It’s a place with a rich past and a bright future.
That’s how the Rev. Will Dyer sees First Baptist Church of Augusta, which is celebrating its bicentennial this year.
“What’s beautiful is that after 200 years of active ministry, First Baptist Church is still a force in the city of Augusta. If we can dream it, we can make it happen,” said Dyer, who preached his first sermon as senior pastor on Easter Sunday.
The bicentennial year has been busy with many activities taking place. The biggest event, however, is the homecoming celebration planned for Aug. 20. There will be a single worship service at 10:30 a.m. rather than regular services at 8:30 and 11 a.m. There will be special guests including former pastors and staff members, and after the service there will be an old-fashioned dinner on the grounds with activities for children and a balloon launch at 2 p.m. Longtime members will also be recognized.
Dyer expects standing-room only at the service and urges people to arrive early. More than 1,100 people have already registered to attend the dinner and tickets are no longer available.
“What a great day it will be,” said Dyer.
Founded as The Baptist Praying Society of Augusta in March 1817, First Baptist Church of Augusta has seen many changes over the years. There were 18 men and women gathered for that initial meeting. The church was formally organized on Jan. 20, 1820.
Members dedicated the first building at the corner of Eighth and Greene streets on May 6, 1821. In 1845, that site saw the birth of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1902, a new building inspired by the Church of Madeline in Paris was dedicated at the site.
The church purchased land in west Augusta in 1969, and the congregation moved to the present location, at 3500 Walton Way Ext., in 1975. Several buildings have been constructed on the site over the years with the most recent one, the chapel and fellowship hall, dedicated in 2011. The chapel contains stained glass windows from the 1902 building.
Over the years, several books have been commissioned to document the church’s history, and this year is no different as a new book by Dr. Bruce Gourley has been released.
So far during the bicentennial year, there have been several guest ministers. Earlier this year, four former pastors presented greetings and memories of their time at First Baptist. There was a service to honor families with five and six generations of membership, and another with Dr. Frank Page of the Southern Baptist Convention speaking about the church’s history and its role in the formation of the organization.
In September, there will be a women’s luncheon with Kim Crabill of Roses and Rainbows Ministries. And the grand finale will be on Dec. 3 with a concert featuring David Phelps.
As the newest pastor of First Baptist Church, Dyer said he’s excited about what’s to come.
While he’s new to his role at First Baptist, he’s not new to Augusta. He lived in Augusta several years ago while his wife Sara studies at the Medical College of Georgia. A graduate of the University of Georgia and Emory University, Dyer served as pastor of Grovetown United Methodist Church for two years while she finished school.
He recently served as an associate pastor in his hometown at the First Baptist Church of Gainesville, and he said his current role is a dream come true.
“Since coming here, I’ve had lunch every single day with a different person. It may be a college kid trying to figure out where God is leading or the next day some government official or an 87-year-old,” he said.
Dyer isn’t the only new face n in First Baptist’s leadership this year. A new children’s pastor, a new youth pastor and a new contemporary worship leader will also be taking over this year.