More than a century ago, on January 15, 1909, a meeting took place at the home of Bro. and Sis. Henderson Harris for the purpose of organizing Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church. In attendance were Gus Thomas, Joseph Carter, James Pointer, Charles Fuller, Thomas Dougherty, Henderson Harrison, Clifford Dyer, Jerry Lindsay, George Grady, William Smith, Dr. O.L. Ballenger, Dolly Thomas, Nora Carter, Mattie Pointer, Cynthia Fuller, Lucy Scott, Mrs. O.L. Ballenger, Virginia Smith, Jenny Posey, Minnie Fuller, Betty Grady, Alberta Wilson, and Courtney Harris.
The first morning service was held the following Sunday at the home of Bro. and Sis. Gus Thomas. Evening service followed at the home of Bro. Jerry Lindsay on York Avenue. Humble
beginnings were soon met by swift growth over the next two years under the pastoral leadership of Rev. T.C. Fleming of Braidwood, Illinois. During that time services were held in Lasser Hall on Bluff Street. Additionally, Sunday School, Missionary Society, Baptist Young People’s Union, and a choir were formed. Property was also purchased on South Chicago Street, and the frame building was remodeled into a church.
In 1911, Rev. J.M. Mason accepted the call to pastor and relocated his family from Jacksonville, Illinois to serve until 1928. Many milestones were set during this time: his son, Chastine, became our first choir director; our first revival was held; twenty-four people accepted Christ and were baptized in the old First Baptist Church pool; and membership increased rapidly. A pipe organ was also installed. Lastly, the building was paid off, and a building fund was established for a new edifice.
After Rev. Mason’s tenure, Rev. O.W. Williams of Monroe, Louisiana became the third pastor. During his tenure, Mount Olive grew spiritually, numerically, and financially because of his committed leadership.
World War II moved Mount Olive into the education sector as the Church became residence to a state accredited nursery school, staffed by Mt. Olive and also approved by Joliet Public Schools. While the country at-large was experiencing the effects of the Great Depression at the end WWII, we still managed to work through economic constraints and mixed emotions surrounding our young men going off to war. The main sanctuary was completed, carpeting and a grand piano were purchased as well as the property at 116 South Chicago Street. In addition, the Church established Christian Education classes, introduced string and wind instruments in worship services, and periodically broadcasted on a local radio station.
In 1951, Rev. Alva M. Varnado became the seventh pastor at Mt. Olive. Under his leadership, the Church established a Board of Christian Education, departmentalized the Sunday School, offered leadership training classes, and became affiliated with both the American Baptist Association and the National Baptist Convention. The Church flourished in Christian Education, receiving both state and national recognition during Rev. Varnado’s tenure. In 1965, Mount Olive broke ground for a new sanctuary, adjacent to the old building.
The next era brought Rev. Jerome Brown (1970-1975) and Rev. Lee Gragg (1975-1981) into pastoral leadership. Rev. Ronald C. Johnson served as interim pastor between these ministers, and Rev. Varnado returned to us in 1981. His first financial thrust was raising the money to pay off the long overdue mortgage, and within the first year of his return, we enthusiastically paid off the mortgage. A victory banquet was held in celebration at the Joliet Renaissance Center where Roland Burris, State of Illinois Comptroller, joined us as the keynote speaker. One-hundred-twenty new members also joined the Church; seven deacons and two young men were ordained to the ministry. During this time, we also funded the building of a church in Africa. In 1983, Rev. Varnado retired due to illness. He was bestowed the lifetime title of Pastor Emeritus of Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church.
Rev. Donald W. Johnson served as pastor of Mount Olive from 1983-1988. Under Rev. Johnson, Lillie O’Neal became our first missionary to travel to Africa. The Mount Olive Mission Ministry joined other Will County churches in providing food and supportive services to individuals and families who were homeless and received shelter at the Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) facility. During his tenure, we were able to purchase a church bus, a new parsonage, and new choir robes.
With the loss of Rev. Johnson as our pastor, we were in search of a new leader. Rev. Hector Edwards was chosen as our interim pastor in February 1989. In July of the same year, the Church voted Rev. Edwards to be our pastor; he was formally installed on October 8, 1989. The arrival of Pastor and Mrs. Edwards, and much prayer, revealed light at the end of the tunnel. Pastor Edwards instilled Biblical principles for funding the church’s activities in the members. As a result, the Church was declared debt-free within three years. An aggressive building fund program was established, and the membership rallied to the cause. Notably, over $500,000 was realized through pledges while maintaining regular giving of tithes and offerings.
Physical constraints surrounding the development of downtown Joliet moved the Church to sell the property at 116 South Chicago Street to the Will County government. Subsequently, the Church purchased 9.9 acres of land on Old New Lenox Road and paid it off in one year. The groundbreaking ceremony was held in July 1996. Three months later, the Chicago Street location was vacated, and interim services were held at First Baptist Church, located at 225 East Clinton Street, in preparation for a move.
On Sunday, November 23, 1997, members marched into the new Mount Olive edifice at 1710 Carey Street. The Vision to Victorydedication services were held from December 15-21, 1997. A 15-passenger van for a bus ministry and a tractor and other lawn care equipment were purchased for ground keeping.
The new move saw the continued progression of Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church. The Prayer Ministry, Youth Ministry, Ambassador Ministry, Youth Church Ministry, Nursery Ministry, Emerging Women’s Ministry, Youth Usher’s Ministry, Men’s Ministry, Praise Dance Ministry, Men’s Discipleship Ministry, Caregiver’s Ministry, Young Mother’s Ministry, Evangelism Ministry, expanded Mission Ministry, and Sunday School, including three adult classes, were organized/reorganized during this time. The worship services were revamped to include total participation. Also, New Members’ Orientation was established, and annual leadership training was instituted.
In 2000, the church recorded its highest giving ever, allowing for 10% of the total budget to fund missionary activities. Pastor Edwards ministered in Africa and the Caribbean. Sister Theresa Washington was sent to Antigua as a Mount Olive ambassador to minister as well. In 2007, Mount Olive began the construction of a church in Kinshasha, Africa – our second church built in Africa to further God’s work of spreading the Gospel to all.
Pastor Edwards recounted his years with us by saying: “Much has been accomplished, which would suggest that there has been fellowship. Our goal for the new millennia was an aggressive effort to reach the unsaved and those not attending a church. The more we reach out and impact the Kingdom, the more God will bless us as a church. We redefined the meaning of a missionary church.”
Mount Olive celebrated its 100thyear church anniversary with a party and multiple services. Our next chapter saw the retirement of Pastor Hector Edwards in October 2009 after 21 years of diligent service to the ministry. In light of this news, we aligned our focus with reaching our mission goals, increasing our membership, preparing for the pastor’s departure, and searching for a new minister. Rev. Maurice Brown served as interim pastor during the transition phase.
On January 17, 2010, Dr. Angelo Hill preached his first sermon as our new pastor. Mount Olive entered the second millennia of its existence with a young enthusiastic minister, devoted to the work of God’s Kingdom. Dr. Hill, his wife Carolyn, and their daughter, Deja, came in and immediately began to work alongside the members. After several months of activities and a need for some unexpected repairs, Dr. Hill was officially installed as pastor on September 19, 2010. The audiovisual ministry grew significantly under his care. The Hill family departed from us in September 2017 to continue to spread the word.
After more than 20 years in this physical plant, improvements were needed to restore the quality of the building. Recently, the carpeting in the sanctuary was replaced, the tile in the entryway was changed, new doors were installed in the fellowship hall, and we became the proud owners of our own snow plow. After the departure of Dr. Hill, a search committee convened to secure a new pastor. We invoked the spirit of God to guide our search, and He led us to Rev. Wendell Martin. He and his family joined us on his birthday, February 4, 2018 as he delivered his first sermon as our new spiritual leader. Since his arrival, we have adopted a motto that encompasses the life-long history of Mt. Olive: Love God | Love People | Prove It! With this at heart, our legacy continues.
After the departure of Dr. Hill, a search committee convened to secure a new pastor. We invoked the spirit of God to guide our search, and He led us to Rev. Wendell Martin. He and his family joined us on his birthday, February 4, 2018 as he delivered his first sermon as our new spiritual leader. Since his arrival, we have adopted a motto that encompasses the life-long history of Mt. Olive: Love God | Love People | Prove It! With this at heart, our legacy continues.