The Sunday School Union of Chesterfield County & Vicinity
A Rich Legacy
The Sunday School Union of Chesterfield County and Vicinity is one of the oldest African American institutions in the county. It has a rich history dating back to 1929, although it is believed to be the outgrowth of even earlier organizations.
Member churches, as well as the surrounding communities have benefited greatly from its outstanding leadership in providing opportunities and encouragement in promoting Christian education, training and spiritual growth. The Union’s primary goal continues to be teaching and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ through “Building Bigger and Better Sunday Schools”.
The earliest accounts of the existence of a Sunday School Union in Chesterfield County were found in Mt. Sinai Baptist Church Sunday School’s minutes which indicate that representatives were sent to a Sunday School Union as early as 1915. First Baptist Church, Midlothian Records also give reference to a meeting of the Sunday School Union there in 1926. Accounts were found of a reorganizational meeting held at Mt. Nebo Baptist. The source of much of the information from these formative years came from very detailed notes kept by Miss Lucille Branch, the earliest known Secretary of the Union and also Secretary of the Sunday School of First Baptist Church, Midlothian.
It is from the 1929 meeting called by the Rev. J.J. Nickens, Pastor of First Baptist, Midlothian and Mrs. Mary Virginia Branch that the present Sunday School Union is said to have evolved. This reorganizational meeting was held at Mt. Sinai and was attended by other “interested persons”. The following officers were elected: Rev. J J. Nickens, President, Mrs. Alice Branch, Secretary and Deacon Daniel Graham, Treasurer.
In 1931 Deacon Levi Johnson, of First Baptist Church, Midlothian was elected President along with Deacon Clifton Smith, Vice President; Mrs. Alice Branch, Secretary and Mr. Samuel Smith, Chorister. Deacon Johnson’s tenure was from 1931-1962. His long dedicated years of leadership made some think he was the Founder of the Union. He was known for his enthusiasm for learning and studying God’s Word and his great love for the hymns of the church which he took delight in rendering. For his service he was presented a Bible and Plaque in 1962. Scholarships presented annually are named the Levi Johnson Scholarship Awards in Deacon Johnson’s memory.
In the ensuing years the Sunday School Union became entrenched as an Institution, which has lasted until the present.
Much is owed to the early dedicated pioneers who kept the organization alive, sometimes starting and restarting. They were not willing to abandon that which they obviously were convinced was of benefit to their churches and communities.
Organization and Activities
Member churches met together on a designated Sunday, usually a 4th or 5th Sunday. During the early years First Baptist Church, Midlothian was the main meeting place. Today custom dictates that a rotating alphabetical order is used to determine the host church for Fifth Sunday Fellowships.
The monthly fellowship services were established to be a time of sharing and giving encouragement to its member churches. In the beginning, business meetings preceded the programs for that Sunday. The business meetings today are held separately, made up of an Executive Committee representing each school. A typical program during the early period allowed representatives from each school to participate on the program using their specific talents such as skits, singing, recitations, etc. Now, with the establishment of program chairpersons and program committees, services usually follow specific themes with information imparted for the edification of those in attendance. Each member church is requested to share in the presentation which gives others the opportunity to learn from and encourage each other.
Since Deacon Levi Johnson’s presidency there have been eight (8) presidents each contributing to the accomplishments which assured the continuity and richness of the Sunday School Union’s legacy.
Mrs. Frances A. Turner had the distinction of being the first female president. Her noteworthy tenure lasted 20 years, 1984-2004. Mrs. Turner’s first objective was to make the organization financially strong. To accomplish this, donations were solicited from community entrepreneurs. A banquet was then held and the names of donors were listed in a directory and shared with the members of the Union. Thus the Union, the entrepreneurs and the community, all profited from this very successful venture. Other achievements during Mrs. Turner’s tenure reflected her goals for the Union to continue to be: “Christ- centered, of service to others and to encourage others in unity and love.” The establishment of many of the current committees and their functions were established during this period. Additionally, in 1992 a Revision of the Union’s Constitution and By-Laws was adopted.
Major Activities and Functions
Fifth Sunday Fellowship Service
Annual Union Institute
The Union’s Picnic
Teacher Training Workshops
Scholarship Fund Raiser and Awards (Levi Johnson Scholarship)
In addition to the Fifth Sunday Fellowship Service, the activities listed above are vital to the Sunday School Union and its members.
Under the dedicated leadership of Deacon Beatrice Miller, President-2008-2016, assisted by a supportive Executive Committee and the member churches and following traditions already established, opportunities for Christian Education and spiritual growth were significantly expanded. Listed below are a few examples: (All topics and themes were scripturally-based)
Annual Institute Themes: “Solutions for the Sunday School in the 21st Century: Commitment”; “Is the Family Circle Broken?”; “Nurturing the Church Community through Missions”
Youth Forums Topics: “in the World but not of the World; “Prepare for the Unexpected”; “Write the Vision, where do You See Yourself?”
Teacher’s Workshop Topics: ’Tell Me the Old story in a New Way” “What Matters to us Matters to Jesus”, “ Making God’s Love come Alive in our Sunday School.
Under the leadership of Deacon B. Miller, the youth came together to present a concert at Bethel Baptist Church on Huguenot Spring Road, Midlothian Va. and welcomed Mt. Olive International Ministries, as the newest church, to join the Union.
Other occasions to be a significant contributor to the community is evident each year in the Annual Levi Johnson Fund Raisers and Scholarship Awards given to students pursuing higher education. The Annual Picnic provides time for fun, food and fellowship for “the young and old”.
The Reverend Clementine Robinson, present President of the Union (2017-2019) continues to promote the rich heritage of the Union and looks forward to building on it as we face demands and concerns of the future.
A List of Presidents and their Tenures Follows:
Reverend John J. Nickens: 1929-1931
Deacon Levi Johnson: 1931-1962
Deacon Henry Brandon: 1962-1968
Reverend Thomas Blake: 1969-1978
Deacon Beverly Wheel, Sr.: 1979-1980
Deacon William F. Harris: 1981-1983
Mrs. Frances A. Turner: 1984-2004
Mrs. Lee Vann: 2005-2007
Deacon Beatrice Miller: 2008-2016
Reverend Clementine Robinson: 2017-2019
Today’s Sunday School Union’s Nine Member Churches are:
Bethlehem Baptist Mt. Nebo Baptist
Broad Rock Baptist Mt. Olive International
Brown Grove Baptist Mt. Sinai Baptist
First Baptist Midlothian Solid Rock Baptist