First Baptist plans to wear out new facility

It's quieter at First Baptist Church of Augusta now that the construction has stopped.


But if the Rev. Greg DeLoach has his way, it won't stay that way for long.

"We have new facilities waiting to be filled with life, activity, people," he said.

DeLoach expects thousands of people at the dedication of First Baptist's new $12.5 million chapel and fellowship hall Sunday.

Construction began two years ago with a groundbreaking that gave way to a new 300-seat chapel and a hall and kitchen capable of churning out meals for 750.

The 30-acre campus off Walton Way Extension regularly plays host to crowds, but this celebration is different, DeLoach said. It pays homage to First Baptist's past and future.

First Baptist left its home at Eighth and Greene streets in the mid-1970s. The church grew out of a Baptist praying society and was dedicated in that location, the site of the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention, on May 6, 1821.

It was a controversial decision at the time, with church members filing lawsuits to try to keep the church downtown.

The move, in the end, paid off. First Baptist was given the opportunity to expand, and now counts an adult education building, preschool building, children's education building, missions activity center and more among its facilities.

"The move out here was visionary," said Milton Martin, a member of the church's building committee. "It made sense. This is where the population was moving."

Several aspects of the new facility were designed to honor the historic sanctuaries of the church's former site, and with the dedication, the church will unveil a new display featuring artifacts from throughout the church's history.

The new octagon-shaped chapel features several stained glass windows that were removed from the old downtown church. A new cupola was built to mimic that of the 1821 church that once stood on Greene Street.

For all of the beautiful detail and money poured into the new site, none of it matters if the church isn't putting the facilities to good use, DeLoach said.

"These buildings are not just for us," he said. "We're all part of the body of Christ and it's meant to be shared."

Building projects often have the potential to invite criticism from the community, he said. Church leaders explain that First Baptist needed more space because it wants to do more things.

"This is a place where people see buildings, but if they look, they'll see lives being changed," said Wade Blount, a longtime member and chairman of the church's building committee. "These buildings are tools we use to get things done. There's nothing sacred about the buildings themselves. They're just the tools God has given us."

By building a new chapel and fellowship hall, First Baptist has freed up room in the church's mission center, which hosts benevolence ministries, including a food pantry, emergency assistance and legal guidance.

It allows more space for the community groups that meet at First Baptist through out year.

In 2010, the church played host to 300 events. The events include blood drives and support groups for those hard of hearing or with depression. It's where the Augusta Chorale Society practices, and the place Georgia Marriage and Family Therapy offers its services.

The building, DeLoach said, is meant to be used.

The missions activity center, after all, got worn out that way and warranted its own $600,000 upgrade this past year, including new lighting and sound for contemporary worship.

"It's a worn-out building for sure," DeLoach said. "That should be the goal of every church. Buildings should be worn out."

Attend the dedication

A new chapel and fellowship hall will be dedicated Sunday at First Baptist Church of Augusta, 3500 Walton Way.

The dedication immediately follows the church's 11 a.m. worship service, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon.

The building will be open to the community from 4 to 6 p.m., and the day concludes with a worship service at 6:30 p.m.

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