To a casual observer, nothing suggests there’s anything special about the church at 616 S. Third St. in Yakima.
But Mount Hope Baptist Church is a landmark. It is the oldest Black church in the Yakima Valley, serving the community for 114 years and leading to the formation of other churches in the area.
Its former pastor believes it still has a mission to fulfill in reaching out to the community, Black, white and Latino.
“We are supposed to be a light to the community,” said the Rev. Robert Trimble, who served as the church’s pastor for 15 years.
Churches began to play a role in the Black community in the late 18th century when slaves converted to Protestant Christianity during what was described as the “Awakenings.” Black people mainly joined Baptist and Methodist churches.
While Christianity’s message of equality before God appealed to enslaved people, white slave owners insisted on their slaves attending white-controlled churches, where they were taught that obeying their masters was their highest duty, in part to quash any ideas of escape or rebellion.
But many of these enslaved people also attended clandestine meetings, where African traditions melded with evangelical Christianity, and spirituals gave them hope for both spiritual salvation and freedom from their own temporal bondage.
After the Civil War, the Black church in the South came into the open, as Black ministers from the northern states came to establish churches.
Churches would become not just places of worship but the social centers for their communities. Churches served as bases of operation for the civil rights movement, with clergymen such as the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy assuming leadership roles in the fight for equality.
Mount Hope Baptist Church was founded Oct. 14, 1906, when Yakima was still known as North Yakima. Among its charter members were Ole and Lucy Wiles Washington, who were considered among the earliest Black settlers in the Yakima Valley.
And Mount Hope, along with Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was founded two months later, also became social centers of the Valley’s Black community. The churches provided homes for women’s social clubs, the NAACP, an Elks Lodge and the local lodge of the Prince Hall Masons, a branch of Freemasonry.
Among the church’s congregants were the Spearman family, which included Ted Spearman, who would become the first Black attorney in Yakima and later a judge in Kitsap County Superior Court.
The church also spawned two other churches in the Valley, Moxee Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, and Greater Faith Baptist Church.
Mount Hope continues to operate, but Trimble noted that many of its older members have either moved or died. But he believes the church has the potential to continue as a force in the community, particularly among the homeless people who camp near it.
“I don’t think Mount Hope is in a bad location. It is in a good location. We just need to serve better,” Trimble said.