Churches in Newport News: An Alphabet
This continues a series of tours of churches in cities by letter: see previous posts on
Birmingham, Alabama; London, England; and Newport News’s neighbor, Hampton, Virginia. While Hampton dates itself to 1610, the City of Newport News was incorporated in 1896 with the development of its downtown area beginning with the arrival of the railroad in 1881 and particularly with the founding of Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company in 1886. Thus most of its “first churches” were founded in the mid-1880s. The major exception being First Church of Newport News (Baptist) which was founded by newly freed African American in 1863. Its current building was erected in 1971. It kicks off our tour and is one of two “bonuses” in this alphabet.
First Church of Newport News (Baptist), Wickham Avenue
Winter the Bear, my companion in this series did not make the bonus photo above, but she’s in the rest. I choosing churches, we’ve prioritized denominational diversity and alteration.
The cornerstone of “St. Augustine’s P.E. Church” was laid in 1960. (P. E. stood for Protestant Episcopal.) It is the African American Episcopal Church in Newport News. I always liked it when we drove by this church on Christmas Eve on the way to our own because the large stained-windows were lit up. It was the only day of the year that I would see them illuminated.
One bear and two geese! Another A-frame: Winter the Bear has climbed the tree to stay clear of the geese and make sure that she doesn’t get dunked. A peace church of German origin, the Brethren are kin to the Mennonites (coming up at H) and are sometimes called “Dunkers.” This Church of the Brethren has a very large lawn which many Canada Geese were enjoying, not just the 2 you see here.
Newport News is a long narrow city, its landmass is about nineteen miles long and at its narrowest less than a half mile wide. In this first version of my alphabet, all the churches are in the middle or lower sections of the city. I have plans to include some further up, but since I’m bicycling to them all from my base in Hampton, I haven’t made it there.
In their place I’ve included churches from southern reaches of the city. Please comment on which churches should stay and which that aren’t here should be included.
Map of Newport News showing the city limits from OpenStreetMaps
C is for Christian, Church and Chestnut: Christian Union Church on Chestnut Avenue
I don’t know much about this church, but Winter wants to go in. She likes the name, as do I.
This Richardsonian Romanesque church by Reuben H. Hunt of Chattanooga was erected for First Baptist Church. It is the first of 6 downtown churches in this alphabet. It opened in 1903 but had to be rebuilt after a fire a years later. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and has many near twins around the South, including Court Street Baptist in Portsmouth, Virginia, and the former building of First Baptist in Birmingham, Alabama (now destroyed). First Baptist opened a second location uptown in 1979 and eventually relocated all its ministries there. Dominion is the latest of several congregtions to worship here since the Baptist left. E is for E
vangelistic and Ella: Bibleway Evangelistic Temple on Ella Fitzgerald Way
The Bibleway Evangelistic Temple is just 2 blocks from St. Augustine’s and is our first classical building. Winter and I always love recessed porticos, and this church has one. It was built as Carver Memorial Presbyterian Church. That African-American congregation relocated to a larger lot on the same block. The jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald was born in Newport News on April 25, 1917, the section of 24th Street running next to the church is named in her honor.
Two views of First United Methodist Church in Hilton Village. The back door is the way I went in and out of preschool when I was only a little bigger than Winter. The other photo shows the church at its grandest, an inspiring adaptation of Charles Bullfinch’s First Church in Lancaster, Massachusetts (1816).
The Gospel Spreading Church of God was founded by Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux in Newport News in 1921 when he split off from the Church of Christ (Holiness). Michaux relocated his headquarters to Washington, D.C. in 1928, There he would achieve fame on radio as the “Happy Am I” preacher. His church in Newport News continued and has been located for many decades in this former theatre. Winter is heading out to spread the gospel.
Mennonites began relocating to Newport News from communities in Ohio and other states in 1897. They enjoyed the city’s warmer weather and their farms and dairies became an important part of the Newport News economy. Today there are three Mennonite churches within the bounds of Newport News. While other Mennonite churches were established in the rural countryside near the farms. Huntington Avenue Mennonite was begun in the 1928 as a mission to the city of Newport News itself. Once known as Huntington Avenue Mennonite Church for its location at 3606 Huntington Avenue, it kept the Huntington name when its neighborhood became almost entirely industrial in the 1960s. Winter is checking out the charging station for electric cars.
The current main sanctuary is next door, but we love this first unit, It has more unique character that the neighboring sanctuary.. Ivy Memorial relocated to Marcella Drive in the Coliseum Central area of Hampton. The pastor of this Ivy Baptist Church is my high school classmate Kevin Swan. J is for Joy & Jefferson: Zion of Joy Church of Deliverance
on Jefferson Avenue
Zion of Joy Church of Deliverance was founded in 1964 by Overseer Mable R. Hargrove. It sits on the corner of 26th Street and Jefferson Avenue, just 3 blocks north from where First Church of Newport News sat for seven decades. The church’s name may well be inspired by Isaiah 51:11 “Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.” You can’t miss Winter in this photo. She’s always full of joy, especially when riding a bike to a church.
Kingdom Church, also known as Full Gospel Kingdom Church, is located in the former First Presbyterian Church downtown 32nd Street. Previously they were located in the former theatre on the corner of Washington Avenue. As you see in the photo, a tile sign in the pavement directed people from the theatre to the church. “First Presbyterian Church” is also carved into the stone arch above the main entrance. The founder and pastor of Full Gospel Kingdom Church is Bishop Felton Hawkins.
According to its Facebook page, Living Waters is “a fire-baptized, Holy Ghost-filled, tongue talking, foot-stomping, hand-clapping church that loves the Lord and is led by His spirit.” It is located at 617 48th Street adjoining Jefferson Avenue in Jefferson Park. The church was founded in 1948 as the fourth congregation of the Way of the Cross Church of Christ organization. Construction of the present church building began in 1968. The pastor, Bishop James C. Jackson changed its name in 2014 becoming the parent church of the Redeemed Apostolic Church of Christ. The organization is now led by his son Eric V. Jackson.
Mountain Moving Faith Outreach Ministries is a “non-denominational, Bible-believing, Spirit Filled Church” located at 1700 27th Street. Since she is so small, Winter the Bear finds the steps to the front door to be a mountain to climb.
New Beginnings Outreach Center is part of the Church of God in Christ, it is located in the former building of Morrison United Methodist Church erected in 1948. Morrison is the community located where Harpersville Road crosses the C&O Railroad. Originally known as Gum Grove, when the railroad came through, the station built at the crossing was named Morrison in honor of J. S. Morrison, an engineer who supervised building the railroad in 1881.
First Church of God is located at the corner of Oak and 20th Street. It is a congregation affiliated with the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) movement. The congregation is almost 50 years old. A cornerstone on the building states that it was erected as Community Church of God in 1988.
Parkview Baptist Church is an iconic presence on Jefferson Avenue at the corner of Hilton Avenue in Parkview. It was even more iconic with its original colonial-revival spire which echoed the proportions of St. Martin in the Fields in London, as have countless other U.S. churches. But like so many Hampton and Newport News church spires, this one developed problems and was replaced with one that didn’t measure up to the earlier artistry. Luckily the congregation is still active. Q is for Quaker: former First Friends Church now True Vine Church of Jesus
Q is always hard to do. But when you find Friends you always know you have a Q, since members of the Religious Society of Friends are commonly called Quakers. We are sort of cheating with this one, however, because this used to be First Friends Church but is now True Vine Church of Jesus. This church is on in Newport News on Pear Avenue, the other side of the street is Hampton, so you can literally see it from the church’s porch. First Friends moved to Big Bethel Road elsewhere in Hampton years ago and became Hampton Friends Church. But True Vine keeps up the old building well. There is a Quaker society in Newport News: Colony Friends Church. If we ever pedal that far uptown, perhaps will substitute it for this one in the next edition.
Resurrection Lutheran Church is a congregation of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, a congregation that can be counted on for good modernist architecture. Winter loves the roof angles shown in this side view of the sancutary.
Our third, downtown church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was designed by P. Thornton Mayre in 1899. It was one of his first major works and is the oldest building on this tour. In 1903 he moved to Atlanta where he designed St. Luke’s Episcopal and the Fabulous Fox Theatre. He also designed landmark train stations for Atlanta, Birmingham, and Mobile. My father and cousins were baptized here. Unfortunately St. Paul’s closed in 2019. I was there for the deconsecrating. The building has not been used since.
Trinity United Methodist Church opened in 1900, just like St. Paul’s, and it is still open today! It is the oldest church building in Downtown Newport News still used by its original congregation. More restrained than its Richardsonian Romanesque sister down the street (“D” above), it was designed by J. E. R. Carpenter, an architect who partnered with John Kevin Peebles on the slightly earlier Epworth United Methodist Church in Norfolk. Carpenter later moved to New York where he became a leading architect of luxury residential high-rises there and throughout the nation. (The Empire Building/Elyton Hotel in Birmingham is one of his works.) Along with St. Paul’s, Trinity has been my family’s home church. My parents were married here and I was baptized and confirmed here. My mom has long been a trustee, as was her father. She’s spent countless hours making sure the old building is up and running.
This landmark building is one of at least three of its denomination on the lower peninsula. The United House of Prayer for All People denomination was founded by Bishop Charles Manuel “Sweet Daddy” Grace. He was an immigrant from Cape Verde and his first church was established in 1919 in West Wareham, Massachusetts. He later established the denomination’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. and regularly visited Newport News. This building on Ivy Avenue was erected around 1991 and towers over its neighborhood. The lions at the entrance are a common element of United House of Prayer for All People churches as are the red and blue illuminated crosses on the gable.
Aside from Trinity, St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church is the only downtown church still used by its original congregation. The building, designed by Carl Ruehrmurd, was erected in 1916-1917 and is on the National Register of Historic Places as an outstanding example of the early twentieth-century classical revival. In 1970 the African American Catholic church in the East End, St. Alphonsus, was closed and merged into St. Vincent’s making it the first integrated church in Downtown Newport News.
“Wesley and UCC?” asked Winter. “What is up with that? I thought Wesley founded Methodism.” “That is right,” I explained. “But one of the four streams which converged in the United Church of Christ was the Christian Connection and the Virginia origins of the Christian Connection were with James O’Kelly, a Methodist preacher who broke with the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1792 for reasons of polity, not Wesleyan theology.” “Oh, get it,” said Winter. “Wesleyan theology without Wesleyan bureaucracy, sounds appealing to wild American bears like me.” Wesley Grove was founded in 1887, at the same time as most of Newport News’s downtown churches. It is a historically African American congregation. With its whitewashed exterior, tile roof, and classical details, its building evokes the Spanish Colonial revival making it very unusual in Virginia. The building was erected by Wesley Grove’s White counterpart, First United Church of Christ in 1930 and became the home of Wesley Grove after First Church moved uptown and over the line to Hampton in 1965. (Don’t be fooled by the names Wesley Grove was founded before First Church. Just like Trinity UMC was founded before First UMC.) X is for ex-church: The former Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church
This handsome church with its central octagonal section and Early Christian details was completed in 1949 for Newport News’s Greek Orthodox community. The congregation outgrew this building on West Avenue and, as with all Downtown Newport News churches, it soon found itself located far from the center of its congregation’s residences. The congregation built a new church at the intersection of US-17 and I-64 and left this building behind in 1982. While there have been various promises to make it into a restaurant. It still remains empty, yet reasonably well preserved, 40 years later. Y is for Yellow: Rivers of Life Fellowship Church
We know very little about this small church just off Jefferson Avenue on Temple Lane, but “Y” is hard to come by and this church’s color fills a gap. Dr. Bruce E. Vann is the pastor. Its “Anointed Worship Service” is at 9 a.m. & is
for &! Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church
Bonus! As eveyone who sings the ABC song knows, there are 27 things you name and the second to last is “and”! This is a good excuse to include the 1982 modern Byzantine building to which the Greek Orthodox moved. Its gold dome is a landmark on I-64 but is increasingly hidden behind trees. This is the first church I recall seeing flying the yellow flag with the double-headed eagle that represents the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Like, St. Augustine’s (“A” above), I grew up driving past this church on the way to my church, so it is a fitting conclusion. As the Star of David in the center of the pediment signals, this building was erected as a synagogue: Adath Jeshurun (Congregation of the Upright). The building was completed in 1926 and used by this Orthodox Jewish community moved uptown in 1961. Since then it has been the home of Greater Walters African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a congregation founded in 1906. Map of Churches