First Baptist of Augusta celebrates campus growth

The Rev. Greg DeLoach has a thing for rocks. The pastor of First Baptist Church in Augusta has been known to pocket a handful on vacations and missions around the world.

They're precious, he said, because "almost every one has a story about it."

The same can be said for each stone that's part of First Baptist's new $12.5 million chapel and fellowship hall, dedicated on Sunday in the presence of more than 1,000 church members and guests.

Like Jacob and Joshua centuries ago, "We all need a pile of rocks where we can point and say, 'This is where God has taken me,'" DeLoach said. "Time doesn't permit me to name all the people who have helped pile up these rocks."

Under the noon sun, many of them gathered for a ribbon cutting, followed by the first lunch to be served in the new fellowship hall, which seats 750.

A tour after lunch provided most church members their first glimpse of the Barbara Langley Storey Memorial Chapel, named for a longtime member and children's teacher who died in 2002.

It's just one of the ways the new building pays tribute to "those who have gone before us," said Milton Martin, the church's long-range planning committee chair.

Several church members who lobbied to begin construction of the new chapel died before it was completed, he said.

Debbie Williams, a church member who died on a mission trip en route to Chile last year, was a "creative force" responsible for many of the ideas seen in the new facility. She dreamt up the "Wall of Faith," featuring a large-scale mosaic crafted by Dave Welter out of 11 varieties of wood, some from First Baptist's own campus. It features the names of 19 people whom donors wish to honor by giving to the church.

It's certainly unique in these economic times, said Don Wheless, the director of missions for the Augusta Association of Baptist Churches, a network of 63 local churches.

"We live in times that economic conditions make it challenging for religious organizations," he said.

Looking across the First Baptist campus, some would say it is clear the church has been blessed. "I believe God blesses the church that applies his teachings," Wheless said, commending the church for its disaster response teams, local and global missions and benevolence ministry.

The new facilities are the result of years of sacrificial giving, DeLoach said. Church members have given generously to fund not only this project, but also the development of the entire campus, for more than 40 years.

"Through the generations, people have taken this baton," he said.

The church's next master plan changes directions.

"The master plan for this century isn't about bricks and mortar, but flesh and blood," DeLoach said. The ministries of the church, he explained, should testify to the fact that Jesus is alive and working in the church.

Each new construction was chosen with the aim of furthering ministry, DeLoach said.

The new chapel will host services, lectures, recitals and weddings. The fellowship hall is large enough to accommodate four events at a time. And along with the new facilities, the church completed a $600,000 upgrade to its mission activity center, where contemporary services are held and the benevolence ministry offers food, emergency assistance and legal advice to those in need.

Though it's not the newest or tallest, that makes it perhaps the most important building on First Baptist's campus, DeLoach said.

"As beautiful as our buildings are, they are nothing more than a pile of rocks in the eyes of others," he said.

It's the ministry that must set the church apart, he said. "We all need places we can point to and say God did something amazing there. May it be so for us."

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