First Baptist Church began in 1817 when eighteen Christians decided to band together into what was known as the Baptist Praying Society. Until then there was no white Baptist church in the town. They drew up a covenant and began proceedings to become a constituted church.
A brilliant and eloquent young man, principal of the Richmond Academy, had given his life to the ministry. He led the church to reorganize, secure a lot and build a church. The building, costing $20,000 was dedicated May 6, 1821.
A year of destiny, 1845, was preceded by agitation in the Triennial convention. Issues of slavery and foreign missions split the national convention and resulted in a called convention to be held at this church May 10. Delegates from eleven states formed the Southern Baptist Convention and two mission boards. The church minutes are silent about this event as they are about the Civil War a few years later.
With the call of Lansing Burrows in 1883, the church began a rapid growth. He began with a 6-week revival! He then organized the City Mission Board and also organized the women of the church into the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society. Mrs. W.M. Jordan and Mrs. Smith Irvine immediately began to invite the Chinese of the city to a Sunday afternoon Sunday School. This is still in operation today although most of the Chinese are assimilated into the congregation. The emphasis is continued on Wednesday morning and evening with the WMU’s Conversational English classes for foreign students in the area.
In 1899 the congregation voted to tear down the original building and rebuild on the same location. A beautiful sanctuary designed similar to the Church of the Madeleine in Paris was dedicated in 1902.
The name, First Baptist Church, became legal in 1919 just before the church celebrated its centennial in 1921. Mrs. Isabella Jordan’s book, A Century of Service, was published at this time.
Dr. R. Paul Caudill, an outstanding minister, became pastor in 1937. He began radio broadcasting, encouraged the organization of the Brotherhood and helped initiate plans for a Sunday School building adjacent to the Sanctuary. It was dedicated in 1941, months before the fateful day of December 7, which plunged the nation in to World War II.
The twenty year ministry of Dr. Robert Jackson Robinson was begun in 1953. During his pastorate the church formed a mission which grew into Morningside Church, remodeled the sanctuary, began a Sunday School at the S & S Cafeteria and began its television ministry which continues today.
A sesquicentennial celebration was planned for the spring of 1967. A new history of the church to be written by Anna Olive Jones was commissioned. A week-long event included a cantata, a historical pageant and a service of consecration led by Dr. Billy Graham.
In 1968 a momentous decision was made to move the church to a new location as there was no more property available for expansion. It was an emotional vote and a few members of the church began litigation. T. Richard Daniel headed a building committee to oversee the plans. A campus style complex was designed, ground was broken in 1973, and construction begun in 1974.
When Dr. Robinson resigned in 1974, it was left to Dr. George Balentine to conduct the move in 1975 to the western extremity of town. (The original church had been built at the western extremity of town). His success is measured in the commitment of a unified congregation to a budget of more than a million dollars and the construction of a new sanctuary.
In 1985 the Chineese Sunday School celebrated their 100th Anniversary.
1988 saw the celebration of the WMU Centennial and Joan Puryear chaired the celebration of our 175th Anniversary as a church family.
Dr. Charles Bugg was pastor when our sanctuary was dedicated in 1983 as well as for the construction of the Walton Education Building. Dr Bugg resigned in 1989, and the church called Dr. Timothy Owings as pastor in 1990. During his 13 years as pastor, a magnificent Schantz pipe organ was added, and the administrative annex adjoining the sanctuary was built which houses a music suite, senior adult department, and the administrative offices.
In 6 years the church will be 200 years old. We continue to have a dynamic program of worship, education, mission activities, singles and benevolent ministries, television ministry, and kindergarten.
On June 12, 2011 the church dedicated a new chapel (Storey Chaple) and Fellowship Hall. This marked the completion of a long awaited and much anticipated addition to our campus complex. We now have wonderful new tools to enhance our ministry.
The church is continually ministering to a growing community with ministries for every age, working together “to love the Lord and share His love with our community and world.”
by Anna Olive Jones Bannister, July 14, 2004 (Updated April, 2013)