Clairton’s Mt. Olive marks 100 years

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by Genea L. Webb
For New Pittsburgh Courier

“To God Be The Glory” is the first thing that comes to Rev. William C. Callaway’s mind when he thinks about the 100 years Mt. Olive First Baptist Church has spent bringing Jesus Christ to the residents of Clairton.

“Mt Olive has been a light in the community for the last 100 years because of its spirituality and its community outreach,” said Rev. Callaway, pastor of the church for 48 years. “We’ve been a community church. We’ve been a place for local organizations like the Boy Scouts and Alcoholics Anonymous.”

b2anncommittee
ANNIVERSARY COMMITTEE—Chairpersons and committee members: Dorothy Ellis, Wilma Reaves, Kelly Bender, Geraldine Davis, Rev. John Graves, Alma D. Jackson, Shirley Sanders, Yolanda Wade, Deacon Carlton Wade and Rashida Webb. Not shown: Carmela King.

Mt. Olive First Baptist Church began as a prayer band meeting from house to house. The group organized into a church in 1910 in the home of Mrs. Mary Williams. The church’s first pastor was Rev. J. Dowling. Under Dowling’s direction, church members began worshipping at a building on Park Avenue, which housed the Liberty Theater.

Members held services in that building under the leadership of two other preachers—Rev. Spears of McKeesport and later, Rev. Spears of Pittsburgh.

It wasn’t until Rev. Columbus McElroy bought a large home on Waddell Avenue in Clairton that the church moved to the attic of his home. Membership grew and it was realized that a larger space was needed.

In 1921 the church’s current yellow brick building on Waddell Avenue was completed and dedicated. McElroy remained pastor until his death in 1927.

Following McElroy’s death, Mt. Olive First Baptist Church had several pastors including Rev, Wright and Rev. Loman Hatfield and Rev. Moses.

In 1930, Rev. Ernest W. Starks from Monumental Baptist Church in Pittsburgh accepted the call to pastor Mt. Olive. Starks worked tirelessly throughout the Great Depression years to help the church. It was able to burn its first mortgage and buy pews for the sanctuary.

After Starks’ death in 1945, Mt. Olive’s assistant pastor, Rev. L. McFarland, conducted services until a new pastor was installed.

Reverend Paul M. Grimmit established the church office and the publication of weekly bulletins. He also helped the church purchase a furnace and a parsonage, located on Sixth Street in Clairton.

Reverend James H. King was installed as Mt. Olive’s pastor in 1949. The church grew spiritually and physically under his leadership. Several rooms were added, the dining hall was enlarged, a choir loft was added, and new equipment was bought for the church office. He also installed carpet and pulpit furniture. King died on May 16, 1962.

Current pastor Rev. William C. Callaway became the pastor six months later. In less than a year as pastor, Callaway paid off the mortgage of the previous renovations. In addition, a new parsonage was purchased and paid for, improvements were made to the church building and many new programs were implemented to allow members to have more direct participation in worship services and church services.

In 1986, the church added the E.W. Starks Annex educational wing. In addition, the sanctuary and dining room were remodeled. The sound system was purchased and a tape ministry was started. Callaway led the drive “Debt Free in ’93” and the final payment was made in September of that year.

The church has also been able to purchase two vans and start a youth ministry and the Mt. Olive Soup Kitchen.

Mt. Olive currently has 300 to 400 members, said Rev. Callaway.

“Reverend Callaway is the best thing that ever happened to Mt. Olive,” said Pleasant Hills resident Charles Williams, a member of the church since 1961. “I love the church and I love the people in the church. The pastor is my main man. I will be in church Sunday if I have to walk.”

To commemorate Mt. Olive’s 100 years, a banquet was held at the Willow Room in Rostraver June 25. On June 26 a 100th anniversary concert was held. Former and current Mt. Olive members joined their voices together to celebrate the occasion.

“We sang old songs that we sang in the last 40 years up until songs that are popular now,” Rev. Callaway said.

Lifelong Mt. Olive member Virginia B. Williams enjoyed both events and was proud to see her church getting the recognition it deserves.

“I like singing a lot and I like our pastor. He tries to give us the Word and he is a nice person,” Williams said.

All events culminated in a Sunday morning service at Mt. Olive June 27.

Although Mt. Olive has passed a milestone, Callaway still sees the church as a viable entity for the Clairton community for years to come.

“Mt. Olive will remain a stable church because of the roots of the people. I think there will be enough Black people in Clairton to keep the church going,” Rev. Callaway said.

(Editors note: The church history does not have the first names of the two Rev. Spears, or Rev. Wright, and no one at the church knew them.)

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