Our History & Legacy

A Tour Through Historic Vermont Avenue Baptist Church

Walk with Pastor John J. Cox through our historic building and hear archives of our past. Produced by the Black Church Archives Project (BCAP), a digital archives agenda focused on preserving and digitizing invaluable assets held by Black congregations in North America. The central objectives are preservation and digitization. The work involves digitizing nineteenth and twentieth-century records owned by North American Black Protestant churches and building a web-based archive to preserve them. Understanding African American religious institutions as retainers of civic, cultural, economic, and political material culture, BCAP seeks to: preserve letters, photos, minutes, bulletins, recordings, ephemera, and papers that describe the institutions and communities generating them at formative points in American history. This project focuses on churches founded immediately after the American Civil War and the 50 years following.

Our Historic Pastoral Line

Rev. John Henry Brooks (1866-1884)
Rev Brooks VABC History
Rev. George Wellington Lee (1885-1910)
VABC Rev. George Wellington Lee
Rev. James Edward Willis (1911-1928)
Rev. James Edward Willis VABC
Rev. Chasteen Theophilus Murray (1929-1969)
Chasteen Theophilus Murray
Rev. John Rayford Wheeler (1969-2007)
Rev. John R. Wheeler
Reverend Cornelius Rayford Wheeler (2007–2016)
Reverend Dr. Isaac Alexander Fox (2016–2018)
Rev. Isaac Fox VABC Interim Pastor
Rev. Dr. John J. Cox (2018-present)
Rev. Dr. John J. Cox

Reverend John Henry Brooks (1866 – 1884)

Under his Pastorate the Church was named the Fifth Baptist Church and the main sanctuary of the Church was built. He established a number of benevolent organizations.

He organized the Mt. Bethel Association which is still in operation today. He was a leader among the Baptist churches of his day. He labored to the end and had one of the larges recorded funerals at his death for a person of color in Washington DC.

Reverend George Wellington Lee (1885 – 1910)

God blessed us by sending Reverend George Wellington Lee to be our second Pastor. Reverend Lee guided us, lending his world-renowned stature and reputation to our burgeoning position as one of the nation’s leading churches.

During his pastorate, he erected the bell tower with its distinctive tall steeple to house a railroad bell that was given to him through the courtesy of one of the railroad companies because of running so many successful preaching excursions to Richmond, VA. He had the original Church incorporation amended to rename the Church to the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in 1897.

From his deathbed in 1910, he commissioned our third pastor – Rev. James E. Willis.

Reverend James Edward Willis (1911 – 1928)

Our third pastor, Reverend James Edward Willis, or “Little David” as he was affectionately called, was an extraordinary preacher. Under his leadership, he kept the spirit and development of our church on fire for the Lord. During his pastorate, the back of the main sanctuary was built, containing the choir loft and pulpit. Rev. Willis died suddenly in 1928.

Reverend Chasteen Theophilus Murray
(1929 – 1969)

The Lord blessed us with our fourth pastor, Reverend Chasteen Theophilus Murray. He steered the congregation toward unparalleled growth and development in the midst of troubling times. During his forty years of pastorate, Rev. Murray reorganized the church and formed countless clubs and auxiliaries, while numerically and spiritually we continued unprecedent growth. During his pastorate, the C. T. Murry Extension Center building was erected, enlarging the classroom space, added a larger cafeteria, kitchen and church office, and a multipurpose Roof Garden for outdoor activities. At the announcement of his retirement, he recommended our fifth pastor – Rev. John R. Wheeler.

Reverend John Rayford Wheeler
(1969 – 2007)

Rev John R. Wheeler, our fifth pastor, from 1969 to 2007. Being installed less than a year after the riots in DC launched a mass exodus from the urban neighborhoods of our past to the newly developed and integrated suburbs for many of our people. Despite the challenges of urban withdrawal and abandonment, Rev Wheeler used his unique style and personality to consistently lead the nation’s Baptist Churches in giving to Foreign Missions. Under his leadership, we were the first African American Baptist Church to give $50,000 to the Foreign Mission Board. Our purchase and gift of a church to the Baptist congregation in Kwa Mashu, Zululand, South Africa, stands as a testament to the magnitude and commitment of Rev. Wheeler’s zeal for missions. We constructed, then retired the mortgage on the John R. Wheeler Family Life Center, a facility completed with a bowling alley, an exercise room, a modern cafeteria, and a luxurious banquet hall. Our Family Life Center serves as a model for churches interested in the holistic approach to ministry. It has allowed us to open our doors to numerous groups and individuals, some of whom have no church affiliation or rearing. The Family Life Center has proven to be an invaluable missionary tool in our ministry.

Reverend Cornelius Rayford Wheeler
(2007 – 2016)

In 2007, after the passing of Rev. John R. Wheeler, the church confirmed the naming of Reverend Cornelius Rayford Wheeler as our sixth pastor. His dynamic, bible-based, lesson-focused ministry served as a foundation for a church that continued to prove itself relevant to the present, standing on its history, and reaching for the future in the name and cause of Jesus Christ.

Under his leadership, the church undertook a significant upgrade to the main sanctuary building. This effort maintained the original look and feel of the historic sanctuary while adding in new air control systems, a state-of-the-art sound system, a new floor layout for the lower level, upgraded restrooms, new Sunday School classrooms, and a new lighting system for the sanctuary.

Our dedication to missions, both national and international, was continued as Rev. Wheeler reaffirmed our work with Lott Carey and traveled to several countries to spread the gospel. Due to health concerns, he retired in 2016 and became Pastor Emeritus. The church elected Rev. Isaac A. Fox to serve as Interim Pastor until a new pastor was selected.

Reverend Dr. Isaac Alexander Fox
(Interim 2016 – 2018)

Reverend Dr. Isaac Alexander Fox, our first Interim Pastor served for 21 months as we searched for a new Pastor. Under his leadership the church continued to grow and prosper financially. The search committee presented the final three candidates in January 2018, and the church selected Rev. Dr. John J. Cox.

Rev. Dr. John J. Cox (2018 – present)

We welcome you to our proud and historic church. Pastor Rev. Dr. John J. Cox and the church family invite you to join us each Sunday and throughout the week for praise, worship, study, and service. To learn more about our current Pastor, click below.