On the first Sunday of the New Year of 1947, a group of Christians about twenty in number all had the same idea at the same time, that being to visit the home of Rev. and Mrs. M. Cecil Mills at 3604 16th Street, N.W. Upon arriving, after feliciations, they began to sing and pray, invoking divine blessing upon the New Year and the years to come. Later, the minister, Rev. Mills, was pressed to at least say a few words. Those few words developed into a most stirring sermon. The gathering dispersed indicating that they would meet at the same place on the following Tuesday night for prayer.
From the beginning, it was obvious that these people found an unusual joy in worshipping together so thought was given to a more permanent organization for this purpose. In a later meeting, dedicated mostly to business, Rev. Mills was chosen as leader for this nameless flock. Each person was then asked to submit at the next meeting his preference of a name for this mission. They did this, and after much discussion and prayer, God in His wisdom, revealed to Brother B. Moses James, the name “CANAAN”. It was unanimously accepted and they sang, “I am bound for Canaan Land” with many tears and smiles of joy. Miss Vunella Armwood was asked to act as secretary or clerk.
On February 4, 1947, New Bethel Baptist Church opened its doors to Canaan and Rev. Mills delivered a touching sermon. Four believers were baptized: Earl Payne, Earl Brown, Doris Roebuck and William Foster. These four with Willie Armwood from Hills Chapel Baptist Church, Faison, N.C., A. Clarence Edwards from Mt. Rainier Baptist Church, Florence, S.C. and Helen Rogers from First Baptist Church, Richmond, VA, went into a meeting presided over by Rev. W.H. Dobbins, Evangelist of New York, and assisted by Dr. C. David Foster, Pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church and Rev. J.P. Nichols. In this meeting these seven organized a church and officially named it Canaan Baptist Church of Washington, DC and selected as its Pastor, the Rev. M. Cecil Mills. Bro. Willie Armwood was selected Church Clerk.
On March 25, 1947, the newly recognized Church held its first business meeting and the first Pastoral recommendations for Church Officials were made by Rev. Mills. The new congregation worked diligently together to find a church home and raise funds for the purchase of a building. The first fulfillment of that dream was realized on June 12, 1947 when the congregation was able to purchase a building at 3124 Georgia Avenue N.W. As the congregation increased, a decision was made to sell the property at 3124 Georgia Avenue N.W. and purchase a new church home. On Sunday, November 11, 1956, the Canaan Family moved to its new home located at 5714 Georgia Avenue N.W. Early in 1962, Rev. Mills and the officers realized that with the rapidly growing congregation and great challenge before them, increasing needs and demands facing the church, the space was quickly growing inadequate again. On June 9, 1963 our congregation moved to our present location on the corner of 16th and Newton Streets N.W.
Canaan Baptist Church has had three Pastors and an Acting Pastor. Rev. Mills, the founding pastor, served faithfully until illness forced him to retire in 1971. Rev. John M. Alexander, Jr., served as the church’s second Pastor from 1973-1976. After his departure, Rev. Francis E. Stewart, a son of Canaan, became Acting Pastor. Dr. Cornelius Carter, Jr., was installed as our third Pastor on October 24, 1977. He served faithfully for twenty-nine years until his retirement in 2006. Dr. Clark A. Houston became our Church’s Interim Pastor in 2007 as we began the search for Canaan’s fourth Pastor and served in this capacity until his death in 2008. At a special meeting, the Church elected Rev. Larry Owens, Jr. as our fourth Pastor. Rev. Owens was officially installed as Pastor on May 31, 2009.
From our early humble beginning until the current year, Canaan has strived to become a beacon in each community that the Church was located.
It does not yet appear what the Lord has in store for us.