From before the American Revolution to today, Wallers Baptist Church has been ministering and offering to heal the people of Spotsylvania County and surrounding counties.
Wallers Baptist Church in Partlow, one of the oldest churches in Spotsylvania, was founded in 1769. It’s known for the notorious persecutions against its founder, the Rev. John “Swearing Jack” Waller.
Members of Wallers Baptist capped the yearlong celebration of its 250th anniversary Sept. 22, with a dedication to the founder, a homecoming luncheon, a demonstration of revolutionary marchers and period clothing worn by the men and women of the church.
Much of the church’s history centers around its founder.
His first church was Lower Spotsylvania, later called Wallers Baptist Church. It was common then to name a new church after its pastor.
Waller was a native of Partlow and, in his younger years, is said to have hated Baptists until he served on a grand jury for the trial of Lewis Craig, a Baptist missionary who had been charged with unlawful preaching. After hearing Craig’s testimony during the trial, he was convinced that God was for him. He changed his life and went from being known as “Swearing Jack” to “Preaching John.”
Fred Anderson, retired executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, described how Waller faced tremendous acts of persecution, ridicule and imprisonment simply for teaching about God. “He was a sinner. His born-again inspiration became an example to everyone.”
While in Virginia, he baptized more than 2,000 people, assisted in the ordination of 27 ministers, was confined 113 days in four different jails and started 18 churches.
He was named the apostle of the Virginia Baptist, north of the James River.
“At one time, the membership of this church was 1,500,” Anderson told the packed church. “Looks like you are on the way to reaching that today.”
The current pastor of Wallers Church, the Rev. Jojuan White, discussed the congregation’s rich history and the 250th anniversary of its founding.
“I think that John Waller would be humbled by the way we have kept his memory alive and what it took to ensure religious freedom in this country,” she said. “And if he were to come through those doors today, he would say, ‘A woman preacher?’ ”
To commemorate the event, attendees received an anniversary book that tells the history of active members throughout the years.
Mary Acors, Donna LaBelle and other members put together the book to showcase old church memorabilia, such as photos, record books, event programs and special services held by the church.
Miller Arritt III, who just turned 74, has been coming to Wallers Church for the same number of years. He was born in 1945, and his parents, Miller Jr. and Alma Arrit, brought him to church when he was just 2 weeks old. He was baptized at 12 and has continued the dedication to his church, as his parents did.
Janice Sacra, who was enjoying the celebration with friends and family members, is Wallers’ oldest active member. She will turn 99 on Oct. 12. In the memorial book, she remembers being baptized at an early age in a pool of water on the road, where you turn by County Line Baptist Church. There was also a baptism held behind the dam at Temple’s Mill Pond, which was also known as Rattle Trap Mill.
She married Joe Sacra Sr. when she was 20, and they stayed married until he died about 15 years ago. She thinks about four generations of her family have attended the church.
Pastor White summed up the day with optimism for the church.
“The future is bright for Wallers and her people. I dare say 350 years from now she will be spreading the news on this corner,” she said. “The building may change, but the message will always be the same: That Jesus’s name is proclaimed on this little corner and around the world.”
This story was updated to correct the spelling of Donna LaBelle's name.