Church History

About the Mount

Dreams, hopes and aspirations of God’s children have been the foundation of our lives. In the spring of 1917, a young pastor from Americus, Georgia came to Hartford for a visit.
At that time, others migrating from the South in hopes of better living conditions settled in Hartford. Among them was Mrs. Mollie Hicks and Mrs. Annie Barnes and it was God’s plan that they met the Reverend Goode S. Clark Sr. a native of Americus, Georgia and former Pastor of the Sardis Baptist Church in Dawson, Georgia. Being spiritually led, Mrs. Mollie Hicks invited Reverend Clark to settle in Hartford and pastor a church. Praying together in a small humble home, Reverend Clark, with his heart ever tuned to the needs of others, accepted the invitation and Mt. Olive’s foundation had its beginning. The first prayer meeting was held with a small group of spiritually led worshippers in the Syndey M. Johnson Funeral Home, known as James Funeral Home on Main Street, in Hartford, Connecticut. They continued faithfully to meet and as the weekly prayer meetings grew, more room was needed. On May 25, 1917, they moved the meetings to the home of the Rev. J.C. Calloway and Mrs. Elizabeth Calloway where they had prayer meetings in the kitchen. Among those present were Rev. J.C. Calloway and Mrs. Elizabeth Calloway, Rev. G.S Clark, and Mrs. Semmie Clark, Mrs. Mollie Hicks, Mrs. Annie Barnes, Mrs. Anna Williams, Mrs. Josephine Smith, and her 12 year old daughter, Fannie Williams. It was in this kitchen on May 25, 1917 that the Mission had its humble beginning.
This Mission grew and it soon became necessary to find larger facilities so they moved the Mission to Crescent Hall on the corner of Main and Pleasant Streets in Hartford. Rev. Clark’s theme at that time was, “The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.” The Lord had done great things, and a few months later a larger place was needed and the Mission relocated to Village Street. The Lord continued to bless the Mission and despite pressure and opposition from other ministers in the city, in 1919, the Mission reorganized as a church and was accepted into the Connecticut Baptist Convention and named the Mount Olive Baptist Church.
In 1919, the first church home was purchased at 18 Bellevue Street in Hartford and five years later on December 1, 1924, The Mt. Olive Baptist Church registered with the Secretary of the State as the Mount Olive Baptist Church Association, Inc. and became an incorporated body.
Forever growing, Mount Olive experienced opposition and its first split came approximately 4 years later in 1928, and the Hopewell Baptist Church was established. Mount Olive Baptist Church became the Mother Church of Hopewell Baptist Church.
In 1944 because of the redevelopment and the rapid growth, Mt. Olive again relocated, to 12 Suffield Street, Hartford, Connecticut, (our present site) at a cost of $30,000 and a renovation cost of $15,000. A few years later, Mount Olive Baptist Church purchased its first parsonage at 37-39 Pliny Street, Hartford, Conn. It was at this time that Rev. G.S. Clark organized the New England Welfare League to aid the members with burial expenses; and reached out in the community to extend mission. Thus began the history of, “Mount Olive People doing for People.” Mount Olive became a church known for outreach and missionary work within the community.
Leading the flock that had grown to a mass of over 400 members the Reverend Goode .S. Clark Sr., the first Pastor and the founder of Mount Olive Baptist Church, succumbed to the call of the Master on January 6, 1960. “Good and faithful Servant, Well Done”
1959 – 1960
As the call went out for a new shepherd to lead God’s Flock, in 1960, Reverend Marcus Byrd, who was licensed by Reverend G.S Clarke in 1959 when he was 17 years old became the interim pastor who lead and fed the Word to Mt. Olive Baptist Church, as a new pastor was sought after.
In the same year, 1960, the Lord sent forth a soldier to carry out and help fulfill a dream. In the person of Reverend Richard A. Battles Jr., in 1960, Reverend Richard A. Battles Jr., a native of Little Rock, Arkansas became the second Pastor of the Mount Olive Baptist Church. And under his dedication and leadership, the membership continued to grow to over 600 active members. Reverend Battles prior to accepting the pastorate at Mt. Olive was pastor of the Star Bethlehem Baptist Church of Beacon, New York, where he made outstanding and commendable contributions to the Religious and Civic life of Beacon, N.Y. and the neighboring communities.
His Civic life was varied and complete. He was a member of The Board of Muscular Dystrophy; member of the Human Relations Commission for the City of Hartford; and a member of Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity. Rev. Battles served as the Regional Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was responsible for providing many cars and transportation for the Southern Voter Registration Program. He served as the President of the Hartford Board of Education from 1969 to 1971 and was responsible for the hiring and opening of job opportunities for numerous Afro-Americans and other viable and leadership positions in the Hartford Board of Education.
On July 1, 1973, the then Governor of the State of Connecticut, Governor Thomas J. Meskill appointed Rev. Battles to a 5 year term to the Board of Trustees at the University of Connecticut.
Under the leadership of Reverend Battles, the Mount Olive Baptist Church not only took the lead in active church membership, but built the first low moderate income Housing Complex in the City of Hartford, located on Nelson Street and Martin Street in Hartford, to provide homes for fifty-four families. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was the guest speaker for the dedication ceremony. Dr. King and Rev. Battles became close colleagues. Dr. King would make frequent visits to Connecticut and Mount Olive Baptist Church traveled the globe untiringly to support Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with his “Dream” and his Marches including to Selma, Alabama and to Washington, D.C.
Rev. Battles saw the need for the growing membership to remodel and refurnish the edifice with new pews, carpet and the basement area was remodeled. Reverend Battles recognized the need for a facility in our area for the young people of our city and the church purchased four lots north of the Main Street physical plant and a Community Building was built and furnished at a cost of over a half-million dollars. This facility housed an onsite six-lane bowling alley and Banquet Facility with accommodations to seat over 200 people. The building was completed in 1970.
A church parsonage was purchased on Colebrook Street in Hartford, Connecticut.
Always mindful of the needs of others, Mt. Olive continued, as “Mt. Olive People doing for People” and the church converted the bowling alley into a Day Care Facility to accommodate the increasing needs to provide employment for members and quality day care for working parents. After operating the Day Care Programs for two years, Mount Olive was asked by the Director of Day Care Programs for the State of Connecticut to serve as grantee for five additional facilities and home providers. Mount Olive Baptist Church then had under its umbrella six other Daycare facilities throughout the City of Hartford, Seven Home Providers and Employed a staff of over 100 people.
Rev. Battles was a persistent pioneer to seek avenues to provide for the church membership and outreach for those in the community. A Radio Ministry was set into motion to bring the Word of God, to those sick and shut-in, confined in prisons and in convalescent homes and every Sunday for years, the Mt. Olive Baptist Church worship services were broadcast live over radio station WKND and because of this broadcast multiple members were added to the fold and assistance provided throughout the community. Under his leadership new ministries were added, the Christian Fellowship, Pride of Mt. Olive, G.S. Clark Gospel Choir, Booster Choir, Pastor’s Aide, Ladies Ushers, Fidelity Ushers, Senior Ushers, New Members Club, and Host & Hospitality Committee. Many preachers and deacons were trained and ordained under the leadership of Rev. Battles.
Rev. Battles was married to the former Betty Everett, an eloquent Godly First Lady. They have two children, Richard I. Battles, and Robin A. Battles.
On June 23, 1980, the Master called him home and Reverend Battles triumphantly surrendered after twenty years of ministering and leading the children of God as a Pillar of the community. In Honor of Rev. Battles, Suffield Street was renamed to Battles Street by the City of Hartford.
Reverend William M. Nickerson, a native of Welch, West Virginia was the third Pastor called in 1982, to lead the flock of the Mount Olive Baptist Church. Reverend Nickerson was from Akron, Ohio. Under his leadership the enrollment in Bible Study classes increased. He was instrumental in incorporating the church. Rev. Nickerson participated in the King Marches for Civil Rights. He attended several colleges and universities, and taught graduate level students at Ashland College Theological Seminary, and American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee. He served on several boards, and was a member of several professional organizations and religious conventions. Under his leadership, realistic goals were set to break ground and build a new edifice. However, again after 65 years, Mt. Olive experienced a second split. In 1984, Reverend Nickerson’s tenure ended as Pastor of Mt. Olive Baptist Church and the Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church of Hartford was formed by him and officers thus Mount Olive became the Mother Church of Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church of Hartford, Connecticut. Reverend Nickerson was married to a humble First Lady, Reola Bowman Nickerson.
During the loss of our three previous Pastors, the Lord had a ram in the bush to guide his sheep until He placed His own in the midst. One of those persons as a resilient ram was the Chairman of the Deacon Board Deacon John T. Reed Sr. Deacon Reed a native of Georgia joined Mt. Olive in 1932 under Reverend Goode S. Clark. He became a Deacon in 1952 and in 1961 became Chairman of the Mount Olive Deacon Board under Rev. Richard A. Battles Jr. Deacon Reed provided excellent leadership and moderation to Mount Olive and to the young men under his care and he insisted that everything was done, as God would have it, biblically sound, straight, decent and in Order. Upon serving faithfully and dutifully Deacon John T. Reed made his final climb up Jacob’s ladder on July 29, 1985.
Interim Pastor
1980-1982 – 1984-1987
Elder Harry W. Williams a native of Florida was a former Associate Minister of the Mount Moriah Baptist Church. He came to Mount Olive in 1978 and served as the Assistant to the Pastor to three Pastors. Reverend Richard A. Battles Jr., Reverend William M. Nickerson and Bishop James L. Fenner Sr. Elder Williams also served as the Coordinator of the Ministerial Staff of Mount Olive. During the midst as Mount Olive awaited for God to send another Shepherd Elder Williams served as the interim Pastor for Mount Olive. Rev. Williams was afforded the opportunity to be pastor but didn’t accept the call as he stated “not my will but God’s will be done” Rev. Williams faithfully visited the sick, officiated at funerals and provided the Word of God. He was devoted to serving Pastors and the people of Mount Olive, was known for his wisdom and short dynamic sermons and Sage words preached “It’s Coming up Again.”
Deacon Willie F. Alexander came to Mount Olive January 29, 1965 from Antioch Baptist Church in Cuthbert, Georgia, one of several children guided by two strong God fearing parents. He was ordained under Reverend Richard A. Battles and received his apprenticeship under the watchful eye of Deacon John T. Reed, Sr.; Deacon Alexander served as the Vice-Chairman under Deacon Reed and after Deacon Reed’s untimely death he became Chairman of the Deacon Board. Deacon Alexander and the Chairman of Trustees John E. Gilbert were tirelessly instrumental in carrying the torch for the structuring to build Mount Olive Baptist Church’s new edifice which is now, 12-20 Battles Street, Hartford, Conn. and for the congregation’s and community outreach while God was preparing a pastor for Mount Olive.
The Lord steadfast blessed Mount Olive. In November of 1986, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a call was extended to the Reverend Dr. James L. Fenner Sr. of Edenton, North Carolina, who accepted. Reverend Fenner received his secondary education in Suffolk, Virginia. He was a graduate of Norfolk State University, Norfolk, Virginia; Graduate of Shaw University School of Religion of Raleigh, North Carolina, he received a Bachelors and Doctor of Divinity Degree from the Religious and Educational Enterprise, Charlotte, North Carolina, Doctor of Humane Letter Degree from Baltimore College of Bible and Seminary of Baltimore, Maryland and was a Graduate of the United States Navy School for Supervision and Management.
Rev. Dr. James L. Fenner, Sr. accepted the call as Pastor of the Mount Olive Baptist Church, Inc. and began his pastoral duties on February 8, 1987, as the fourth Pastor.
At the time of Rev. Dr. Fenner’s call, Mount Olive was in the process of restructuring and building negotiations guided by Deacon Willie Alexander, Trustee John Gilbert and members to build a new church edifice. During that time, Mount Olive was worshiping at the Fred D. Wish School located on Barbour Street in Hartford, Connecticut. This effort with prayer and fasting and dedicated members was successful. On Sunday, October 11, 1987 in conjunction with the 70th Church Anniversary Mount Olive Baptist Church held the Ground Breaking Ceremony. On Sunday, April 2, 1989, Mount Olive Baptist Church lead by Pastor Fenner, First Lady Rosa Fenner, the Officers, members and friends of Mount Olive along with the community marched triumphal from the Fred D. Wish School to our new church edifice on Battles Street.
The new church edifice, at a cost of approximately, one million two hundred thousand dollars ($l, 200,000) which included the brand new furnishings for the church, the sanctuary and housed a library, fellowship hall, full kitchen, choir room, finance room and many other facilities that the church needed, such as an elevator for seniors and the handicapped.
Under the leadership of Dr. Fenner such ministries as the Board of Christian Education, Person to Person, Willing Workers, Busy Bee Hospitality, the Sunbeam Choir, the Male Chorus, the Shekinah Choir and J.L. Fenner Ushers were formed. A monthly prayer breakfast was held on the third Saturday of each month, with the intent to fellowship with the community and a daily prayer service was held daily at six a.m. and at noon each day.
Dr. Fenner is a Pastor, who dared to be different. He organized training classes for every age group in the Church. Wednesday night Bible Study Classes including classes for the pre-school to adults. A Training Institute and New Members Seminars were organized under Dr. Fenner. The handbook used for the New Members Seminar was written and distributed by Dr. Fenner and the Board of Christian Education.
Needs were provided as a new van, new chairs for the fellowship hall, new piano and an organ were purchased. As well as a new hood for the stove was installed in the lower level kitchen.
A new parsonage was purchased and additional property on Main Street to serve as an extension to our parking facilities.
Among his duties, Pastor Fenner also served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Seven of Mount Olive’s, Day Care Programs, Stowe Village, St. Monica, Central Baptist, Warburton, RAB Before/After and Pre-School. Dr. Fenner was a member of the Mayor’s Crime Commission, Board of Excellence; Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and board member of the United Way for the Capitol Region.
Rev. Dr. Fenner served as the pastor of Mount Olive Church Ministries (as he renamed the church in 2000), announced his retirement of service from Mount Olive, but not of ministry as he quoted, “you never retire from being a pastor” It was publicly announced in October of 2011 being the first pastor to retire from Mount Olive, that at age 92 he would do so in July of 2012 and return to his home In Edenton, North Carolina, along with his wife, (Honey) First Lady Rosa Fenner with celebrations in their honor that began in March of 2012; until August of 2012, they returned to Edenton. Rev. Dr. James L. Fenner Sr. served Mount Olive faithfully for 25 years.
Deacon Christopher Mathis stands as a beacon and pillar of Mount Olive until a Pastor is sent. He is a native of Hartford, Connecticut and joined Mount Olive Baptist Church in 1991 under the leadership of Rev. Dr. James L. Fenner Sr. Deacon Mathis was ordained as a Deacon in 1995 and served as Chairperson of the Deacon Board from 1999-2007 and 2012- 2013. As Mount Olive remained prayerful for a pastor he encouraged and addressed the church to have faith and “Trust in God for He never fails” we must pray and stand in unity as a church body.
Deacon Gary Lee a native of New York, Deacon Lee joined Mount Olive in April of 1988 under the leadership of Rev. Dr. James L. Fenner. He was ordained a Deacon on December 27, 1992; and served as Chairman of the Deacon Board from 1994-1995. Deacon Lee served as Director of Christian Education for ten years. A Deacon known for his anointed prayers and gifted teacher was selected as Moderator of Mount Olive in a Church Conference on August 17, 2012, to provide guidance to the church body, until God would send his chosen vessel as Mount Olive’s Pastor. During this Church Conference a votes for the Pulpit Search Committee selected to serve: Deacon Maurellis Powell, Deacon Gary Lee, Deacon Earle Greene, Trustee Jerome Walker, Trustee Curtis Thompson, Elder Mary Armstrong, Elder Sonya Mathis, Sis. Marilyn Arnum, Mother Joyce Berry, Bro. John A. Brown, Sis. Doris Johnson, Church Clerk, Bro. Willie Keitt, and two alternates, Deacon Cecil Kelly and Sis. Prenzina Holloway. The first meeting of the Pulpit Search Committee was February 23, 2012. For 18 months, the Pulpit Search Committee diligently and prayerfully served and searched. On September 21, 2013, a vote was taken and by majority vote, Rev. Dion Jamar Watkins from the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Lackawanna, NY was elected as Pastor-Elect. On October 13, 2013, Rev. Dion J. Watkins preached his first sermon as Pastor-Elector at the 97th Church Anniversary and humbly accepted the call as pastor. On December 31, 2013, Pastor-Elect Watkins made his transition from Lackawanna, NY to Bloomfield, CT to Pastor Mount Olive Church Ministries. On March 23, 2014 Pastor-Elected Dion J. Watkins became the fifth Pastor of Mount Olive Church Ministries.
December 2013 – 2021
Reverend Dion Jamar Watkins is a native of Lackawanna, New York, a man of God who was led at an early age to motivate and inspire generations of people. He accepted Christ at the age of 16, and was a faithful member of the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in the City of Lackawanna where he was very active in many ministry activities while growing up in Mount Olive.
Reverend Watkins graduated from Lackawanna Senior High School in 1997. He then continued his education at Canisius College where he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education in 2001. He also obtained a Master’s of Science Degree with a concentration in Reading Education in 2003 from Canisius. He returned to school to receive his Masters of Divinity Degree in December 2007 from Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York. With his strong belief of scholastic achievement, Reverend Watkins achieved each degree with honors.
In 1997, at the age of 17, Reverend Watkins was called into the ministry. On April 29, 2001 at the age of 21, Reverend Watkins was installed as the Pastor of the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Lackawanna, NY. He became the first associate minister to become pastor of his home church. During his leadership, at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, the membership grew considerably. As a result of this increase, in June 2011, Rev. Watkins and the church added an 8:00 a.m. worship service at Revelation Baptist Church of Buffalo, New York. Mount Olive Missionary Baptist became one church in two cities.
Reverend Watkins is no stranger to public service. In the summer of 2011, Rev. Watkins ran a great campaign for Mayor of the City of Lackawanna. After a marginal loss (14 votes) in the primaries, he promoted a write-in campaign. Although he did not win this seat, he offered hope to residents and encouraged many to vote who had never voted in their lifetime.
Reverend Watkins was employed by Lackawanna City School District as a sixth grade teacher from 2001 through 2014. On December 31, 2013 he took a leave of absence from the school district to pursue full-time ministry. His friendly disposition and understanding of others allowed him to be effective in the classroom, as well as, beloved by his students and peers. Because of his efforts, in June, 2010, the Lackawanna City School District honored Reverend Watkins by inducting him into its prestigious High School Wall of Fame.
In 2013, the Holy Spirit would speak to Pastor Watkins, thus, redirecting his footsteps to Hartford, Connecticut. On October 13, 2013 at the 97th Church Anniversary, Pastor Watkins preached his first sermon at the historical Mount Olive Church Ministries, Hartford, Connecticut. He then humbly accepted the call as Pastor-Elect. He transitioned from Lackawanna, New York to Bloomfield, CT where he preached a dynamic sermon on December 31, 2013.
Pastor Watkins was installed as the fifth pastor on March 24, 2014. In a short period of time, he impacted the community greatly. Mount Olive Church Ministries has grown tremendously, receiving over 500 souls to the ministry in the first year of his pastoring. Under Pastor Watkins leadership, several new ministries were implemented: Psalms of Worship Youth & Young Adult Choir (POW), Media, Seniors on the Move, Marketing, Drama, as well as reconnected the Pastor’s Aide, Hospitality Ministry, and the Minister’s Institute Classes.
Through Pastor Watkins’ vision of taking ministry beyond the four walls, the church established the Holiday Food Give-away, and successfully fed over 200 families in the North End of Hartford. He instituted Mount Olive’s Annual Block Party, which fed over 2,000 people in the first year; donated over 300 book bags filled with school supplies and accessories for students within the Greater Hartford area. He initiates miraculous services for diversified groups such as “Daddy and His Daughter’s”, a deliverance service for women; Youth Shut-In to address the values and assert education for the youth; “Midnight Rumble” that challenges and strengthens the man’s role in society; and Empowerment Seminars for the spiritual growth and education of the members.
Pastor Watkins has aligned himself with the community, because of his compassion to change the lives of wayward, homeless and lost souls that find their way to the doors of Mount Olive Church Ministries. Many prominent political leaders have found him a respected source of reasoning. Pastor Watkins was awarded the “2015 Religious Leader” by the Greater Hartford Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, Inc. for his enthusiastic involvement in the community.
In April of 2014, Pastor Watkins, a man of vision, implemented the Vision 220 Plan to pay off the church mortgage within two and half years instead of the previously proposed five year plan. Successfully, it was paid off in less time than originally expected. On April 24, 2016, Mount Olive Church Ministries held its Mortgage Burning Celebration Service for the completion of this vision.
Pastor Watkins also serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mount Olive Child Development Center, Inc. Taking the helm, Pastor Watkins guided the program through some major changes that has put the program on a steady path of success. He increased enrollment, stimulated staff morale, as well as rekindled the parent’s security in the education of children.
As dreams, hopes, and aspirations of God’s children were our foundation in 1917, so today dreams, hopes, and aspirations are being reintroduced under this great man of God. Pastor Watkins continues to be an asset to the Greater Hartford Community and its’ the surrounding areas. He is influencing change and bringing hope to the lives of those he comes in contact with daily. He will tell you, “God did not call me to be ordinary!” Pastor Dion Jamar Watkins is teaching and preaching salvation, walking in humility and operating under the grace of our Father in Heaven.

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