Each Sunday the Rev. Frank L. Brown held Bible classes for the neighborhood children in his home. These classes also attracted the parents of the children. Soon the need for a formal church became an important topic of discussion.
Pilgrim Baptist Church was organized by the Rev. Frank L. Brown, his wife Claracy Brown, Will Dixie, Henry Jefferson, Aaron Kelso, Sr., Catherine Long, Lucille Simmons, Carrie Weisinger, Jessie Weisinger, Minnie Williams, Rev. McAlwayne, and the Rev. Chambers. The organizational meeting was held on March 2, 1919 in the home of Charlie Collins.
Rev. Frank L. Brown was elected the first pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church in 1919. Worship services were held in a building that had originally been the tool shed of the Irmscher Construction Company but later became an ice house. This was the first building known as the Pilgrim Baptist Church and was the home of the small congregation from 1919 to 1923. In 1923 the American Legion Hall located at 1800 South Hanna Street became the second home of the Pilgrim Baptist Church when the congregation could no longer make the monthly payments on the previous building. In 1929 the Church moved to East Wallace Street into what was then the old Wheatley Social Center Building. Rev. Hosea Pinkney, was elected the second pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church and served until 1931. The pastoral election of 1931 returned the Rev. Frank L. Brown as the church’s third pastor. He served a few months then resigned. At a special meeting in August of 1931, the congregation elected Rev. John Dixie, Jr., as the fourth pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church. In 1934 under the leadership of Rev. Dixie, the membership increased and it became necessary for the church to move to its fourth building, located on the northeast corner of Eliza Street at Gay Street. The building was purchased by the congregation, torn down and rebuilt larger due to the need for larger quarters. In 1937 Pilgrim Baptist Church was incorporated by the state of Indiana. In the same year, due to the growth in membership, the building was torn down and a larger one was erected on the site. A mortgage burning ceremony was held Sunday, July 4, 1943. In 1948 larger quarters were needed again, so the building was torn down and another one built. It was completed in 1951 at a cost of $60,000. While construction was underway, worship services were held in the upstairs auditorium of the Elks Lodge Hall in the 1300 block of Lafayette Street. A mortgage burning ceremony was held on Sunday, November 18, 1962. Rev. John Dixie served as pastor for 43 consecutive years. He died on December 27, 1974. His wife Mrs. Helen Dixie, who was instrumental in the development of many of the necessary departments of the church, died on December 28, 1972. The Rev. Sam Shade, Jr., was elected the fifth pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church on Sunday, January 12, 1975. In September of 2017, Rev. Raymond C. Dix Jr. became the 6th Pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church. The future is bright for the ministry of Pilgrim!
Due to Pastor Shade’s excellent leadership and the continued growth of Pilgrim Baptist Church, plans for a new building began in 1980. Pastor Shade had a vision of the present church building we now call home. One day while sitting in his office The Spirit told him to take a walk. While walking down Eliza Street he stopped at a rock lying on the ground, and The Spirit said to him, “Build the church here.” On a very windy Sunday afternoon on March 31, 1985, the groundbreaking ceremony was held at a site on the northeast corner of Eliza and Gay Streets. In October 1985 construction began for the erection of a $3,257,333.55 edifice. Shovelfuls of dirt were turned by the Pastor, Rev. Sam Shade, Jr., Deacon Board Chair, Chester Allen, Trustee Board Chair, William (Henry) Ruffin, Planning Committee Chair, Clarence Stuart, Former Fort Wayne Mayor, Winfield Moses, and First District Councilman, Charles Redd. In 1987 the present building was completed, and the old edifice was demolished the following year. More than 900 families were members of Pilgrim Baptist in 1987 with many of them having 50 or more consecutive years of membership and service. On March 7, 1999 the Church celebrated her 80th Anniversary by burning the mortgage on the new building. This marked the last anniversary the Church would celebrate in the 20th century. Pastor Shade had reached his goal to burn the mortgage before the new millennium. We are all enjoying our present church, and we thank God for the leadership of Pastor Sam Shade, Jr. “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” Psalm 127:1
The following men have served as associate ministers of Pilgrim. The Rev. M.L. Paschall, William Caldwell, James Bledsoe, Lou David Reed, George Flowers, George Martin, Sam Shade, Jr., Chestly Whitt, Sr., Chestly Whitt, Jr., Marvin Reeves, Worship Lynch, Virgil Griffin, Sr., Virgil Griffin, Jr., Dickie Robbins, Napoleon Jones, Paul Kelsaw, Willie King, Clarence Hicks, LeRoy Page, Oscar Dowdell-Underwood, Ernest Bass, James Davis, Ernest Starks, John Dixie, Jr., John H. Dixie, Cornelius Hill, Jr., and Robert Paschall, Sr.
Rev. Frank L. Brown, Claracy Brown, Rev. Chambers, Will Dixie, Henry Jefferson, Aaron Kelso, Sr., Catherine Long, Rev. McAlwayne, Anna McAlwayne, Lucille Simmons, Carrie Weisinger, Jessie Weisinger, and Minnie Williams. Minnie Williams was the last charter member of Pilgrim Baptist Church who passed on April 22, 1989.
The Deacon and Trustee Board, Budget Committee, United Usher Board, Missionary Society (with many Circles), Music Department (at one time consisted of eight choirs, now currently 6 choirs), Sunday School, Nurture for Baptist (NBC) formerly known as Baptist Training Union (BTU), Sympathy Workers, Floral Club, Nurses’ Guild, Ministers, Deacons and Wives Fellowship, Budget Committee, Audio/Video Ministry, Christian Fellowship, Library Committee, Scholarship Committee, Covenant Class, the Sick and Shut in Ministry, the Nursery Ministry, Helping Hands Committee, and the Administrative Staff.
Loaves and Fishes Feeding Program (1981), Project READS site, Tutoring, Vacation Bible School, The Limberlost Girl Scouts, The Boy Scouts of America, Sick and Shut In Ministry, Associated Churches Food Bank, Red Cross Emergency Disaster Site, Title I training site for FWCS and other community programs and events.
Many families and individuals past and present have been instrumental in the growth of Pilgrim Baptist Church. Due to their faith, hard work, cooperation and the many blessings of Jesus Christ we are where we are today. We will continue to be grateful and reflect on our past as we envision our future. It's time for church members to draw closer together, to celebrate God's faithfulness to our church and together step forward in faith. We believe God will continue to bless the work of our hands for the sake of the gospel of Jesus!