The very rich history of Myrtle Baptist Church began with Newton’s early black residents, several of whom made their home after relocating from the west end of Boston in the mid-1800s. In 1873, records show that there were 130 blacks living in the City of Newton. First Baptist Church, now Lincoln Park Baptist Church, became their first spiritual home, some having been members since 1869. Nonetheless, feeling the need to worship in their own tradition and the freedom to sit in the front of the church as well as in the rear, they were encouraged to separate, “not with feelings of of unkindness toward our white brethren but simply for the best good of all concerned.” As a result, Thomas Johnson opened his home to like-minded neighbors, inviting them to worship with him in the old way. According to an article written by a former pastor of Myrtle, the Reverend Wade Ryan, it was “as if by divine appointment,” Deacon Thomas met Reverend Edmund Kelley in Charlestown. Kelley purportedly asked, “Don’t you people want a church in Newton?’ In response, Deacon Thomas invited him to preach to the small group. Reverend Kelley, a former slave, organized them into a society and remained pastor from 1874 to 1876.
At the monthly meeting of the First Baptist Church, September 25, 1874, it was voted that the people who applied for letters of dimission in order to form another church be granted their letters. Among those persons were, Thomas Johnson, Lymus Hicks, Sarah Simms, Henrietta Rose, Jane Brewer, and Henry Jones. Although the dimission was completed with dignity and integrity, Nathaniel T. Allen, a prominent educator and abolitionist expressed his deep regret that “our fellow colored citizens of this village have organized a church on the single basis of color…it seems that it was God’s will, for whatever His purpose, that a church called Myrtle become another proclaimer of His word among His people…”
The first church structure was built in 1875 on land given as a gift by D.C Sanger, a Deacon at Lincoln Park Baptist Church. The dedicating sermon, For the People Had a Mind to Work, was preached by Reverend H.J. Patrick, Pastor of Second Church, Newton, MA.
Reverend Peter Randolph was the second pastor and served until 1879. Under his leadership, the congregation grew from the original 18 to 39. On October 22, 1897, a fire destroyed the original church. Within a year, the church was rebuilt upon the same site as the original building. At that time, two beautiful stained glass windows, depicting “Philip Baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch” and “The Ascension” were installed. The design and building of the windows are attributed to the studios of the prominent Boston stained glass maker, George W. Spence of Spence and Bell of Scollay Square. Reverend Charles Morris (1896-1899) supervised their unveiling.
Reverend Wade Ryan (1909-1923) was said to have been especially known for his eloquence. It was also though his influence that The Daughters of Myrtle, the oldest organization of the church, was formed with a charge “to serve the church and community spiritually and financially”.
Reverend Louis Ford has had the longest tenure to date, as pastor of Myrtle. He remained in the pulpit from 1933 to 1963. He encouraged his flock to be givers, not takers. One of his proudest accomplishments was the retirement of Myrtle’s indebtedness to the Massachusetts Baptist Convention.
Myrtle has always been the focal point of the black community in West Newton. During the time between 1962 and 1965 many members of the church had their lives disrupted due to their homes being taken by eminent domain for the extension of the Massachusetts Turnpike. As a result, the church lost about half of its members due to relocation outside of the area.
The 1980s brought the church to a new juncture with the installation of one of its own sons, Reverend Howard M. Haywood as pastor, on June 16, 1985. A life-long resident of Newton, his family had resided in the city for 7 generations. Second only to Reverend Ford, Reverend Haywood was shepherd to his flock for 23 years, retiring in May 2008.
With Reverend Haywood’s consistent message of love, Myrtle has striven to become “the church where love abides.” On December 11, 2008, “The Myrtle Baptist Church Historic District” was accepted for inclusion into the NRHP. Reverend Haywood was succeeded by our current senior Reverend Brandon Thomas Crowley, a native of Rome, GA. Under Reverend Crowley’s leadership, the church has expanded upon the legacy of love and social justice to creating a church without walls that seeks to reach up, out and within through the vehicle of Spiritual Philanthropy.