Our church was not always known by this name. In 1910, several Slovak families from Czechoslovakia moved from Pennsylvania to Virginia. In their desire to continue their Sunday worship, they held services in the homes of the Stefan Ukrop family, the Juraj Ukrop family and the Jan Chudy family. Later other families joined the group.
During 1911, Rev. Andrew Slabey, Sr., pastor of a Slovak Baptist Church in Philadelphia, visited several times to conduct services for these families. Then in January, 1912, the group became the Slovak Baptist Mission with twenty-six listed as charter members. Elected to serve this mission were: George Ukrop, Deacon; Stefan Ukrop, Clerk; Martin Gregor, Treasurer and Trustee; John Chudy, Trustee; and Mrs. Anna Chudy, Sunday School teacher. They received financial support for this endeavor from the Virginia Baptist State Mission Board.
At the historic business meeting of March 30, 1913, the Slovak Baptist Mission was constituted as First Slovak Baptist church. The first full-time minister was Rev. Matthew Steucek, who served until 1914. George and Stefan Ukrop and John Chudy gave three acres of land and the members built the first frame church. It was dedicated in November, 1914. Rev. Paul Moravski then served the church from 1915-1918. Then Rev. Andrew Slabey, Sr. resumed his service as minister through 1928.
1921 was a momentous year when two rooms and a vestibule were added to the church. In June, 1912, the Czechoslovak Baptist Convention was held at the church. By 1922, 104 persons were enrolled in Sunday School. This was the first year that some English was introduced into the church services. The women of the church started a W.M.U. circle in 1925.
Rev. S. B. Kovacs pastored the church from 1930 to 1937. In 1931, additional rooms were added to the church and a baptistery was installed. Previous baptisms took place in the stream next to the church. Then in 1932, the name of the church was changed to Poplar Springs Slovak Baptist Church, being named for the railroad station nearby.
In March, 1938, evangelistic meetings were conducted in English for the first time. By the mid 1940s, the services were conducted both in Slovak and English. The church was without a pastor. From 1941 to 1945, Rev. Karel Marek served faithfully as pastor. In 1943, a newspaper “Our Church” was published and sent to the young people in service and continued after that to the membership. Also a building fund was started in 1943, and English was used more extensively in the pulpit for the benefit of the second generation.
Rev. Joseph Shereda became pastor on July 1, 1945, and served through April 1967. In 1947, the Czechoslovak Baptist Convention met at Poplar Springs and Rev. Shereda was elected President for a two-year term.
During the early 1950s the church name was changed to Poplar Springs Baptist Church and the membership continued to grow. In 1951, construction began on a new church immediately behind the old church, which was removed when the new structure was completed at a cost of $50,000. A dedication service was held on March 23, 1952 for the new brick structure of Poplar Springs Baptist Church. From 1913 to 1952, the Virginia Baptist Board of Missions and Education gave financial assistance to Poplar Springs. Then in 1952 the church became self-supporting.
In 1955, several improvements were made, including the asphalting of the church’s parking lot. Membership totaled 117. During 1956, an Educational Building was begun, as well as an enlargement to the church auditorium and additional Sunday School rooms. The church began partial support of Rev. and Mrs. G. Harold Clark, missionaries to Malaysia. On April 28, 1957, the Educational Building was dedicated.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Sochor donated land to the church in 1964, and a pastorium was built. In May 1967, the church hired a secretary, a telephone was installed, a bus ministry was started, tennis and basketball courts were built, a choir director was employed, and we began to support the Jerry Palmer missionary family. Rev. Robert Mobley became interim pastor in 1972, and on June 6, 1973, he began serving as full-time pastor until 1976.
William W. Catlett became our pastor January, 1977, and served through 2002. A Preschool Educational Building was built in 1978. In 1981, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ukrop and Mr. and Mrs. James Ukrop started an Educational Scholarship Endowment Fund. Early in 1984, we began Children’s Church and we adopted the Rick Lane missionary family. In 1985, the home of Frank and Mary Sochor was donated to the church and is maintained as a missionary residence. In 1986, we adopted the Titus Dan family. In 1990, we hired a youth director and also began the “Build For Tomorrow Today” building fund campaign. In April 1993, the Christian Life Center went under construction and was finished and dedicated on October 28, 1994.
In January, 2003, a Pastor Search Committee was put into place to interview for a new pastor. Dr. D. Gwynn Davis, Jr. became interim pastor in April, 2003. On January 13, 2004, the sanctuary was destroyed by arson’s fire. The criminal investigation is still unsolved and no one has been charged with the crime. Dr. Davis provided sound guidance for more than four years as the church grieved this loss and determined how to carry out the mission of the church for the foreseeable future. A long-range plan was explored, proposed by key leaders of the Long-Range Planning Committee, and adopted by the church in December of 2004.
Dr. Davis provided pastoral leadership through the initial two and a half years of the five year plan. Various building options were explored for rebuilding the destroyed sanctuary and plans were adopted and created by an architect. The church was reorganized in its structure and the deacon election process was changed to allow nominations to come from the congregation and be reviewed by a selection committee made up of deacons and laity elected by the church. Qualifications were reexamined and approved by the church for use by the Deacon Selection committee in this new process.
In 2006, the Pastoral Search Committee continued discussions with possible pastoral candidates and agreed to move forward with their choice. Rev. Stephen Crane, serving as pastor in Newport News, met with the committee on several occasions over six months to explore the core beliefs of the pastor and the history and heritage of the church. Pastor Stephen Crane accepted the invitation for him and his family to meet twice with the congregation in an open forum of questions and answers. This was followed by his agreement to preach a trial sermon in July of 2007. The church voted to call Rev. Stephen J. Crane as their pastor and he began serving the church in September of 2007. An installation service was celebrated the last Sunday of that month with guest speakers delivering biblical charges to the church and new pastor. The ceremony was finished with the signing of an openly published covenant between the Pastor and the Church outlining how they are to work together by the power of the Holy Spirit for the Glory of God.
In January of 2008, there was a ground-breaking service and construction of the new sanctuary began in February with amazing progress due to favorable weather for pouring the foundation and floor-slab. In August, Associate Pastor Greg Jones resigned his position to accept the call to Berean Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK. The church celebrated the many years of his fruitful ministry by hosting a farewell dinner for all the church and community friends to express their appreciation for Greg, Beth, and daughter, Anna. Greg was presented with a parting gift of a laptop computer, Beth received a gift from the women of the WMU, and Anna received a gift from the congregation and youth.
In fall of 2008, women were nominated to serve as Deacons for the first time in the church’s history. During the final quarter of 2008, deacons reviewed the traditional biblical arguments restricting women from such an office. They also examined biblical early-church teachings that lent support for women serving as Deacons. The Deacons supported making necessary changes to the wording of the Church Constitution to reflect a new policy. This policy change was to affirm women being ordained for such servant-ministry to better serve the growing needs of the church and community. The proposed change to the constitution was approved by more than ninety-percent of members present. This change resulted in three new women deacons being elected in December of 2008 for service along with men deacons. These three were among the five newly ordained Deacons in January of 2009.
A celebration for the completion of the new sanctuary was held on April 26, 2009, with special morning worship to remember the past joys and sorrows of the church members down through the years. There was a celebration of the new cornerstone immediately after the 11:00 a.m. worship, which was followed by a lunch for all in attendance. A special Dedication Service was held in the new sanctuary at 2:00 p.m. and was attended by representatives from the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the Dover Baptist Association, and the invited public, along with members and former members, and special guest, National Champion, Division II, University of Richmond Football Coach, Mike London.
We considered this day of celebration and dedication to be a crowning triumph of love, faith, and goodness overcoming the hate, anger, and violence of the arson’s fire. The vision has remained for the church to be a beacon of light, hope, and grace to all people of the community and county, country and all nations. It is the kingdom, power and glory of God that we strive to build using such wonderful tools as this new facility. To whom much is given, much is expected in return. We will whole-heartedly work together, in order to be found faithful of all entrusted to us.