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Salem church turns 150 years old

(WDBJ)
Published: Mar. 25, 2017 at 5:54 PM EDT
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A church in downtown Salem is celebrating a very special anniversary. First Baptist Church of Salem turns 150 years old on Sunday.

First Baptist Church was built in 1867 by former slaves.

"If you think about what was going on in 1867, the Jim Crow era, the civil rights movement, and that the church is still here," Associate Minister Lance Franklin said.

The church has since been remodeled but a few pieces still remain. A cornerstone from the original building in 1867 is still in tact as well as a window and a few ceiling tiles. A cross was built from rafters from the old church but the history runs much deeper.

"It's something that you can take with you as far as a legacy and heritage," church member Pernie Barber said.

"It's not about the brick and mortar it's about the individuals who actually attend the church," church historian Carolyn Glover said.

Individuals like Margaret Vineyard. She's sixty-nine years old and was baptized in this church when she was just eight years old.

"I just sit back and wonder, how did they do it? ... for 150 years that's why we're still here, because of those old soldiers that came before us.," Vineyard said.

Fifteen pastors have served in this church since 1867. Most recent pastor, Melton Johnson, is still shocked at how early after slavery the church was established.

"In the midst of chaos, finding your place, looking searching wanting to belong somewhere then a church evolves and gives you that hope and place," Johnson said.

Some of the former slaves who fought to keep the church alive are still unknown. Either way, it's a church that went from unpromising beginnings to unbelievable outcomes.

The church will have a special service on Sunday to celebrate its 150th anniversary.