Pilgrim Baptist, Minnesota’s Oldest Black Church, Celebrates its Enduring Mission After 155 Years

Pilgrim's Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Charles Gill
Pilgrim’s Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Charles Gill

Minnesota’s oldest African American church is celebrating 155 years of service this year, both inside its sanctuary and in the surrounding community. While the faithful know Pilgrim Baptist Church for its praise and worship services, many who don’t walk through its doors still reap the benefits of its organizational efforts and influence.

“Pilgrim Baptist Church is…very important to the community — not just because of the messages that it preaches, such as the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it is also a message of transformation,” said Pilgrim’s Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Charles Gill.

“When you think about the formation of the NAACP here in Saint Paul, that was done right here in Pilgrim Baptist Church,” he said. Members also helped establish the Minneapolis Urban League and the Hallie Q. Brown Center in Saint Paul, which is housed in the Martin Luther King Center.

The congregation has also worked to preserve connections after the construction of Interstate 94 cut through the Rondo community in the 1960s. Members including former pastor Rev. Dr. Floyd Massey, Jr. supported the construction of pedestrian bridges to reconnect the divided neighborhood. Rev. Massey also co-launched the Rondo-St. Anthony Highway Organization in 1956 and served as chairman of the drive to rebuild Maxfield Elementary School.

Pilgrim’s history of taking on justice and political issues began with its own establishment.

In 1863, founder Rev. Robert Hickman began preaching to approximately 50 slaves from Boone County, Missouri. Armed with the gospel, the group sought freedom.

Referring to themselves as “pilgrims,” they escaped by paddling a handmade boat up the Mississippi River until they reached Fort Snelling in 1866. There, Hickman and his followers established Pilgrim Baptist Church and held a celebratory baptismal service on November 15 in the Mississippi River.

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SOURCE: Erin Robinson 
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder