The origin of Unity Baptist Church is rooted in the lives and efforts of the earliest settlers of the area. Although these brave men, many along with their families, were motivated by various pursuits, they were able to establish the Poage Settlement, comprised of several thousand acres. Bringing their deep Biblical faith in God and Jesus, these early settlers, led by the Poage family, held regular prayer meetings with the various families that continued to move into the area. After a meeting on June 11, 1819 with the Reverend Robert Wilson, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Washington, Kentucky, the first church in the settlement was organized with twenty members. Unity Baptist Church would spring from this small and humble beginning.
In 1837, John Kelley and John Young gathered Baptists in the area to organize Union Baptist Church, which met for the first time in a frame building located at the corner of Blackburn Avenue and Summit Street. Originally a member of the Ohio Baptist Association, Union Baptist Church became the second member church in the Greenup Association of Baptist Churches in 1941 (Palmyra Baptist Church, which is no longer in existence, was the first). The membership later moved into another building on what is now known as Gartin Avenue. John Kelley and John Young shepherded Union Baptist Church until 1840, when Thomas Reynolds was ordained and called to pastor the church. Thomas Kelley Reynolds, Thomas Reynold’s son, was ordained in 1845 and assumed the pastorate.
Like today, alcohol consumption was a problem for area churches, including Union Baptist Church. In about 1850, Union Baptist Church withdrew from the Greenup Association of Baptist Churches because, as the records state, “we could not induce her (the Greenup Association) by any entreaties that we could bring to bear nor any action we could enforce to expel drunkards.” The Baptists explained that much dissipation abounded among the part of the population who worked among the mines and furnaces.
In 1858, Friendship Baptist Church united with Union, which prompted the members to change the name to Unity Baptist Church. During the Civil War and days of reconstruction, the church did not grow in numbers, but in 1864, Richard Adams donated land for a new church building. Members of Unity Baptist Church secured the lumber to build a log church house on the corner of Blackburn Avenue and Oakview Road. Ten years later, the log church building burned to the ground, and a year later in 1875, under the leadership of Pastor J.A. Petit, funds were solicited in order to construct a new brick church building. In May 1875, Brother L.F. Caudill preached the Dedication Sermon for the new Unity Baptist Church, which stood until 1919 when it was torn down to make room for a newer building on its present site. Street lots donated to the church by Mr. and Mrs. W.H. Thomas.
The early decades of the 20th Century provided Unity Baptist Church with tremendous growth. Under the leadership of E. L. Edens, who served as pastor until 1936, effort was directed toward developing a well-organized Sunday School program and a successful daily Bible School program held each year, both contributing to the growth in membership surpassing 500. Membership continued to grow after the arrival of L.H. Tipton. Additional property was purchased, and the educational building was constructed and furnished at the cost of $20,000. The church gave Brother Tipton a leave of absence for two years to allow him to serve as Chaplain with the U.S. Army, an example demonstrating Unity’s desire and willingness to serve. In 1949, during Brother Tipton’s time of service, Unity fostered Belmont Baptist Chapel.
C.B. Coots accepted the call to pastor the church in 1951. Membership continued to grow, necessitating the church to offer three Sunday services. The church put 30% of the budget into the building fund. In 1957, the beautiful auditorium, seating one thousand, and Sunday
School facilities underneath, was constructed at a cost of $325,000, and this construction was paid in full in 1964. In the eleven years Brother Coots served Unity, 900 hundred people united with the church.
Ira McMillen succeeded Brother Coots in April 1962. It was during his pastorate that Unity acquired the adjoining property where the church office is now located. The giving to the mission program of our Southern Baptist Convention reached its height under his leadership. During his ministry, the 45th Street Mission was started and a building secured. Brother McMillen’s tireless efforts toward missions and soul-winning continued after his resignation in 1975, when Dr. W.K. Woods served as interim minister.
Harold Cathey was called to Unity as pastor in August 1975. Reaching people for Christ has always been the main thrust of his ministry, typified by the bus ministry he developed and nurtured, growing to a total of nine buses running at one time. Average attendance rose from 300 to 600 while the buses were running. The Family Life Center, complete with kitchen, meeting rooms, and basketball gymnasium, was constructed in 1980 at the cost of $650,000. Although each pastor in the 170-year history of Unity Baptist Church has left an indelible mark upon the membership, the current members are a living testimony to Brother Cathey’s powerful and Godly efforts toward soul winning. Answering the call for missionary work in 1991, Brother Cathey, with his wife Beverly, went to Uganda, Africa, to plant churches, establish a seminary, and continue winning souls for Christ. When Brother Cathey is not working in the mission field, he and his wife remain active members of Unity Baptist Church to this day.
In 1992 Unity called Gary Frizzell to fill the position of pastor. During Brother Gary’s time at Unity, he did a fantastic job of visiting the church members and shut-ins. After six years of service, Brother Gary moved to Western Kentucky to pastor a church closer to his family. Charles Stewart graciously served Unity as the interim pastor until Dr. Floyd Paris was called into service in 1998.
Dr. Paris accepted the call and came to Unity Baptist Church with much enthusiasm, and this enthusiasm remains apparent throughout his service and the programs he has continued and initiated to this day. He was responsible for introducing Judgment House to the community, which has now become one of Unity’s greatest evangelistic events, reaching hundreds of souls every summer. In the tradition of Brother Cathey, Dr. Paris also engages in various mission experiences. Dr. Paris faithfully served Unity Bapist Church for 15 years! In the fall of 2013, Dr. Paris answered the call to the mission field. He is the founder of United Christian Expeditions and is currently serving on the mission field in Moyo which is in the northern part of Uganda, Africa.
In late summer of 2014, Unity called Jeremy Couture as their pastor. Jeremy accepted that call and has been faithful to his role as pastor. The people of Unity are excited to see what and where the Lord will lead them to in the years to come through the leadership of Jeremy.
With Reverend Jeremy Couture, Reverend Thearon Landrum -Minister of Music, Media, and Communication, Reverend Brad Callaway -Minister of Youth & Education; Unity Baptist Church continues to faithfully serve the Lord, the community, and the church.
From its humble beginnings to its current international influence, Unity Baptist Church has remained a beacon of light and justice to the Ashland community and beyond. With a clear focus on the Word of God, Unity Baptist Church has presented the Gospel to thousands. Through such programs as the Youth Ministry, Children's Ministries, Various adult ministries, WMU, Deacon Ministries, First Impressions Ministry, and more; the members of Unity Baptist Church continue to serve the Lord and spread the Gospel to countless individuals. The ever-expanding music program, with the Living Christmas Tree, Easter and July 4thmusicals, Children’s and Youth Choirs, orchestra, and handbells, are a tremendous blessing to all who attend.
For 182 years Unity Baptist Church has served the greater Ashland area, and with God’s help and blessings, Unity will continue it's service to the Lord and this community.