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Damascus Baptist Church: The Oldest African American church in Madison

The oldest African American church in Madison, the Damascus Baptist Church, located on 185 SW Smith Street, was organized around 1861.

The church's congregation met under a brush arbor meeting. Brush arbor meetings began in the late 1700s and continued until the mid 1900s.  During the brush arbor years, preachers would travel from place to place and would often send word ahead of their time of arrival in a select community. If there was no building for a congregation to meet in, the people there would quickly erect a brush arbor for a meeting place. Brush arbors were usually made by driving upright poles into the ground and then weaving longer poles across the top to support the green leafy branches that would be placed on top of the poles to create a shelter. Usually, at the front of the arbor, there would be a pulpit in the center that was made special for the occasion.

It was usually located in a well-traveled area along the side of a road. Everyone in the community was invited to these meetings. Oftentimes, these brush arbor meetings would last all day and then go on into the night. A lot of hymn singing and fellowship took place.

The congregation of Damascus Baptist met under these brush arbor meetings for three years and settled into the church's first building in 1864.

The present building that serves the community was built in 1927; originally, when construction for the building was underway, there were plans to make two staircases in the front of the building, one for women and one for men. However, the second staircase was never completed and today, this staircase houses an elevator.

With beautiful stained glass windows on the north end of the building and a baptismal below a section of the floor behind the pulpit, this church bursts with historical stories to tell.

The floor section is hinged and raised when the baptismal is used. The basement, which once served as a classroom for students when the Madison County Training School burned down, is now the church's kitchen and social hall.

Dasmascus Baptist is currently under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Martae Telfair-Smith, Sr.. Sunday school is held at 9:45 a.m. and morning worship begins at 11 a.m. on the first and third Sunday of the month. On the second and fourth Sunday of the month, morning worship begins at 4 p.m.

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