“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Acts 11:26
We are blessed to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and laid the foundation for our ministry in our local and global communities. As we honor our heritage, we also give thanks for a new season in the life of our congregation.
The history of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church dates back to 1887 when several African-American families living in or near Bedford Center began meeting in their homes for praise and worship service. The church was organized and officially registered as a religious corporation in the State of New York in that year. The founding date on the church seal is 1894.
Early church records indicate that Reverend F. C. “Nay” McGee was Antioch’s first pastor who served from 1887 through 1894. Reverend McGee led the congregation during its early years when members were still meeting for worship in private homes. He likely oversaw the plans for building Antioch’s first church building in the section of town then known as Bedford Centre.
During Reverend McGee’s administration, the church was built with the aid of neighbors and was located near the junction of Bedford Center and Harris Road. The land was donated by local nursery owner and real estate broker, Alfred J. Tharp and his wife Martha. In 1894, ground was broken and the cornerstone was laid for the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. The original site was recently identified on a Westchester County map (Antioch was then labeled “COLD CH,” standing for “Colored Church”).
The building was dedicated and the first sermon was delivered by guest pastor Reverend Victor W. Benedict, pastor of the Croton Falls Baptist Church, on August 7, 1895. He remarked, “In the great work of building Christ’s spiritual temple, we must be co-workers with the Holy Spirit.”
In its earliest years, Antioch members were baptized in David’s Brook, which flows just to the west of the original building site.
For many years, one of Reverend McGee’s children, George, would travel to Bedford Hills from his home in Red Bank, New Jersey, to deliver an emotional oral history of Antioch. Leonard Brown was another one of McGee’s children. Leonard and his wife Evelyn were very active members of Antioch, as are many of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren today.
By 1916 many of Antioch’s members were living in the Bedford Hills-Katonah area. In this year, Hannah T. Tompkins deeded to Antioch a parcel of land located near the intersection of present-day Haines and North Bedford Roads in Bedford Hills. In 1918, the Antioch Baptist Church building was physically moved three miles down Bedford Center Road to its new home near the railroad station. Mr. & Mrs. Nelson B. Williams, residents of Bedford, donated $500 to cover the cost of the move.
Forty-seven members and growing. At that time the congregation consisted of 47 members. Reverend William O. Gordon was ordained as pastor on December 7, 1916, and served until September 21, 1925. The cornerstone was laid on August 30, 1918. The Sunday School room was added to the building later that year.
A dedication ceremony for the newly situated church was held on February 9, 1919, during which the Reverend Dr. William A. Granger, president of the Union Baptist Association, preached.
In August 1926, Reverend M. M. Pendelton became the pastor of Antioch.
The Sawmill River Parkway Comes to Bedford: The Move to Railroad Avenue
After a mere ten years in its new location, Saw Mill River Parkway construction plans resulted in the Antioch Baptist Church building being moved again. In 1927, the Westchester County Parkway Commission paid $10,000 for the Church property, and in 1928 the church was moved a relatively short distance to the north. The three lots, at the corner of Railroad and School Streets, were acquired from the Cunningham Coal & Lumber Company. A new cornerstone was laid beside the original. On September 28, 1928, the first Bible Class was held with twelve members in attendance.
In 1929, a church committee headed by Eliza Fisher arranged for the purchase of a vacant cottage across from Railroad Avenue. The cottage was then moved across the street and next door to the Church to serve as a parsonage. Mrs. Fisher later recalled that, to finance the move, “Mrs. O.V. Huffman solicited the help of many of her friends.”
In April 1933, Antioch named Reverend Richard Byrd, who continued Reverend Pendleton’s endeavor to move the congregation forward. Reverend Byrd served until mid-1939.
After Reverend Byrd’s departure, Antioch was under the pastor-ship of Reverend Frederick Peagrim. His fervent preaching and teaching continued to spiritually uplift the growing congregation.
Reverend Sweppie J. W. Malbon began as pastor in 1942. His pastoral ministry focused on the spiritual as well as organizational needs of the church. He also encouraged having fellowship with other churches in the surrounding area.
Reverend Malbon’s term ended mid-1952, with the congregation voting to end his service due to the view that his leadership style had been too autocratic. It was the first time in its history that the Antioch fellowship was in turmoil and in need of healing.
On June 15, 1952, Reverend Perry Bryant became Antioch’s interim pastor, after serving as a minister in New York City. He recognized the need for rebuilding and renewing. He served the congregation well in this capacity until August, 1956.
The next pastor, Reverend Verner Matthews was named on September 1, 1957. Under his leadership fundraising campaigns were launched to expand and remodel Antioch’s Railroad Avenue building. These improvements resulted in the addition of a wing, refurbishment of the church basement, and the purchase of an organ for the sanctuary. During periods of construction and renovation, the fellowship worshiped with other churches in the community. Reverend Matthews served as pastor until 1959.
Reverend Matthews was followed by Reverend Billie Dukes. He was the interim minister from March through November 1960 and was then named pastor of Antioch. Reverend Dukes worked to improve inter-church and interracial relations in the community. He took an active interest in Antioch’s young people, instituting a Baptist Youth Fellowship and an active summer Vacation Bible School.
After his resignation, effective August 31, 1964, Reverend T. W. Sutton became the interim minister and served through June 1965.
In a business meeting on March 15, 1965, a motion was carried unanimously that the church extend a call to Reverend Rufus A. Strother, Jr. to serve as pastor. He accepted the call, and he and his wife Frances and two daughters, Andrea and Marcia, moved into the parsonage on June 12, 1965.
Self-reliance and economic growth. Pastor Strother’s tenure was pivotal for Antioch, and he is widely credited with providing the vision, strength, and nurturing to allow the Church to grow and become a spiritual force in the Northern Westchester community.
Antioch became affiliated with the Central Hudson Baptist Association on September 22, 1965.
In 1968 the Messina property, just south of the church property, was purchased. The warehouse on the property was remodeled to provide for a youth center that included a kitchen, lounge, and social area. Construction began in 1970 to build two apartments over the youth center. Donations from congregants ranged from $50 to $500. This activity reflected Pastor Strother’s vision for a Self-Help Program which provided affordable housing for members of the congregation. Launching a campaign for a Youth Summer Employment Program, Pastor Strother identified jobs in local industries, some of which became permanent employment opportunities.
Deeply saddened by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, Antioch channeled its energy in a positive direction by instituting a series of annual events designed to commemorate and honor Dr. King’s name, ideas, and work. The church continues to hold events that include a Memorial Service involving area churches of all denominations and synagogues, a banquet, and a seminar held on the nationally observed birthday of Dr. King.
An outcome of the Dr. King era was the establishment of the North East Westchester Council on Equality (NEWCOE) which emphasized the importance of housing, economic opportunity and education. Antioch was one of the founding churches of this organization and several Antioch members held responsible positions. Under the leadership of Pastor Strother, Antioch’s position on social issues was made known through NEWCOE.
Pastor Strother continued to preach the message of an inclusive fellowship, paving the way for the congregation to become an integrated one as early as June 1972 when Margaret Grant joined as a candidate for Baptism. The membership continued to grow as new members and visitors felt the spirit of welcome at Antioch and the congregation began to outgrow its Railroad Avenue home.
Pastor’s ministry instilled the importance of self-reliance and economic growth. This teaching philosophy fostered the purchase of the Manse in Somers in 1973, and prompted exploring possibilities of acquiring a larger place of worship. Discussions regarding the purchase of the United Methodist Church, located at Church and Main Streets in Bedford Hills began in 1975.
Antioch members Ed Jones, David F. Brown, Gerard Brown, and Pastor Strother met many evenings with the Methodist trustees, under the leadership of Reverend Will Porter, to arrive at the terms for the purchase. God was in the mist of these meetings. Their negotiations proved very successful. Minutes of the June 28, 1975 Antioch Quarterly Business Meeting stated: “It was moved and carried that the trustees and Pastor Strother be empowered to and authorized to take all necessary steps in signing contracts for the purchase of the property.” Thus, the Antioch congregation was blessed to acquire the building, signing the mortgage contract January 4, 1975 and satisfying the debt in full by June 27, 1985.
The church’s move from Railroad Avenue. Renovations began immediately, and by December 1975 new siding and interior painting had been completed. Preparing the building for occupancy continued, and on March 27, 1976 at the Official Board Meeting, Pastor Strother announced, “We will leave the church on Railroad Avenue at 10:30 a.m. on Palm Sunday, April 11, 1976, and have our regular worship service in the new church at 11 a.m.”
It was not an easy decision to leave the building which had housed the congregation and its many memories for 82 years. However, Antioch had become a church on the move and the congregation joyfully marched up the hill from Railroad Avenue to its new place of worship at Church and Main Streets.
After occupying the edifice, major renovations took place, some of which included changing the altar area to accommodate a raised choir stand, the organ, and a baptistery. A vestibule was added which provided additional seating space in the sanctuary. Custom-made pews were purchased to match the existing ones. The memorial window from the Railroad Avenue building was moved and installed, and new carpeting was laid.
Enhancing the building as well as maintaining the other acquired properties was an on-going project as Pastor Strother encouraged the congregation to grow in Christian stewardship. His teaching ministry emphasized the importance of financial support, attendance at Bible study sessions, leadership responsibilities and the need for organization within the existing auxiliaries and church program in general.
On June 11, 1978, the church held its first public baptism on the front lawn. Fourteen men, women, and children, dressed in white, accepted Christ as Pastor Strother immersed them in a pool of water, representing the death of the old life and the birth of a new life in Christ. “We decided to hold the ceremony outdoors and invite the public as part of our outreach program,” said Pastor Strother, “so they could see our church programs.”
Growth and Inclusion -1983-1995: Antioch’s membership increased significantly during the 1980s, and the church became more prominent and involved in the community. Pastor Strother introduced the idea of forming a Social Issues Committee which would provide local politicians and town officials an opportunity to exchange their political views with the Antioch congregation and citizens of the community. Since its first meeting on August 22, 1983, the Social Issues Committee served as an active communications vehicle.
Antioch embarked on an expansion program in 1985 and added a new wing to the building. This addition provided more office space and rest rooms. Antioch launched another expansion project in April 1992. The completion of this project significantly increased the seating capacity in the sanctuary. During these expansion undertakings, the architect, Bruce P. Helmes of The Helmes Group, became a friend and supporter of Antioch and donated time and labor. The church has been richly blessed with such friends during its history.
Pastor Strother delivered his final sermon, “The God of My Years,” to hundreds on Sunday, January 4, 2004. He was Antioch’s longest-serving pastor, having led the Church for 38 years. His sermons addressed social issues, religious tolerance, and the equality of all human beings. He always talked about the scripture that says, “You can’t love God whom you’ve never seen and not love your neighbor who you see every day.”
Bedford Town Supervisor Lee Roberts said Pastor Strother was “an inspired example of a Christian in action, a healer of wounds of both the heart and the soul. You have reached out in difficult times, not only to the community of leaders, but the community at large.”
Pastor Strother shared the end of the service with the new pastor. “Pastor-elect Dr. Paul S. Briggs, please stand,” he said, as he guided the new pastor to look at the congregation. “Here’s your family. Be good to one another.”
Pastor Rufus A. Strother, Jr., died January 20, 2005, at 74. Throughout his tenure Pastor Strother preached love. He brought people together and encouraged them to openly communicate their differences and work toward solutions. He loved people, and they loved him. His wisdom, compassion, quick wit, ready smile, and easy laugh helped pave the way toward a stronger community.
Upward and Onward. After Pastor Strother’s retirement in January 2004, The Reverend Dr. Paul S. Briggs was installed as Antioch’s new leader in March 2004 and continued the progress of this fellowship. Pastor Briggs announced new initiatives for spiritual and ministry growth at his first business meeting in July 2004. He led Antioch to move “Upward and Onward”, a vision that emphasized spiritual growth.
Under Reverend Briggs’s leadership, Antioch launched its “Raise the Roof!” fundraising campaign, with the support and cooperation of Bedford’s St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. The funds raised allowed for renovation of its Main & Church Street buildings: additional classroom space, ministry meeting rooms, a redesigned nursery, a new administrative office suite and technology upgrades.
As an accomplished artist, Pastor Briggs was instrumental in expanding the Arts Ministry to include quilting, culinary and primetime original theatre productions. He also introduced “The Salon”, a biennial event which highlighted a variety of visual, textile and performance arts. Pastor Briggs, also an accomplished drummer, would regularly play with the choir, adding his rhythmic beats on the djembe drum.
Pastor Briggs was a founding member of Unity Made Visible, a cooperation circle of The United Religions Initiative, a world-wide organization whose purpose is to promote enduring interfaith cooperation. Pastor Briggs continued Pastor Strother’s legacy of peace, community involvement and interfaith worship. On the church’s 114th anniversary, coinciding with the International Day of Peace, on September 21, 2008, Pastor Briggs led a ceremony to plant a Peace Pole. Pastor Briggs called it “an Ebenezer, a stone of help”, in solidarity and in cooperation with other houses of faith.
The Youth ministry also flourished under Pastor Briggs’s leadership. He and Sister Hope, as his wife was affectionately called, expanded Antioch’s youth programs. Our youth participated in many mission trips to rebuild homes in West Virginia, Florida, and Staten Island, NY; went on yearly camping and rafting trips; and hosted Senior Citizen Brunches which continue today.
While Pastor Briggs embraced pop culture and frequently quoted everything from cartoons to celebrities to rap music in his sermons, he also embraced Antioch traditions. The congregation continued to worship and fellowship with area synagogues and churches of all denominations. Antioch joined Temple Beth El in Chappaqua for joint Seders annually.
In an interview conducted by Antioch member Mitch Horn in 2007, Reverend Briggs reflected on Antioch’s long history and the legacy forged by the Church’s founders: “It’s wonderful how Antioch starts off as this little gathering of seven families and now is able to give back to the community in a major way. That history is my history. I am part of it. Young people coming up can also embrace that history. The community worked for us to be here. We just want to continue doing that.”
Pastor Briggs holds a doctorate in art education and two master’s degrees—in art education and Biblical Literature. A practicing sculptor, Dr. Briggs came to Antioch with his wife Hope and their three children—Faith, Charity, and Luke.
After ten years with Antioch, Pastor Briggs and Sister Briggs moved to the Boston area in 2014. He left a lasting and positive effect on the congregation, the community, and beyond. Always, he reminded us to “Let our conversation be a prayer.”
Reverend Merle D. McJunkin (2015-Present)
Following the retirement of Pastor Briggs, Antioch conducted a nationwide search for their next spiritual leader. Reverend McJunkin was installed as the 14th Pastor of Antioch Baptist Church on June 15, 2015. He had been serving as Assistant Pastor/Minister of Christian Education at Grace Baptist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia for 13 years and held pastorates in Cleveland, Ohio, and Rochester, NY. A graduate of Ohio University, he earned his Master of Divinity Degree at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. His wife Karla and their daughter Shayla joined him in his move to Bedford Hills.
Early on, Pastor McJunkin outlined his Forward in Faith message: Every disciple/member at Antioch will be: Consistent in Worship Participation, Engaged in a Church Bible Study, Consistent in Giving, Discovering and Using their Spiritual Gifts, and Participating in a Service/Fellowship Ministry.
Pastor McJunkin emphasizes bible study and has presented courses such as “Get the Most Out of Studying Your Bible—Old and New Testament” and “Unwrapping Your Spiritual Gifts.” He has focused on the issue of “food insecurity” in our region and introduced a program called Harvest Community. Local farmers donated fresh-picked unsold produce which Antioch then distributed to those in need in the community.
The Railroad Avenue Project. In 2015, Antioch Trustees, Westchester County, and the Town of Bedford teamed up to investigate the possibility of using the Railroad Avenue properties, which Antioch had purchased during Pastor Strother’s tenure, for affordable housing. In a series of transactions, Westchester County bought the properties from Antioch, then transferred them to a non-profit corporation that had the mission of developing and operating the affordable housing project.
Antioch used the funds from the sale to pay off the mortgage from the 2009 renovation, renovate the exterior, and improve accessibility for all to the church building at One Strother Crossing. The non-profit corporation was named Antioch Homes to preserve the historical link between Antioch Baptist Church and the properties. Construction began March 2017, and the initial tenants took residence in December 2017. Both the education building and the pastor’s house were demolished and replaced with new modular buildings. The old church building was completely renovated and converted to four one-bedroom apartments. Altogether, the three buildings contain eight one-bedroom and four two-bedroom apartments.
New initiatives. Pastor McJunkin has implemented new ministry initiatives, missions, and outreach activities, and teaching/training courses for church staff and members. He has directed greater resources of time and energy to develop programs and activities for our children and young adults. Our youth participated in a six-week Summer Enrichment Program that offered courses in math, app development, and robotics; SAT/ACT preparation courses and a joint Civil Rights Trip with Temple Beth El to Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Atlanta. Funding for youth programs also increased from generous donors.
An Active Church. Under Pastor McJunkin’s leadership, Antioch reenacted the events of Maundy Thursday. We continued our annual commitment to feed and house homeless people for a week every winter (as a member of the Emergency Shelter Partnership””); sent Special Hurricane Relief offerings to Houston and Puerto Rico in 2017; made lap quilts for nursing home residents and T-shirt dresses for young girls in Haiti. The Social Justice Ministry held community meals, “Undoing Racism” workshops, book discussions, and a solidarity march to support our immigrant neighbors. Ministry annual days and activities fill the church calendar. And the Music Ministry continues to enrich our worship services in song and with multiple instruments of praise.
Fellowship matters. Pastor McJunkin delights in watching the Holy Spirit transform lives through the many ministries of the church. “We are a people of prayer, purpose, and passion,” says Pastor McJunkin of the Antioch fellowship. “We are family! We strive to continue being a Holy Spirit-led, ever-maturing, and ever-developing congregation where people of diverse ethnicities, worship, grow in faith and serve the Lord with gladness.”
The Antioch Missionary Baptist Church has made significant progress since its inception in 1894. Thanks will always be given to God for the original members who laid the foundation and for those who followed in their footsteps.
“And I will give you pastors according to mine heart which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah 3:15
Our leadership, since 1887:
1887 — 1894 Reverend F. C.”Nay” McGee
1895 — 1915 Church Records Not Available
1916 — 1925 Reverend William O. Gordon
1926 — 1933 Reverend M.M. Pendelton
1933 — 1939 Reverend Richard Byrd
1939 — 1942 Reverend Frederick Peagrim
1942 — 1952 Reverend Sweppie J.W. Malbon
1952 — 1956 Reverend Perry Bryant
1957 — 1959 Reverend Verner Matthews
1960 — 1964 Reverend Billie Dukes
1964 — 1965 Reverend T. W. Sutton
1965 — 2004 Reverend Rufus A. Strother, Jr.
2004 — 2014 Reverend Paul S. Briggs
2015 — Present Reverend Merle D. McJunkin
Ministers Who Came Out of the Antioch Fellowship:
Reverend Benjamin Griffin
Reverend Reuben Shelton
Reverend Willis Fowler
Reverend Henry Hobby
Reverend Edward Wright, Jr.
Reverend Willie Rogers
Reverend Marie Dorsey
Reverend Robert L. Bruce, Sr.
Reverend Gene Smith
Reverend Everett L. Newton
Reverend Aaron Parker
Reverend Darryl Smith
Reverend Patricia Robinson
Reverend Robert D. Rawlins
Reverend Archer Wilkins
Reverend Kymberly E. McNair
Reverend Tommy Jones
Minister Dr. Karen Blacks