baptist (“H“). While it is now in the same denomination as “P” above (and “W” below). it represents our third Methodist denomination: the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In 1844 this congregation, and Virginia Methodists left the Methodist Episcopal Church because they felt a man could be a bishop even though he owned slaves. That is what separated the “M.E., South” from the “M.E.” The denominations reunited in 1939.
In this photo you can see both the main section of the church, a Gothic revival hall church built in 1887, and the more elaborate decorated Gothic façade and narthex added in the 1920s.
Fun fact: David’s youth choir performed Celebrate Life here in 1987. (And if you think of Celebrate Life as a “cantata” rather than a “musical,” think again, our production was definitely on the musical side.)
(Where’s Winter? She’s siting on the bench waiting until it is time to go.)
V is for Victory: Victory Life Church
Pastor Phil Privette founded the Victory Life World Outreach Center (now known as Victory Life Church) in 1981. He had recently graduated from the Rhema Bible Training Center in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Today, he is joined in ministry but his wife, Barbara, his son Gil and daughter-in-law, Debbie, along with others. (As we are sure you can see, Winter walks the line.)
W is for Wallace: Wallace Memorial United Methodist Church, Fox Hill
Fox Hill began in the early nineteenth century as a small fishing and farming community near the mouth of Back River on the Chesapeake Bay. As in many such communities, Methodists were the major denomination. Fox Hill was so Methodist that all three churches were Methodist and the public elementary school was named for Bishop Francis Asbury! (It still is and all three churches are still open.)
Wallace Memorial was founded in 1896. Unlike First Fox Hill (founded c. 1844) and Central (1899), Wallace Memorial was part of the Methodist Protestant Church It is our fourth Methodist denomination! Since 1939 it has been happily in the same denomination as both its neighbors as well as Phoebus (P) and First Hampton (U).
X is for Exxon!: This church was originally an Exxon station! Greater Discipleship Center
David remembers going with his dad or mom to buy gas here many times when it was an Exxon station. Can you still see it? He can, the roof that slopes toward us in the middle unit was part of the station. If you lived in the eastern US in the 1970s or 1980s, we think you can see it too! (If you can’t, let David know, he’ll send other photos.)
Even though it is just off the Interstate, Exxon closed this station and it was converted into a church by Our Lady of Vietnam Catholic Church (now at “O” above ). Most everything you see, including the outdoor altar to the left of the front unit, was built by that congregation. After they left for the larger campus vacated by Rodof Shalom, Greater Discipleship Center moved here in 2018. It is a ministry of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) led by Revs. Lance & Crystal Bacon.
Y is for Why?: Or maybe Young or Cyprian
One of David’s favorite places in Hampton to stop for coffee on a bike ride is the Firehouse Coffee 1881 on Ft. Monroe. St. Mary Star of the Sea (“S”) is just across the street. After our photoshoot there and at the Chapel of the Centurion (“C”), Winter and David sat outside and discussed why there are so few church names beginning with “Y.”
Winter pondered and then exclaimed, “Why can’t the Y be our Y?,” as she gestured beyond the coffee shop’s oversized ice cream cone to the white-columned Fort Monroe YMCA.
David admitted that when Ft. Monroe’s Army Young Men’s Christian Association was established in 1889, it was explicitly Christian and that was still the case when they build this structure in 1903. He also remembers learning to swim in its indoor pool! “But,” he said, “we are looking for houses of worship.”
Winter thought long and hard. Then she remembered one of her first stops on this tour and said, “The second letter in Cyprian is Y! Cyprian can be our Y. That is close enough!”
St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church
The first building for St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church was very near the old Bethel AME downtown (“B”). They were both on Lincoln Street at the other end of the church yard from St. John’s (“J”). St. Cyprian’s was founded in 1905 by and for African American Episcopalians. Many Episcopalians are named for African saints (e.g. Augustine of Hippo in Newport News, Va.; Mark of Alexandria in Birmingham, Ala., Simon Cyrene in Rochester, N.Y.). This one was named for Cyprian of Carthage. Among St. Cyprian’s famous clergy is Nathan Baxter. He was rector from 1978 to 1984 and oversaw the erection of this building. He later served as dean of Washington National Cathedral and bishop of Central Pennsylvania.
Winter and David like the way the church combines new and old glass.
Z is for Zion: Zion Baptist Church
Africans arrived in Hampton in 1619. The enslaved gained freedom in 1863. Today African Americans form a majority of the city’s residents. Thus, it’s appropriate that both the A and the Z of this alphabet are twenty-first century buildings that house congregations founded by African Americans.in the nineteenth century.
Zion Baptist Church traces its origin to 1863. In that year, First Baptist was founded on the west side of the Hampton River in Hampton. Zion Baptist was founded on the east side, closer to Ft. Monroe. The American Missionary Association sold the congregation this half acre of land on County Street in 1871. Its first building on the site was repaired many times before being replaced by a brick structure in 1950. This sanctuary was added in 2005.
The windows from the previous church were incorporated into the new building. Unlike at Grace Baptist (“G”), some of the windows have pictures, not just symbols. You’ll find Winter admiring the window of Jesus the Good Shepherd. She likes sheep and the purple and green of her scarf match the window.
Recap: African to Zion
African, Buckroe (Baptist and Beach), Centurion (and Chapel), Dei, England, First, Grace, Hampton, Immaculate, John’s, Kecoughtan, Langley, Memorial, New, Our, Phoebus, Queen, Rose, Saint (Star and Sea), Temple, United, Victory, Wallace, Exxon, Y?, and Zion.
We hope you have enjoyed this alphabet of Hampton churches. We covered some ground!
While this tour included churches on many of Hampton’s major “church streets” (Big Bethel, Todd’s Lane, Armistead Avenue, Fox Hill Road), it only included one from Kecoughtan Road in Hampton’s Wythe Neighborhood. Before the summer is out, Winter will count the churches on that street and share her findings. Stay tuned!!