Archive for the ‘History’ Category

FBC Saints

by Virginia Darnell

Those attending Richmond’s First Baptist Church (FBC) enjoy the many programs, classes and facilities that the church offers, and it’s easy to assume it has always been the way it is today. But much of what can be enjoyed today is the result of the work and donations of long-gone saints. The Pusey House is a prime example.

FBC Saints

Pusey House

This facility is the beautiful three-story brick home with gardens and a small preschool playground surrounded by a stone wall, located across from the church on Park Avenue. Over the years, the house has been used as a place for Sunday morning classes to meet; FBC groups to host get-togethers and celebrations; and committee meetings to be held. Few people know that the Pusey House was the result of a donation from faithful members.

Paul Pusey was in the automobile business in Richmond, and his wife, Nell, was involved in Richmond politics, serving on City Council at one time. They were also long-time members of FBC. Paul was a deacon, and both he and Nell served on many committees over the years. In 1985 they notified the church that they were giving a gift of $275,000 to the church with the understanding that the church would purchase the Page House across the street. The house was built in the early part of the century by the well-known Page family and was owned for many years by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. The house was for sale and the Puseys had the idea that the house could be used for general church purposes such as small functions and receptions, for educational purposes, and as a private study for the pastor. The church graciously accepted the gift and bought the house. The cost of renovations at that time was $100,000. The name of the house was changed to the Pusey House in honor of Paul and Nell Pusey whose generous donation had made the purchase possible.

FBC Saints

Sanctuary chancel pre-1986

FBC Saints

Sanctuary chancel pre-1986

Another saint of the past was James (Jim) R. Shearon. Jim was a deacon and served on many committees during his lifetime. He left a legacy which all of us enjoy every time we enter the sanctuary. Jim chaired a committee in 1985 to renovate the chancel area. This is the area where the choir sits each Sunday during the worship service. Prior to renovation, the organ was in the middle of the choir loft and the entire area was enclosed with white paneling. (Larger pictures of the area before the renovation can be seen on pages 349 and 353 of The Open Door, which presents the church history.) Jim worked with the architectural firm of Marcellus, Wright, Cox and Smith, and with their suggested design changes, the entire chancel was changed. The organ was moved to the floor on the right of the pulpit and the piano to the left. A pediment was added over the baptistery which replicated the baptistery from the original First Baptist Church at Twelfth and Broad streets. All partitions were removed and the entire area was opened as we see it today. The construction was completed in 1986. The area that we now know as the choir loft is the result of the renovation efforts of Jim Shearon and the committee he chaired.

These are but two stories of the many saints that have provided a way for us to enjoy the FBC buildings we have today. The next time you’re at church, look around and say a prayer of thanks for those who made what we have today possible.

FBC Saints

Sanctuary chancel today

Read Full Post »

edited by Nancy Mairs

In the 1500s, English bell-ringers rang their tower church bells in intricate numerical patterns instead of the melodies we know today. They called this numerical method “change ringing,” and it required hours of practice. The bell-ringers needed a way to practice their intricate patterns without disturbing their nearby village neighbors, and that was the genesis of handbells. Eventually, tune ringing of handbells was accepted as its own art form, and their performance in churches became more popular.1

The long tradition of including handbells as part of the music program at Richmond’s First Baptist Church began in 1962 when a member asked Dr. Theodore F. Adams, Senior Pastor (1936-1968) if the church would be interested in a set of handbells that she wanted to donate. Dr. Adams asked Dr. Ray Herbek, Minister of Music (1962-1989), who agreed to take the donation even though he knew nothing about handbells.

Handbells Have a Long TraditionThat fall, Dr. Herbek taught himself to play handbells and then taught his sons. By Thanksgiving they had learned to play the Doxology, and premiered it at the Thanksgiving service. Dr. Herbek later commented, “Even my youngest son made a ‘ding’ at the end. It sold the handbells to the congregation.” 2

Because there were very few published music pieces for handbells in those days, Dr. Herbek started arranging music and adapted organ pieces like “Trumpet Tune” and “Trumpet Voluntary.” The bell choir often played from his manuscripts before his arrangements were published, and by the time Dr. Herbek retired in 1989, he had composed 21 volumes of handbell music.

Handbells Have a Long Tradition

Boys’ Bell Choir at the White House

Later in the 1960s, an all-boy handbell choir was formed, and they began to ring outside of the church walls. On a trip to Bermuda they played 17 times in one week. Under Dr. Herbek’s leadership choirs played at the White House on six separate occasions (the first in 1969), playing for Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George H. W. Bush.

Susan Atkins, a member of the current FBC handbell choir, remembers that Dr. Herbek later formed bell choirs by requiring those auditioning to take a music theory test that involved rhythm questions. A typical question would be, “What beat is this note on?” The eight highest scorers then won spots in the choir.

The first bell choir Sue participated in performed a piece that required nine bells. She remembers that the person who had scored the highest on the test was given two bells to play! One morning they were to play in church that person was sick, so Allen Brown was asked to step in and play.

Later, a girls’ bell choir began, and in the 1970s, an adult handbell choir was formed.  Since those early trips to Bermuda and the White House, the FBC bell choirs have traveled extensively around the world, including Canada, Mexico, England, Scotland, Germany, Slovakia and Romania. As Sue remembers, “Many times we would play in churches in different towns and then go home with church members to stay in their homes overnight. The missionaries used us to draw a crowd to the concert, as the bells had no language barrier.”

Handbells Have a Long Tradition


Today, 27 ringers make up three levels of handbell choirs at FBC. FirstRingers, which was formed in 1991, is the adult bell choir. They perform monthly and also travel to retirement communities regularly to share music. Joyful Ringers began in 2013, and is the adult beginner group, performing about four concerts per year as part of the Sunday worship service. The newest choir, Alegria Youth Bells, is composed of our teenage students.

Our handbell choirs add a unique element to our services, creating and enhancing our worship environment as we seek to draw closer to God. That’s something to make a joyful noise about!


1Handbell History.” Lancaster Hand Bell Ensemble, Lancaster First Presbyterian Church.

2White, B. and Anderson, F. (2006). The Open Door, A History of First Baptist Church Richmond, Virginia. Richmond, Virginia: First Baptist Church, pp.225, 434.

Listen to the Boys’ Handbell Choir from the album At the Manger recorded with the Church Choir and Quartet.
What Is This Lovely Fragrance?
Shepherds, Shake Off Your Drowsy Sleep
Hark, Now, O Shepherds
Angels We Have Heard on High

Watch the video from FirstRingers on mission in Cloppenberg, Germany, 2001.

Watch videos of recent FirstRingers performances.

Read Full Post »

Story by Jeannie Dortch. Photographs by Dean Hawthorne.

I have always been drawn to the stained glass windows in our sanctuary.  Everything about them intrigues me, from the decorative and colorful Doric Greek designs that surround them to the stories behind their creation and the scriptures chosen to accompany each one. Dr. Theodore F. Adams spearheaded the window project in the late 1940s, his vision inspired by Psalm 90:17, “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of thy hands.”

Establish the work of our hands.
For close to seventy years, the stained glass windows on the east and west of our sanctuary have illuminated the story of Christ’s life and of His modern church. The upper windows follow Jesus from the prophecies of His birth to His ascension while the lower panels correlate with the windows above them to reflect how present-day worshipers live out Christ’s example.

Efforts are underway to refurbish these 26 windows. Since their installation, there has never been any regularly scheduled maintenance. The Premises Team has determined the windows have thermal and structural deterioration that needs to be addressed. With the restoration of the sanctuary complete, the need to protect the stained glass windows for generations to come has become paramount.

Given the significance of these windows to our Church, an opportunity has arisen to help offset the expense of this preservation. If the window repairs are funded through the capital expense budget, the project will have to be completed over two to three years. But, if the congregation underwrites the preservation, it can be finished sooner, will cost less, and the capital budget can be used for many other identified capital needs.

A committee has been commissioned by the deacons to encourage the congregation to sponsor the restoration of a window by an individual, family, Sunday school class, or other group. The restoration may be in memory or honor of a loved one, special person or group. The price to refurbish each of the 26 windows is $7,500, a goodly sum to be sure, but contributions of smaller amounts are encouraged and will be gratefully received.

A plaque commemorating and recognizing the donor and honoree of each restored window will be placed beside the original giver’s designation under each window. For those who contribute smaller amounts towards the restoration, a congregational designation will appear on the plaque next to the original. When the windows are rededicated, all donor names will appear in that day’s bulletin.

window detail

Window within a window: This detail cleverly depicts the artisans who crafted The Work of Our Hands window for our sanctuary.

Author’s notes: Detailed information and a submission form are in flyers on the church kiosks. Requests for a particular window will be handled on a first come, first served basis. Checks payable to FBC with “Window Preservation” on the memo line can be put in the offering plate or mailed to FBC, 2709 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA 23220. To make other payment arrangements or ask questions, contact Becky Wills in the Finance Office, 804-355-8637, ext. 152.

Photographs and brief descriptions of all the sanctuary windows are in the Memorial Windows booklet written by Dr. Adams and available in the church library. Additional information for some of the windows is found in First Things First.

Windows Restoration Committee: Nancy Chewning, Virginia Darnell, Jeannie Dortch, Paul Kreckman, Richard Szucs and Charles Tilley.

Read Full Post »

Story by Jeannie Dortch. Photos by Dean Hawthorne and Janet Chase.

God sent his messenger, a man named John, who came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. He himself was not the light; he came to tell about the light. This was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all people (John 1:6-9, GNT).

Art has always been a beautiful means of storytelling, and stained glass windows remain a relevant way to engage and relate church history and faith’s meaning to those who view them. In the late 1940s First Baptist Church installed correlating stained glass windows around the sanctuary above and below the balcony. The upper windows depict the life of Christ; the lower windows tell stories of the life and work of the church as they relate to the panels directly above them.

One upper panel depicts John the Baptist, a nomadic Jewish preacher and a major religious figure in Christianity, Islam, Baha’i Faith, and Mandaeism. He is called a prophet by all of these traditions, and a saint by many Christians. Baptists remember him as Jesus’ cousin whose wilderness mission was to make followers ready for the coming of the Messiah through repentance of sins. At the end of his life, John was imprisoned for his beliefs.

Light the Way
The lower panel portrays the earliest Virginia Baptist preachers who were jailed for preaching the gospel without a license from the Church of England, a requirement unchanged until 1786. While incarcerated, pastors continued to spread the Good News to anyone who would gather around the jail windows to listen. Disgruntled jailers built high fences to keep the curious away, but one prisoner waved a handkerchief on a stick to draw crowds closer as he preached even louder to be heard. Many who disagreed with them cut and maimed the hands of pastors who held their hands or Bibles through the bars. Yet these men of God persisted fearlessly to instill Jesus’ words written on this window, “Know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Light the Way
The imprisoned pastors in the stained glass portrait never stopped reaching out to change hearts. These pastors and John the Baptist suffered to make earth a little more heavenly. For me, catching their vision and risking loss to help others find this freedom is part of our mandate as Christians. Ann Carter reflected on her recent experience as a volunteer in Croatia, “We live in a world where religion is a source of conflict, division and hatred. The Croatian police and NGOs we worked with were surprised to learn that we were abroad without an agenda other than to love people. Baptists do not have a corner on this loving-people market. All people of faith need to stand up and shine a light of compassion, justice and generosity in our world.”

Editor’s note: These two windows are located on the Mulberry Street side of the Sanctuary, the first set from the front.
Copies of the fully illustrated Memorial Windows written by Theodore F. Adams and The Open Door, the church’s history from 1780-2005, are available for checkout or purchase in the church library.

Read Full Post »

By Win Grant. Photos by Win Grant and Paul Bickford; video produced and directed by David Powers.

TV history, part 2

Dr. Peter James Flamming

Dr. Peter James Flamming, our church’s fifteenth pastor, arrived in 1983, and in March 1984, Jimmy Shearon was appointed to chair a chancel study committee. My role on the committee was to make sure that if a decision was made to launch a television ministry, we didn’t overlook an opportunity to provide for the physical structures to support television as part of the chancel renovation.

In April 1984, our Easter Sunday service was broadcast live on NBC. This honor was rotated among various denominations each year, and when the Baptists’ turn came in 1984, the Radio and Television Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention invited First Baptist Church to represent Baptists. I suspect that Jimmy Allen’s knowledge of Dr. Flamming’s preaching skills played a role in our selection. Dr. Allen was the chairman of the Radio and Television Commission at the time and a fellow Texan.

NBC sent two “sports trucks” to Richmond for a week before the Easter Sunday broadcast. These tractor trailers of equipment were the same remote trucks the network used for live sporting events. It was genuinely a big deal for FBC to be featured on a live, one-hour national television broadcast. Not long after, NBC eliminated its Religious Programming Unit. As noted in Fred Anderson’s history of FBC, The Open Door, the network broadcast “gave the church leadership an opportunity to consider if televised services might someday become a regular part of their ministry.”

TV history, part 2

Sunday broadcast

In 1986, the church approved the renovation of the chancel area, and at that same time, FBC was again approached by the Radio and Television Commission of the Convention to represent Baptists on television. The Convention had invested in the ACTS satellite channel and had a certain number of hours of programming to produce. ACTS was picked up by a number of local cable television systems and available to millions of cable TV subscribers around the country.

FBC was asked to allow the ACTS channel to carry our Sunday worship service on the “Baptist Hour” for six months. The only catch was that we needed to acquire the equipment and provide the program to ACTS every week. Dr. Flamming referred to the launch of a television ministry as a venture of faith. The FBC Endowment Fund found the money, and David Walker was called as the first “television minister,” as the position was then called. David was fresh out of seminary and was a staff of one assisted by a number of volunteers. We produced 43 worship services for the “Baptist Hour.”

The ACTS satellite channel had limited availability on the cable TV systems in Virginia. The church made the decision to purchase airtime on WRIC-TV, the local ABC affiliate so that our 11:00 a.m. service could be seen locally in the Richmond area. Our relationship with WRIC continues to this day. Some may recall a period in the 1990s when we moved to a 30-minute broadcast to save money on airtime. Our members (and the television station) agreed that the 30-minute service was less than ideal as the program consisted mainly of the sermon, a hymn and a prayer. We were able to go back to the full hour broadcast after a few months.

After six years with us, David Walker left to explore other media interests, and we began the year-long search for a new media minister. I was the chairman of the search committee and told them that I thought we could wrap up our assignment in a few weeks as I had the perfect candidate in mind. David Powers, a video producer at the Foreign Mission Board, had been a member of FBC. I called him up and practically offered him the job. He politely told me that he was very interested and flattered, but that it was not the right time to leave his current job. So the search for a media minister went on.


David Powers with TV crew volunteers

During the next year, David Walker graciously agreed to help out during the week with editing our program, but all the other responsibilities fell to our loyal crew of volunteers. In those days, we needed a crew of about ten people to record the worship service. After almost a year of searching for an appropriate leader for our ministry, I decided to give David Powers one more opportunity to consider my original proposal. This time, the Lord had spoken to David, and he agreed to talk to the search committee. David joined us in 1993, and took the ministry to a new level.

During the “Powers Era” we upgraded our equipment twice, first from analogue to digital and then to high definition. We established the church’s first website and began broadcasting our Sunday services live on the internet. We established a Bible study class that is carried live on the internet and allows participants from all over the world to email questions and comments during the webcast. The church began to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter, a requirement to reach young people today.

Screenshot 2015-250px

China video title screenshot

David also produced three memorable special programs. The first was a documentary shot in China in 1996 tracing the work of legendary foreign missionaries Henrietta Hall Shuck who had FBC ties and Virginian Lottie Moon. He also produced two Christmas specials, “A Richmond Christmas” that aired in 1998 and “A Richmond Christmas Celebration,” in 2003.


Paul Bickford directing broadcast

In the 2010s local television broadcasts of our worship services continue, but the competition is fierce as Richmond viewers have two other Baptist worship services to choose from at 11:00 a.m., as well as dozens of cable channel offerings. The internet will probably make local television broadcasting obsolete in another ten years, but we are already poised to meet that challenge as an early adopter of webcasting. (It was pretty neat a few years ago when we were in Tokyo to turn on my laptop at 10:00 p.m. on a Sunday night and watch our 11:00 am worship service broadcast live on the internet.)


Allen Cumbia in TV control room

Our media ministry is now led by Jess Ward and Allen Cumbia with essential support from Janet Chase and Sean Lumsden-Cook. The weekly worship service broadcast does not just happen. It requires hours of preparation and post-production to produce the program that airs on a one-week tape delay. For the six Sundays each year when we broadcast our service live on WRIC, even more preparation and rehearsal go into the broadcast.

In addition to the great leadership of this ministry there are two essential ingredients without which the TV ministry simply would not be possible: volunteers and money. Every Sunday, about 20 volunteers donate their time to produce the television webcasts and broadcasts. The equipment we have is state of the art. Our cameras were purchased at a substantial discount after NBC used them for two weeks to air an Olympic Games broadcast. Generous contributions from the Endowment Fund and some special gifts by individuals at times when there were critical needs have allowed FBC to pioneer in using TV for outreach and inreach.

We’ve come a long way from our AM radio days of the 1950s but even then, we were one of just two churches in Richmond that had a radio broadcast. So it will not be a surprise that FBC continues to find new ways to reach our members and the world through the use of electronic media.

Read A Brief History of the First Baptist Church Television Ministry, Part 1

Read Full Post »

Story by Win Grant. Photos courtesy of WWBT-TV.

Many of us take for granted that our church broadcasts our Sunday morning services locally on WRIC-TV and that we have a website and are heavily invested in social media. But those tools are not universally used by churches today. FBC, a pioneer in using various forms of media to connect with our members and beyond, began this outreach with radio and then television.

I remember as a child on Sunday mornings walking past the Radio Room under the staircase, just outside the doors to the Sanctuary on the Boulevard side of the church. In the 1950s into the mid-1970s a church member sat at an audio control board that not only controlled the public address sound system in the Sanctuary, but also fed a telephone line to send the audio to local AM radio station WRNL for our 11:00 a.m. worship services. If you paid close attention, you could see Dr. Adams lean into the microphone during the first hymn and welcome the live radio audience, a message that the congregation did not hear. In 1970, the radio broadcast of the “First Baptist Church Hour” moved to Sunday evenings, probably because WRNL had found an advertiser willing to pay more for the 11:00 a.m. time slot than FBC could afford.

A few years ago, a friend at WWBT-TV found some items in a storage building that was being torn down and recognized the significance to FBC. He brought me a reel of 16mm film that said “First Baptist Church” on the metal can, as well as some black and white photos. The film was a kinescope of a television special featuring Dr. Adams that was broadcast on WRVA-TV before the call letters were changed to WWBT-TV. (A kinescope, a way of recording a television program, was the only available method before videotape was invented.)

We had the film transferred to a DVD. The program, “The Pastor’s Study,” featured Wilson Angel singing two hymns, accompanied by Alton Howell on the organ. In a studio re-creation of his study, Dr. Adams shared a short inspirational message. Based on a photo of one of the TV cameras used in its production, the program was probably from the early 1960s and thus very likely FBC’s first television broadcast. Watch video of an early TV production.


Sanctuary during Dr. Adams’ era

TV set of Dr. Adams' study

TV set of Dr. Adams’ study

In 1973, FBC embarked on a weekly television venture that began as a 15-minute program on Sunday mornings. Winford Hendrix joined the staff as minister of education/administration that year. In 1974, Winford took on the task of producing and hosting a television program called “Focus,” produced in the WCVE studios, but aired on WWBT. It was a talk show with a religious theme. It presented stories on local, church-related events and usually featured a musical performance as well as a message from Dr. Thompson. Barbara Nesbit was a driving force in the production of “Focus” and was a presenter as well.

Another save from the WWBT dustbin by my friend Wray Dudley was a video tape in a format that has been obsolete for years. The tape contained two 30-minute versions of the “Focus” program from January 1975. Let’s just say that hair and clothing styles have changed a bit since 1975.

In 1975, Dr. Thompson asked the church to conduct a long-range plan, and among the topics to be studied was television. Billy Graham was using television effectively, and some of the large Baptist churches had started to broadcast their Sunday morning worship services on local commercial television stations. In the very early days, a few television stations even offered free airtime to churches because selling advertising on Sunday mornings was practically impossible. The broadcasters were just happy to get a program to air, even if only a handful of viewers tuned in.

The long-range planning committee concluded that the church did not have the financial resources to acquire the equipment to produce a weekly broadcast of the worship service and to take on the other ongoing costs associated with a weekly worship service broadcast. Televised worship service broadcasts were not to be until some years later.

Next installment – The Flamming Era and Weekly Broadcast of the Worship Services

Read Full Post »

By Jeannie Dortch. Photos by Dean Hawthorne.

Every morning, lean thine arms awhile
Upon the windowsill of heaven,
And gaze upon thy Lord.
Then, with the vision in thy heart,
Turn strong to meet thy day.

                                                               Author unknown

In the early days of his ministry, Dr. Theodore F. Adams vacationed in Wisconsin where he attended an outdoor vesper service led by an Episcopal rector who recited the verse above. Dr. Adams never forgot those words. He committed them to memory.

calloutFrom 1936-1968 Dr. Adams served as senior pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. During that time he referred to this verse countless times as one of his favorites. He even had desktop placards made and sent to every member of the church.

Many readers are aware that the beautiful stained glass windows surrounding the FBC Sanctuary were part of a renovation project initiated by Dr. Adams in the late 1940s, but they may be unaware of the message he left in one of the windows by which we remember him today.

In the commission of the windows’ refurbishment, Dr. Adams’ goal was twofold. The larger windows that surround the balcony were to portray the significant events in the life of Jesus, while those below were to demonstrate how followers could live out Jesus’ lessons in modern times. Each upper window correlates to the one below it and is interpreted there for modern understanding. Each window is also accompanied by a scripture passage – except one.

There are two windows in the church picturing Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, one in the Chapel and one in the Sanctuary. The Chapel window’s focus is on prayer, but the story in the Sanctuary’s window shows Jesus, having been strengthened by prayer, telling Peter, James, and John, “Behold, the hour is at hand—Rise, let us be going.” The light shining on Jesus comes from heaven and affirms Jesus’ declaration that, “Thy will, not mine, be done.”

Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane

Bathed in sunlight in the corollary window below kneels a lone figure, praying the very poem that begins, “Every morning, lean thine arms upon the windowsill of heaven.” These verses are not found in the Bible, but send the message that made such a marked impression on Dr. Adams’ life that he was determined it be memorialized in this window.

Windowsill of Heaven

The Windowsill of Heaven

Could he have guessed that with each reading, those who remembered him would also see him reciting it before a congregation of First Baptist Church members, even today?

In writing about Dr. Adams, Dr. W. Randall Lolley, former pastor of FBC Greensboro, NC, says that Dr. Adams was a man, “who truly perceived the earth as the ‘windowsill of heaven.’ Every person he met, every event he enjoyed, every experience he knew worked ‘inside/out’ rather than ‘outside/in.’”

As we continue our mission to bring KOH2RVA, may we put into practice these words so dear to Dr. Adams.

Editor’s note: These windows are located on The Boulevard side of the Sanctuary, the fourth set from the front.

Copies of the fully illustrated Memorial Windows written by Theodore F. Adams and The Open Door, the church’s history from 1780-2005, are available for checkout or purchase in the church library.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »