Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Russell Church Paying Tribute to 20-Year Leader

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Russell Church Paying Tribute to 20-Year Leader

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Michael Anderson, County Line staff writer

Russell Missionary Baptist Church has come a long way since it was organized in 1916 in a 600-square-foot schoolhouse a mile west of the present site on Sandridge Road, a rural stretch of blacktop between county roads 209 and 739.

During the ensuing 85 years, church membership has soared from 16 founding worshipers to nearly 900 today under the spiritual leadership of 12 preachers, beginning with the Rev. J.F. McBride for the first 14 years and including the Rev. Ronald L. Baker, a former-iron-worker-turned-man-of-the-cloth, for the past two decades.

On Nov. 3, past and present members will attend a celebration in honor of Baker's long tenure as pastor of the congregation in the Russell community north of Green Cove Springs.

"It'll be a special tribute to our pastor's 20th anniversary," said Clay County Tax Collector Jimmy Weeks, the church's music director and head deacon. "He does a very good job, and the church is growing by leaps and bounds. We're going to honor him for his 20 years of service and have a dinner on the grounds, which we usually only do during our homecoming in May."

Weeks joined Russell Baptist in 1975. At that time, the Rev. Jack Hall had been the pastor for about 25 years and would serve another six years before turning over his church to Baker, a brand new preacher whose previous employment was in an entirely different field.

"He was an iron worker by trade from Pennsylvania," Weeks said. "His father and brothers and a lot of other family members were iron workers. He came to Florida laying steel for coal-fired [generating] plants."

Cindy Baker, the pastor's wife, said they moved to Florida in fall 1980.

"He was a steel worker at the Seminole Electric power plant in Palatka," she said. "He iron-worked for 14 years."

After she said he "felt the call" to enter the ministry in February 1981, he left the construction industry and, nine months later, was in the pulpit. …

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