And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
O'Kelly Chapel Missionary Baptist Church was founded in 1813 by African American families during the Slavery Era, when African Americans did not have the freedom of worship. The endurance of O’Kelly Chapel is a testament of their faith and a monument to their courage and tenacity.
O'Kelly Chapel Missionary Baptist Church was founded in 1813 by African American families during the Slavery Era.
The first parcel of land occupied by the Church was given by Dr. F. L. O’Kelly on February 15, 1882.
Two additional acres were acquired for $24. Construction of the first building began Dec. 18, 1902. Right of way to water was on record April 27, 1903.
November, 1953, Rev. E. D. Harris was called to minister. He organized the first choir and served 35 years, until retirement.
With the land donated by Mrs. Mary Brooks, which is now our present site, the church moved forward with dedication and determination.
The present church building was completed in March 1969. The old church building (across the street) was torn down and that land is now our Cemetery.
The O'Kelly Chapel Cemetery is filled with numerous slave graves and is listed with the Gwinnett County Historical Society.
It is unknown where O'Kelly Chapel held its worship services, but is believed to be beside a clear running spring beneath an arbor of trees. Their “meeting place" was just over the hill from our current church. This was not an unusual start for many African Americans churches in southern rural communities. Before and after Emancipation, they conducted their praise and worship services in secret places in the woods. These clearings were commonly referred to as "brush arbors" and "bush arbors". Their floors were covered with low growing shrubs and they were sheltered by overhanging branches of trees. These forest enclaves provided a meeting place close to God from Whom the worshippers sought hope and relief from the pain, weariness and troubles of the world, as the sought the patience to bear them.
The meetings gave the congregation not only rest from continuous labor, but it also gave them joy and companionship and permitted them to shift their minds from immediate conditions to the bright future awaiting them. They united to protect themselves from oppression and from the internalization of unflattering stereotypes. This religious culture fostered self-esteem, courage, confidence and hope in these believers. From these strong and courageous beginnings, O’Kelly Chapel had its early development. The "handful" of faithful people, who formed that first union included families whose descendants still support the mission of O'Kelly Chapel today.
The first parcel of land occupied by the Church was given by Dr. F. L. O’Kelly on February 15, 1882. On November 5, 1902, his wife, Mrs. Sara D. O'Kelly sold the congregation two additional acres for $24 on which to build a church. After purchasing the land, the church was named "O'Kelly Chapel Colored Church." The membership number is unknown. The deacons at this time were: Robert Webb, O. L. Hammond, Monroe Echols and Luke Kimmery.
Construction of the church began on December 18, 1902. Mr. P. C. Upshaw gave the "colored church" Right of Way to a spring in the back to supply water for the church. It was signed at the Gwinnett County Courthouse on April 27, 1903. In that same year, we were blessed with more deacons; namely Henry Hammond, Columbus Echols, Will Hemphill, William (Bud) Hayes, Jim Whitehead and Gustus Echols.
Ministers who served "O'Kelly Chapel Colored Church" were: Rev. Henry Webb, Rev. Jack Webb (Rev. Henry Webb’s son), Rev. Maddox, Rev. Lackey and Rev. Felt.
Families that worshipped at "O’Kelly Chapel Colored Church" included: the Webb Family, the Miller Family, the Lucas Family, the Reid Family, the Echols Family, the Hayes Family, the Hammond Family, and many more.
In November, 1953, Rev. E. D. Harris, a young dynamic and energetic preacher was called to minister to the needs of O’Kelly Chapel. Under Rev. Harris’ leadership, the first choir was organized. Gladys Milsap, a young and dynamic musician, served as pianist for "The Choir" until 1996. During the early 1960’s, Rev. Harris began encouraging the congregation to construct a new church building. With the land donated by Mrs. Mary Brooks, which is now our present site, the church moved forward with dedication and determination. During construction, worship service was held in the old church building that was once located across the street. This beautiful house of God that we now occupy was completed and dedicated in March 1969. The old church building was torn down and that land is now our Cemetery. The O'Kelly Chapel Cemetery is filled with numerous slave graves that are marked with stones. Our cemetery is listed with the Gwinnett County Historical Society as a historic sites for cemeteries.
In 1988, after 35 years of soul-stirring sermons and teaching “love ye one another” and to put God first, Rev. Harris decided it was time to retire. He was the first pastor at O’Kelly Chapel to serve to retirement. He then served as Pastor Emeritus until his death in May, 2010.
Pastors that followed Rev. Harris are: Rev. Tommy Hall, Rev. David Johnson, Rev. James Russell, Rev. C. E. Brown, Rev. Anthony Smith and Dr. Michael Woods.