What began in 1840 as a one-room, wooden structure warmed by a pot-belly stove, has evolved into one of the largest African American churches in Portsmouth, earning a reputation for serving the needs of people. Today, Grove Church remains in its original location, bordered by three Hampton Roads’ cities—Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Suffolk.
Serving as a beacon of hope in the Churchland community, Grove Church stands on the shoulders of its ancestors, exuding the same principles, fortitude, perseverance and strong community-focused leadership. Some of Grove’s rich and vibrant history is documented in books and articles archiving the headstones that remain in the church’s cemetery, dating back to 1840.
From 1840 to 1866, the pastor of Grove’s mother church—Sycamore Hill Baptist Church—preached to the Grove Church congregation until after the Civil War because Virginia laws prohibited Blacks from assembling without a Caucasian present. After the Emancipation Proclamation, Grove called its first African American minister, Reverend Thomas Washington, a native of Matthews County, VA.
Grove Baptist Church was destroyed by fire in 1953 and a special Building Fund Committee raised funds to rebuild the church, with assistance from The Citizens Committee of Churchland Baptist Church. Grove moved into its new sanctuary in 1955. Since then, twelve other ministers have pastored this great church.
Currently, Dr. Melvin O. Marriner serves as Grove’s 13th and longest serving Senior Pastor. Grove extended the call to Dr. Melvin O. Marriner of Chesapeake, VA in September 1989. Under his leadership, Visions of Truth Ministries (VOTM), a banner under which a number of holistic ministries evolved, was formed.
To accommodate the church membership boon from 300 in 1989 to more than 2,700 by 2000, Grove completed a $1.7 million expansion of its facilities, which included a 1,000-seat sanctuary and educational space in 2000. Desiring to better meet the needs of the community, Grove purchased all properties on the left side of the church and, in 2004 purchased three office condominium units on West Norfolk Road, which are used for ministry expansion. Grove also acquired and has paid for nearly 33 acres of land at 4745 W. Norfolk Rd. A newly constructed Dr. Melvin O. Marriner Family Life Center is a 23,000-square ft. state of the art facility that houses a gymnasium, Marriner Christian Academy, a commercial kitchen, internet café, offices and conference rooms.
“Grove Church is more than its square footage or the brick building located in the heart of Churchland. We stand as a monument of hope, carrying a message of love. Our desire is to share God’s message of redemption and demonstrate the love of Christ by actively engaging with and being a part of this community. One of the ways that we communicate that message is by serving our community—in any way that we can—to make it better. That’s one of the primary reasons why we constructed our Family Life and Youth Center. We want our youth to have a safe place to gather and socialize. We want families to have a place to come to access services, programs and resources in a ‘one-stop-shop’ manner, and we want people in the community to know that we are a part of THIS community.
“In this world, we witness and experience a lot of hurt and pain, but we are here to ‘turn the world upside down.’ We are a victorious people…and we are walking, talking, living, breathing, miracles…each and every one of us!”
- Pastor Marriner