We’ve Come This Far By Faith

             In  1866,  seven  freedmen  gathered  for  the  purpose  of  forming  a  church.   Receiving  the  necessary  certification  from  the  Nineteenth  Street  Baptist  Church,  these  former  slaves  set  themselves  apart  and  formed  the  Fifth  Baptist  Church  of  Washington,  DC.   They  called  as  their  pastor  the  Reverend  John  Henry  Brooks,  a  former  Union  army  wagon  driver.  

            Over  the  past  one hundred fifty two  years,  the  Fifth  Baptist  Church  has  done  some  growing  and  some  changing.   We  have  grown  in  number  and  we  have  changed  many  things,  including  our  name  to  Vermont  Avenue  Baptist  Church.   In  the  midst  of  the  astonishing  growth  and  change,  some  things  have  remained  persistently  the  same.   We  have,  through  the  grace  and  mercy  of  God,  continued  to  be  a  church  led  by  the  spirit,  directed  and  focused  on  the  will  of  God  and  committed  to  the  cause  of  lifting  the  name  of  Jesus.   We  praise  God  for  the  gift  of  constancy  that  has  kept  our  light  burning,  as  a  city  set  on  a  hill,  guiding  the  lost,  the  disinherited  and  those  in  search  of  salvation  to  Him. 

Vt Ave Baptist in
        1899Rev. John Henry Brooks            Our  church  has  been  blessed  to  have  only  six  pastors.   Reverend  John  Henry  Brooks,  our  first  pastor,  shepherded  the  flock  from  1866  until  his  death  in  1884.   Under his pastorate, the church was renamed and erected what is now the main sanctuary of the church.

Rev. George W. Lee            We  were  blessed  when  God  sent  Reverend  George  Wellington  Lee  to  be  our  second  Pastor.   From  1885  to  1910,  Reverend  Lee  guided  us,  lending  his  world‐renowned  stature  and  reputation  to  our  burgeoning  position  as  one  of  the  nation’s  leading  churches.  During Reverend Lee's Pastorate, the current front of the main church building, along with it's distinctive tall steeple, was constructed. 

Rev. james E.
        Willis            From  his  deathbed  in  1910,  Reverend  Lee  commissioned  Reverend  James  Edward  Willis,  our  third  pastor,  to  tend  to  the  church.   Reverend  Willis,  “Little  David”  as  he  was  affectionately  called,  was  an  extraordinary  preacher.   His  leadership,  from  1911  until  1928,  kept  the  spirit  and  development  of  our  church  on  fire  for  the  Lord.   During his pastorate, the back of the main sanctuary was built, containing the current choir loft and pulpit.

Rev C. T. Murray            At  Reverend  Willis’  sudden  death  in  1928,  the  Lord  furnished  the  church  with  Reverend  Chasteen  Theophilus  Murray.   From  1929  until  his  retirement  in  1969,  Reverend  Murray  steered  this  congregation  toward  unparalleled  growth  and  development  in  the  midst  of  some  of  our  nation’s  most troubling  times.   During  his  forty  years  of  pastorate,  Reverend  Murray  reorganized  the  church  and  formed  countless  clubs  and  auxiliaries,  while  numerically  and  spiritually  we  continued  unprecedented  growth.   During his  pastorate, the C.T. Murray Extension Center building was erected, enlarging the classroom space, adding a larger cafeteria, kitchen, and church office, and a multipurpose Roof Garden for outdoor activities.


Rev. John R. Wheeler            At  the  announcement  of  his  retirement,  Reverend  Murray  recommended  that  Reverend  John  Rayford  Wheeler,  a  son  of  the  church,  become  its  fifth  pastor.   On  March  2,  1969,  Reverend  Wheeler  was  installed  as  pastor  and  an  era  of  leadership  began  that  would  propel  us  into  an  unmatched  position  in  our  nation  and  in  various  parts  of  the  world.   March  of  1969  was  less  than  a  year  after  the  riots  in  DC  launched  a  mass  exodus  from  the  urban  neighborhoods  of  our  past  to  the  newly  developed  and  integrated  suburbs  for  many  of  our  people.   In  spite  of  the  challenges  of  urban  withdrawal  and  abandonment,  Reverend  Wheeler  used  his  unique  style  and  personality  to  consistently  lead  the  nation’s  Baptist  Churches  in  giving  to  Foreign  Missions.   Under  his  leadership,  we  were  the  first  African  American  Baptist  Church  to  give  $50,000  to  the  Foreign  Mission  Board.   Our  purchase  and  gift  of  a  church  to  the  Baptist  congregation  in  Kwa  Mashu,  Zululand,  South  Africa,  stands  as  testament  to  the  magnitude  and  commitment  of  Reverend  Wheeler’s  zeal  for  missions.    

In  the  early  1990’s,  while  other  churches  were  finding  homes  in  the  suburbs,  Reverend  Wheeler  led  our  congregation  to  construct,  then  retire  the  mortgage  on  the  John  R.  Wheeler  Family  Life  Center,  a  facility  complete  with  a  bowling  alley,  an  exercise  room,  a  modern  cafeteria  and  a  luxurious  banquet  hall.   Our  Family  Life  Center  serves  as  a  model  for  churches  interested  in  the  holistic  approach  to  ministry.   It  has  allowed  us  to  open  our  doors  to  numerous  groups  and  individuals,  some  of  whom  who  have  no  church  affiliation  or  rearing.   The  Family  Life  Center  has  proven  to  be  an  invaluable  missionary  tool  in  our  ministry.  

Reverend  Wheeler’s  tireless  dedication  to  leading  souls  to  Christ  and  helping  families  as  they  struggle  to  improve  their  lives  has  made  the  name  Vermont  Avenue  Baptist  Church  synonymous  with  “Missions”.   In  addition  to  the  “firsts”  in  Foreign  Missions,  and  our  standard  setting  Family  Life  Center,  Reverend  Wheeler’s  vision  led  us  to  the  establishment  and  implementation  of  the  city’s  first  “Shoe  Fund”.   Children  all  over  this  city  have  been  provided  appropriate  shoes  empowering  them  to  attend  school  without  the  embarrassment  and  physical  peril  of  worn  and  tattered  shoes.   The  Higher  Education  Fund,  another  accomplishment  under  Reverend  Wheeler,  provides  assistance  to  college  students  in  the  purchase  of  books  and  supplies.   These  programs,  in  addition  to  the  monetary  gifts  supporting  Historically  Black  Colleges  and  Universities  and  Baptist  Seminaries,  have  assisted  thousands  in  their  quest  for  a  more  abundant  life.  

Our  dedication  to  missions  has  been  just  a  part  of  the  ongoing  ministry  of  our  church.   Most  importantly,  Reverend  Wheeler  has  continued  in  the  legacy  of  those  pastors  before  him  in  preaching  the  Word  of  God.   We  have  remained  a  church  wholly  dependent  on  God  as  our  source  and  provider  of  every  good  and  perfect  gift.   It  is  through  the  hearing  of  the  Word  that  we  have  benefited  most.   Reverend  Wheeler’s  distinctive  sermonic  lessons  have  brought  us  all  to  a  higher,  more  intense  appreciation  for  the  truth  in  the  Word  that  makes  us  free.  

Rev. Cornelius

    In 2007, after the passing of Rev. John R. Wheeler, the church confirmed the naming of Co-Pastor Cornelius Wheeler as the sixth Pastor of Vermont  Avenue  Baptist  Church.  Rev. Cornelius Wheeler had served as Co-Pastor for five years and directed the church during the long illness of his father.  His dynamic, bible-based, lesson-focused ministry serves as the foundation for a church that continues  to  prove  itself  relevant  to  the  present,  standing  on  our  history,  and reaching  for  the  future  in  the  name  and  cause  of  Jesus  Christ. 

Under his leadership, the church undertook a significant upgrade to the main sanctuary building.  This effort maintained the original look and feel of the historic sanctuary while adding in new air control systems, a state of the art sound system, a new floor layout for the lower level, upgraded restrooms, new Sunday School classrooms, and a new lighting system for the sanctuary.  Our dedication to missions, both national and international, was continued as Rev Wheeler traveled reaffirmed our work with Lott Carey and traveled to several countries to spread the gospel. In 2016, due to health concerns he retired and is now Pastor Emeritus. 

At present, the church has elected Rev. Isaac A. Fox to serve as Acting Interim Pastor until a new Pastor is selected.

We  have  so  much  for  which  to  be  thankful!    

Our Former Pastors

 Reverend John H Brooks
Reverend George W. Lee

Reverend James E. Willis
Reverend Chasteen T. Murray
Reverend John R. Wheeler

Reverend Cornelius R. Wheeler