PASTOR JACOB N. UNDERWOOD SR.
Rev. Jacob N. Underwood Sr. was born on July 16, 1927, in Anderson, S.C. As the 2nd child of the Late Roscoe and Eula Lee Underwood he attended Rocky River Elementary School, and Reed Street High School where he met his high school sweetheart, Thomasena Adkins. They were wed while he served in the military in Fort Meade near Baltimore, Maryland. Their union produced three children, LaGhretta, Stephanie and Jacob Jr., son-in-law Bruce Smith, daughter-in-law Tracey, and four grandchildren Brent, LeBrandon, Maya and Kayla.
Twenty-two years after accepting Christ as his personal Savior in September 1960, at the First Baptist Church in Wyandanch, L.I. under the tutelage of Rev. Moses Robinson Pastor Underwood answered the call to the Christian Ministry. He attended the Rhode Preparatory School, Shelton Evening College Extension and The New York School of The Bible. He also studied and graduated from the New York Institute of Photography.
On June 22, 1962, Pastor Jacob N. Underwood Sr. was ordained as a Baptist Minister at the Holy Sacred Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York where Rev. John H. Christopher was the Pastor. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he began to evangelize in the community, persistently reaching out to people, telling them the “Good News of Christ”. He had a “vision” of a church in the community that would teach “GOD’S Plan of Salvation”, and “Relate to the Needs of The Total Person”. Casting all his cares upon the Lord, Pastor Underwood hastened with unyielding faith to organize a church in the East New York section of Brooklyn. Believers and non-believers were so inspired by his diligence and determination that they too began to share the vision of this persistent “Man of God”. They also shared the “Good News” with relatives, friends and neighbors which led them to assemble together to hold prayer meetings in their homes. Sister Sydney Grey was the first person to join under Minister Underwood’s guidance and direction. Shortly thereafter, Minister Underwood and his wife used all of their savings except $ 18.00, to purchase a small Jewish synagogue at 473 Vermont Street, Brooklyn, New York. This became known as Grace Mission. On July 6th, thirty-eight people attended the first “prayer service”. Twenty-four heeded the call and became the charter members of Grace Mission. On October 20th, Grace Mission was recognized as Grace Baptist Church by the New York Missionary Association under the leadership of the late Dr. John H. Nichols.
As an advocate for better housing in the community, Pastor Underwood led the way in seeking government funds to secure Housing in the community. As a result of his efforts, in 1970, the Grace Housing Development Fund, Inc. was organized. His diligence and determination helped cut through a mass of bureaucratic “red tape” in City and State governments, thus enabling the church to obtain the resources to begin construction on two multiple dwelling apartment buildings in December of 1970.
In 1972, the Grace Towers Housing Development became a reality. Grace Towers is located at Pennsylvania Avenue and Pitkin Avenues. Grace Towers continues to provide housing for 168 families, and stand as a monument to a “vision” that was born “over four decades” ago by Pastor Underwood.
In January 1973, God showed favor upon Pastor Underwood and the Grace Baptist Church Family, by continuing to increase the membership. It became necessary to seek another building for family worship and praise services. The church contracted with the Lutheran Church body at 223 New Jersey Avenue to purchase their church and parsonage for $160,000.00. Under Pastor Underwood’s leadership, the Board of Officers secured a mortgage from the East New York Savings Bank. Pastor Underwood led the Grace Baptist Church Family on a march from the original landmark at 473-75 Vermont Street to its present site.
Sister Stephanie Underwood, through the teachings of her parents, understood the importance of providing an independent educational setting for African American children. Fulfilling the vision of her father, she organized the Grace Daycare Center, seeking to operate an educational facility where the sense of family values could be heightened and a foundation for spiritual and academic growth could be fostered. Sister Ruby Tunney served as the first cook and Denise Webster (Osbourne) became one of the first Teacher’s Assistant. His vision has been expanded to include an Elementary and Junior High School which currently serves approximately 300 students. It is now known as New Grace Center and is currently located at 650 Livonia Avenue.
In 1984 Pastor Underwood encouraged the membership to meet to organize a Bus Out-Reach Ministry. The purpose was to provide transportation for children and adults to attend Saturday activities, Sunday school and Family Worship Services at the church. Rev. Marcano along with several concerned and dedicated members volunteered to go to the streets of the East New York Community, to lead children to Jesus Christ.
In 1987, during Reverend’s 25th year of celebration, the following persons were added to the Ministry; Rev. Karl Delk, Rev. William Glover and Rev. Nathaniel Smith. Rev. Smith served as our Assistant to the Pastor from July 1987 to March 1989. He was later called to Pastor the Third Baptist Church in Springfield, Massachusetts where he presently serves.
In 1989, the church opened a Soup Kitchen at 234 New Jersey Avenue to feed and clothe the hungry five days a week. One hundred individuals were served daily, supported by the tithing ministry of the church.
The Board of Christian Education was revised to enhance our Christian training. Sister Earline Johnson was appointed Director of Christian Education.
In 1989, Rev, Michael Marcano was ordained and became the Pastor of the Creston Avenue Baptist Church, Bronx, New York.
In 1995, Rev. Underwood led the church in a $1.5 million dollar bond drive to enlarge the Grace Baptist Church of Christ with twelve multipurpose rooms which would benefit the church and school. In the Fall of 1997, the Junior High School relocated to utilize those facilities.
In 1999, Pastor Underwood addressed the congregation and television audience concerning couples who were living together out of wedlock. His concern for this issue was so great that he offered to unite these couples in Holy Matrimony without charge during the television broadcast. On December 19, 1999, Synette Foster and Paul Benjamin were the first couple to marry under this banner.
That same year, Rev. Nathaniel Scott became family as an Associate Minister of the Grace Baptist Church of Christ. He taught Bible Study and conducted training classes for the Deacon Board. Rev. Scott also facilitated workshops at our Annual Church Retreat held in December.
Pastor Underwood has set a very progressive agenda in the promotion of human welfare and social reform in the church and the community over the past forty-eight years. His benevolence has earned him many “honors and tributes” for his exemplary leadership and humanitarianism. He has been involved in many aspects of the community by serving on local, state and national committees. He has served on the local school board, and on the East New York Civil Rights Committee. He was the first elected chairman of East New York Community Corporation, and President of the New York Progressive State Congress. Additionally he served twice as Moderator of the New York Missionary Baptist Association (N.Y.M.B.A.), Chairman of the Brownsville/East New York Clergy Association, President of the New York Progressive State Convention (1992-1995), and Corresponding Secretary of the Presidents Department of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. He was also elected the President of the African American Clergy and Elected Officials of Brooklyn (1998-2000). He currently serves as the Chairman of Churches United for Worldwide Action Inc.
On January 12, 2003, guided by the Holy Spirit, the church witnessed its first appointment of two “Deaconess In Training” to the Board of Deacons. They were Sylvia Turner and Margie Ward. Later that year, Rev. Underwood led the way in another bond drive which was 2.5 million dollars for refinancing and the purchasing of additional properties
On March 12th, 2006, Pastor Underwood installed Reverend Michael Wesley Rogers as the “First” Assistant Pastor of the Grace Baptist Church.
In 2007, Sister Sheree Goodman, delivered her first sermon and received her license as a Baptist Minister. Sis Goodman grew up in the Grace Baptist Church of Christ under the teaching of Pastor Underwood. She began her studies at the Princeton University Seminary. In August 2008, she was united in Holy Matrimony to Deacon Earl Jones Jr. of the First Calvary Baptist Church. May, 2010 Minister Jones completed her illustrious studies and graduated with honors.
In May 2007, the Grace Baptist Church of Christ and the Churches United for Worldwide Action Inc. sponsored its first Economic Empowering Conference. This particular conference was the first of its kind done by the church to educate and empower the community and membership with strategic financial planning.
The Grace Baptist Church has secured real estate properties at 224, 232, 234 and 236 Vermont Street.
On Dec 9th, 2007 Brother Kenyon Jones preached his trial sermon and was licensed as a Baptist Minister.
Pastor Underwood’s concern for the “Total Person” has evolved to focus on evangelism consisting of in-reach and out-reach. Pastor Underwood’s appeal is for a true understanding of conversion. He constantly teaches and preaches about the significance of Baptism. He teaches that it is not enough just to be submerged in water. He teaches that lifestyles have to change.
The theme for 2008 continued, “The Church at Work” Jeremiah 3:14; 4; Matthew 28:19; John 1:12; Acts 2:41-47; Romans 12:5; I Corinthians 1:1-7; 3:3:10; 7:17; 12 :25; Ephesians 1:22; 2:21; I Timothy 3; James 1:13-18; Titus 2; I John 5:2;
Over the period of two months beginning in May, through the leadership and teaching of Pastor Underwood the Holy Spirit moved within the congregation and 40 members were re-baptized that they may be recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Deacon McKenzie accepted his call to the ministry on June 15th, 2008. On September 28, 2008 Minister McKenzie was licensed to be a Baptist Minister as well.
In the last week of May, great preparation were on its way for the culmination of the 46thanniversary, closing with a Family and Friends Day cook out. Congressman Ed Towns have been the guest speaker for the last decade.
The lower church dining area was renovated with a new ceiling and light fixtures. New lighting was also installed by the Baptism pool.
The sanctuary was rewired and new lights fixtures were installed for the purpose of a brighter view in the choir section.
Grace Baptist Church of Christ continues to witness the authentication of collective prayer and its evidence thereof. As a people we remembered the accomplishments of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as we celebrated the inauguration of Barack Obama as the country’s first African American President of the United States of America.
On March 15, 2009, Rev Michael Wesley Rogers was installed as the Co-Pastor of the Grace Baptist Church. Co-Pastor Rogers works diligently under the tutelage of Pastor Underwood in carrying out the mission that God continues to impart to him under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
On April 2, 2009, the church installed a chair lift to assist those who are unable to negotiate the stairs leading to the sanctuary. The use of the stair lift allows members and friends to continue to worship in the sanctuary with the rest of the church family.
Grace Baptist Church of Church continues to grow in grace, mercy, and discernment as we walk in faith that ushers the membership into corporate favor. The manifestation of the theme “ The Church at Work” continues to evolve as we are progressing by “ Evangelizing and witnessing Through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 9:37-38; 28:19; Mark 16 14-16; Acts 1:8; Hebrew 10:29; Romans 4;25; 8:26-27; Ephesians 4:30).
For over FOUR DECADES, the Grace Baptist Church of Christ has stood as a beacon of light and hope in the East New York Community. It has been blessed with ONE Pastor, Rev. Jacob N. Underwood, Sr. and First Lady, Sister Thomasena Underwood. The best part of being blessed is having prayerful and faithful members. We thank God for what he has done and what He is doing through his Son under the direction of the Holy Spirit. As always Pastor Underwood would say, “The church is not on our shoulders but, in our hearts. As long as we keep our lives Christ centered, the church will always move forward.” Grace Baptist Church of Christ; truly is a church on the move.
To God Be the Glory!
Shane G. Hilliard
Reverend Shane G. Hilliard is the youngest of five children born to Barbara Hilliard and George Russell. He was born and raised in the Bronx, NY.
Reverend Hilliard received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior at St. Luke Baptist Church, Harlem, NY in the winter of 2002. He received his call to preach the word of God in December of 2005 and on Christmas Day of 2005 he delivered his initial message. He was licensed, ordained, and mentored under the leadership of the anointed man of God, Rev. Dr. J. G. McCann, Sr. at St. Luke Baptist Church, in Harlem NY.
Rev. Hilliard graduated from the College of New Rochelle with a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree majoring in Social Science in 2008. He also graduated from the New York Theological Seminary in NY, NY, on May 17, 2014 with a Masters of Divinity degree. Rev. Hilliard is in the process of pursuing his Doctorate Degree. Rev Hilliard is employed as a residential manager working with the MICA population and assisting in overseeing a population of 63 clients that reside in intensive and supported housing.
“Working with the youth is one of my passions,” states Reverend Shane Hilliard. It is because of this God given passion that Reverend Hilliard is able to reach and understand the plights and struggles of today’s youth. He is also a licensed youth chaplain and does ministry in youth detention centers equipping and encouraging at risk youth through the power of God.
On May 21, 2014 the Grace Baptist Church of Christ called on him unanimously to be their pastor-elect. God is doing a powerful work through this chosen vessel that is anointed and appointed “for such a time as this” to serve God’s people and uplift the kingdom of God. Rev Hilliard is married to the lovely Vivian Hilliard and they are blessed with two beautiful daughters Latiesh and Sarai.
Reverend Shane Hilliard loves the Lord wholeheartedly…his favorite scripture is Isaiah 40:8
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.”