Dr. Victor L. Davis Sr., who led Bethlehem Baptist Church for more than 3 decades, dies at 69

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 5/20/2021, 6 p.m.
Dr. Victor Lee Davis Sr. had twin careers as a teacher in Richmond Public Schools and as the pastor for …
Dr. Davis

Dr. Victor Lee Davis Sr. had twin careers as a teacher in Richmond Public Schools and as the pastor for nearly 32 years of Bethlehem Baptist Church in the city’s East End.

The veteran educator and Bethlehem’s sixth pastor succumbed to illness Monday, May 10, 2021, his family said. He was 69.

His life was celebrated Saturday, May 15, during a service at the church on Fairmount Avenue that he had led since June 25, 1989, when he succeeded the Rev. John Bishop Gordon.

Dr. Davis taught health and physical education classes at various city elementary schools, including Fairfield Court Elementary, the former George Mason Elementary, Whitcomb Court Elementary and Clark Springs Elementary.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Beach native was an active minister at Bethlehem Baptist and served as president of the church’s nonprofit arm, the Canaan Housing Foundation. The foundation owns and manages two senior housing complexes that were installed in former city schools, the Bowler and Bacon retirement communities. The foundation gained them from the developer, H. Louis Salomonsky, after 20-year tax credits expired.

According to the church, Dr. Davis also led development of a fully equipped playground on the church grounds and established two building funds with the goal of expanding the current space.

“It was Dr. Davis’ dream that Bethlehem would eventually be able to offer educational aid and opportunities for children and adults,” his obituary noted.

Dr. Davis also is credited with expanding the church’s mission activities in the community and overseas, revitalizing the youth program and launching programs for young adults.

Well known for his singing ability, he also helped create a new sanctuary choir that was named for him.

Dr. Davis graduated from Norfolk State University in 1975. He started his career in the ministry in 1977 as an associate minister at New Rising Star Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, while earning his master’s of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He later earned his doctorate of ministry from Union Theological Seminary in New York.

After three years at the church in Fort Worth, he moved back to Virginia and spent the next six years as associate pastor and pastor of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk.

In 1986, he came to Richmond to serve as the director of Black church relations for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Foreign Mission Board and was called to the Bethlehem Baptist pulpit three years later. He also maintained his employment with the board until 1991, then turned to teaching.

He served on the board of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School.

Dr. Davis led the effort to revamp church ushering and was considered the father of the modern usher’s program after his 1999 book, “Ushering with a Mission: A Training Manual for the Development of the Ushers Ministry,” became a staple for churches across the country.

Survivors include his wife, Rosa B. Davis; two children, Victor L. Davis Jr. and Kristin Davis; and a granddaughter.