108 years the first African American Church in Dania Beach, Fl. Saint Ruth Missionary Baptist
By Starla Vaughns Cherin
In 1908 Charlie Chambers along with a few faithful followers built a small house from lumber
found in the Atlantic Ocean, becoming the St. Ruth Church he named it after his daughter. The
church also housed the first school for colored children in Dania Beach, then known as Modello,
FL. There were nine pupils.
Today St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church has a young dynamic pastor, J. C. Howard, the
church’s 12th pastor. He preached his first sermon March 2016 on the “Season of Discovery.”
Former Dania Beach mayor Albert Jones joined the church because this was what many families
expected of their children during 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. Jones joined because his older brother
Milton joined. “My grandmother always asked “When you going to join the church,” says Jones,
who at the time was five years old.
Both boys were baptized by the Reverend W.C. Edcar. He pastored St. Ruth Missionary Baptist
Church for 44 years, ending in1992. Their grandparents Joe and Lettie Bryant were part of the
membership that brought Edcar to St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church. They were Dania Beach
business owners and very active in their church community. The pastor fellowshipped dinner at
their home every first and third Sunday; weekly offerings and tithes were tallied there as well.
Jones reminisced about those family Sunday dinners at Joe & Lettie’s house, when the pastor
would visit. “We always got the smaller pieces of chicken because the pastor got the best pieces
of chicken,” Jones recalled. “We got the backs, butts and maybe a wing.”
Reverend Edcar and the congregation completed a new building for St. Ruth’s in 1957. Church
members donated pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters and held dinner sales as part of their
fundraising efforts St. Ruth’s anniversary celebrations. Those tithes, offerings and fundraisers
added up and the church was able to pay off their mortgage in 1970. “These monies came from
maids, day laborers and people with many mouths to feed,” Jones said. “Five dollars was a huge
donation back then, even one dollar was big. They did more with less.”
Dad Milton Jones, Sr. was a deacon and made sure every Sunday they were in place. “He said,
you better get out of here and go to church and I better see you when I get there,” Jones
remembers. “That meant attending Sunday school and he better see us walk pass the collection
plate during church service.”
At first Jones, Sr. only attended church, but in the 60’s he joined the church, became saved and
stopped drinking. “I saw the power of the Holy Spirit work in my Dad’s life turning him
His mother Rhodie Bryant Jones died when Albert was two years old. Dad later married Mildred.
Jones credits his stepmother with teaching them how to speak correctly and eat like gentlemen at
Dad always said, “You need to go to church because I am not going to be here always and you
need a church family.” There was always cooperation and cohesiveness in the neighborhood. We
cared about and respected each other. Whatever my parents said, I believed and it was gospel.
“Men and women back then knew how to do things; they had talents, skills and perseverance.
My father could build a house from the ground up. My grandmother and grandfather owned, ran
a store, built and leased small cottages and a lawn mower repair service. Those small wooden
cottages helped many families get established while migrating from Mississippi, Georgia, and
Alabama to Florida. They stayed in their houses until they could make it on their own.
“Because of segregation we helped each other to make it. I heard my Daddy called “boy” when
spoken to by white men but he had to reply using the title Mr. I attended Attucks Elementary,
Junior and Senior High School. When we received books that were passed down from the white
schools, we would see the words, “dirty black niggers”, “dumb niggers can’t read” written in
them.” Jones says.
Yet, when Jones returned from college, his church attendance was sporadic until he baptized his
daughter, 15 years later. He finally understood and realized, if St. Ruth is to continue meeting the
spiritual needs of people in the community, the most important duty is to encourage, educate and
train our youths to belong and not just attend church but also to know the history and future of
St. Ruth is with them.
“Those old days and earlier generations are gone. They had a strong foundation, belief and faith
in God. If you have no understanding of what belonging to the church means, then you just go to
another church but wherever you go, you will find problems there too.
“But I always have hope!” Jones asserts. “The storm you went into will subside, because trouble
doesn’t last always. Those that were on drugs can find peace through the Holy Spirit and love of
a church family. We are doing what our grandparents and great grandparents taught us to do –
nurturing this church.
“Taking the little things we have and continuing heart-soul efforts to make it what God wants it
to be. A door that is wide open for the least, lost, left out and unconcerned to come in, read and
hear the Word, increase their faith and that will transform their lives” Jones says.
St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church is listed on Florida State’s Historical Registry.