Calvary Baptist Church: A bulwark of faith, community and justice

By Teresa Hemphill The Black Lens

Editor’s Note: As Expo 74 celebrates its 50th year anniversary, the influence of the Black community in Spokane dare not be overlooked. Black pioneers settled in the area in the mid- to late 1800s, creating an active civic and faith community. There was a mindset of cultural and spiritual uplift that propelled Black settlers to stimulate a sense of collectivism for the betterment of their families and neighbors. At the African Heritage Diversity Day that took place on June 22 at Riverfront Park, Teresa Hemphill, a longtime member of Calvary Baptist Church, shared the legacy of Spokane’s oldest Black church. Part of her speech has been edited and is shared below.

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1968, I graduated from Memphis State University, now University of Memphis and shortly thereafter arrived in Spokane to live (by way of Fairchild Air Force Base). This was the start of my teaching career for Spokane School District 81, now named School Public Schools. I taught at the elementary level for 30 years. I also worked for the district office as a trainer for teachers in diversity and multicultural education.

I have been very active in the Spokane community. Early on, I was a part of a community organization that focused on justice and social change. We gave workshops to groups in and around Spokane on the subject and even took the program to Seattle. I helped organize and start The Links, Inc., Spokane Chapter, which is “one of the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of extraordinary women who are committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry.” We give scholarships, recognize community leaders, help disadvantaged families, support student development and matriculation, and raise funds to help support community organizations and activities.

I was asked to share the history of Calvary Baptist Church today because I am one of the members who has been there the longest. Shortly after arriving in Spokane, I was interviewed for my career start at Spokane School District 81. The interviewer told me about Calvary. I went there the very next Sunday and never left. This church reminded me of my home church in Tennessee. The friendliness, spirituality, education and community action were what I was accustomed to. I joined Calvary and made it my home.

As a member of Calvary Baptist Church for 56 years, I have served in many capacities including women’s ministry, youth director, choir member, and trustee board. It is my honor and privilege to share in the history of Calvary for special events such as anniversaries and programs. My daughters Tamela and Heather grew up in this church. It was and still is a village. Calvary Baptist Church has continued its mission to give service to the Lord, the community, and its members for an amazing 134 years.


The railroads brought many people to Spokane in search of a better life. Among them were Black people searching for a niche to call their own. They came in search of homes, work, and places of worship. They found no shortage of churches in Spokane, but none that could be truly called their church home.

In 1890, one year after Washington became a state, the state’s first African American church was established in the city of Spokane by a small group of African Americans. A handful of Black settlers who had been attending the First Baptist Church at Lincoln and West Second decided that it was time to organize a church of their own.

On Sunday, Feb. 9, 1890, a service was held. The sermon was titled “The Gifts and Calling of God.” Immediately following the worship Service, a meeting ensued and all present agreed that there was a need for a Black church; they committed themselves to making it happen. During the evening of Feb. 16, 1890, the small group voted to establish Calvary Baptist Church. The meeting concluded with a sermon titled, “Awake the One Sleeping and Arise from the Dead.” There was a great deal of joy and anticipation about the future. Feb. 16, 1890, began a legacy that has grown stronger over the generations.

Calvary Baptist Church was not just a place of worship; it was a community gathering place for African Americans. It was the meeting place for the following civic organizations: the Colored Men’s Business League, the Masonic Lodge, the local NAACP and served as a home to strangers, and military service members’ families. It forged a strong supporting partnership with sister churches across the region, participated in cultural exchanges with area colleges, and established its voice as an advocate for freedom by hosting mass meetings for human rights and justice. The faith community was integral in fostering the ideals of justice in the Black community of SPokane since the turn of the century.

Some of the historic achievements of Calvary include: Lifelong membership in the NAACP, being co-founders of the Pacific Northwest Baptist Convention, participation in the Expo ‘74 ceremonies, and opening its doors in the 1970s as the first Black church in Spokane to facilitate the Head Start early childhood learning program. Calvary is recognized for its historical significance by Eastern Washington University, Whitworth University and the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture; it is featured in the Seattle African American History Museum. We are proud that the Senior Choir of 1977 recorded a long playing record and toured the Northwest, and that an ongoing college scholarship was established. In 1968, Calvary hosted the memorial service for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The church also participated in the Bicentennial Celebration for Spokane. A community garden was established and members of the church grew and distributed food to members of the community. A food and clothing pantry was also established and run by our members. Calvary continues its outreach mission to the community through the soup kitchen that provides food and clothing for those in need. Reeds Hall was also renamed Andrews Hall. Recently the parsonage, home of the soup kitchen, was renamed the Andrews Annex and a television ministry was added. The history of the church has been featured on the Channel 2 Local Access Channel during Black History Month.

Calvary has the honor of having 14 outstanding pastors who have each contributed to the growth, development, and spiritual strengthening of its members over the decades. Each pastor embraces that idea that the service rendered unto others is the rent paid for one’s room on earth. The Rev. Emmett Reed was the longest acting pastor before the Rev. Dr. C. W. Andrews. Rev. Reed came to Calvary from Butte, Montana. He brought with him several people who also became members of Calvary. During his tenure, the spirit of the church was so heightened that the membership increased 700%. During his time, the present church and the parsonage was purchased. The church was also renovated and a cathedral glass window was installed in the front of the building.

Under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. C. W. Andrews, for the past 50 years, the church has continued to grow and prosper. Through his sound fiscal management and organizational skills, the church building has been updated, new ministries added, and the membership continues to grow. Rev. Andrews has led Calvary and the community during our struggles for equality and has uplifted our culture. Winning souls for Christ is foremost in his life.

Calvary is still growing from the seeds of faith that were planted by the pioneers. The roots are alive and strong today. This church is a gift for those who worship here and for those who live in our community; it is 134 years strong.