Greater Sixty Aid Baptist Church has come a long way from its origins under a stand of palmetto trees. But, its members say, the purpose of the church reflected in its name has remained: aid.

It was in 1876 that 60 Christians formed Sixty Aid Baptist Church as an organization to not only worship but to offer assistance in the Black community.

On Sunday, the church celebrates its 145 years and a tradition that continues.

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“It’s a giving church,” said Edna Johnese Lipscomb, the great-great-granddaughter of one of the founding members. “If somebody is in need … that was the founding of the church in the beginning, people meeting other people’s needs.”

The church continued to meet under the palmettos until it was able to purchase the lot for its first church on Perkins Road at what is now Moss Side Lane. A 30-foot wooden building that came with the property served as a sanctuary that was lighted with oil lanterns, and a bell tower was built outside.

In 1923, the Rev. W.M. Pitcher became the church’s new pastor. Under his leadership, the old sanctuary was remodeled with indoor plumbing, electric lights and modern fixtures. The improvements led the congregation to add “Greater” to the church’s name, said the Rev. James Barrett, Greater Sixty Aid’s pastor since 2008.

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Pitcher would remain the church’s pastor for 72 years — nearly half of the church’s history. Obviously, he left a lasting impression. He committed much of the Bible to memory. He also founded the Emmanuel Aid Society to expand ministry beyond the church.

“He always did by the Bible, and he always treated everyone the same no matter what income you had,” Lipscomb said. “He always told the members, ‘You look for the ones that have the money to do things for the ones who have less.’ He was always doing things to improve the church.”

At 98, Virginia Carter is Greater Sixty Aid’s oldest member. She also one of Pitcher’s daughters. He had a prayer time each morning in the home, she recalled, and people who knew about it would stop by to participate, sometimes filling the house.

“Naturally, you’re not going to say, ‘No, you can’t come in today,’” Carter said.

When Pitcher retired in 1995, his grandson, the Rev. Reginald Pitcher, became pastor.

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The church grew and, in 1952, moved to Rabey Street in the Valley Park neighborhood, where many of its members lived. Greater Sixty Aid might have remained just a couple of blocks west of College Drive if Walmart had not decided to locate there. Walmart offered the church enough money that, with the money it had saved, Greater Sixty Aid could build a much larger, more modern structure on Gardere Lane, which it did in 2004.

That move was difficult for a congregation, many of whom lived near the sanctuary.

“I think in the beginning, they weren’t agreeing with it,” Lipscomb said. “In the end, the majority always wins.”

Relocating to Gardere has brought Sixty Aid new members from that neighborhood, Barrett said.

But the church is still connected to its founding, with many congregants descendants of founding members.

“Those main 10 families’ descendants are still here today,” Barrett said.

Email George Morris at gmorris@theadvocate.com.