Archive for the ‘History’ Category

By Mary Ann Delano

The deacons at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, while considered to be leaders in our church, are mainly selected to serve and minister not only to the congregation but the pastor and staff members as well. Through many hours of meetings to plan the business of the church, the deacons and staff work together to ensure that we carry out the mission of FBC in the service of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and around the world. “Together you are the one body of Christ, and each of you is a separate and necessary part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27, The Living Bible) is a key verse for understanding the work of the deacons.

Within the deacon fellowship, there are also leaders, and each year deacons elect a Chairperson, Vice-Chair and Secretary. Most deacon chairs have years of experience with church life and administration having taught Sunday School, serving on church teams or leading major projects at church.

In addition to setting the agenda for deacon meetings with the Pastor, the deacon chair becomes intimately involved in the business of the church. Sometimes that includes dealing with financial or personnel issues, along with the functioning and missions of the church.

There are 14 living former deacon chairs dating back to service 43 years ago.

Our oldest living former deacon chair, Richmond “Dickie” Hamilton served in 1977-1978 while Luther Joe Thompson was pastor. The biggest issue the church faced was double-digit inflation and the result that money did not go as far in carrying out the mission of the church. Membership changed some as families moved to suburban churches.

He was followed by James E. Kulp (1979-1981) who served three years and said there were some personnel issues during his term, but serving as chair “was a piece of cake” as there wasn’t much controversy. He started the tradition of serving refreshments at meetings—just coffee and cookies.

Meredith House (1983-1985) served during the transition of ministers from Luther Joe Thompson to Peter James Flamming and flew to Texas to help Dr. Flamming’s former church release him to our church. He provided assistance, orientation, church history and guidance to our new Pastor.

Two deacon chairs served twice at different times, James “Jim” Norvelle in 1988 and 2011-2012, and Robert “Bob” Palmer in 2000 and 2003. Bob Palmer and Dr. Flamming established ties with First African Baptist Church and we had prayer partners; we went to their church and they came to ours to pray together. An attempt to revive the connection after each church had new pastors took place in 2013 when a half dozen deacons from each church met several times, including worshipping with them during Lenten services.

Carl Johnson (1993-95) served while we had a vacant ministry position, so he filled some ministerial roles during the worship services including giving communion trays to the deacons.

Virginia Darnell (1996-1997) was the first deacon chair from Hanover — and the first female deacon chair. One of her first duties as chair was to agree with Dr. Flamming that the church should be closed because of a huge January snowstorm.

Lee Stephenson (2009-2011) had served six months when new pastor Jim Somerville asked the church to consider changing its membership policy. Up until that time, FBC required immersion in water of anyone seeking to join the church if they had not done so in a previous church. Lee guided the church through the proposal with a special study group and many meetings. The church voted to change the policy and people have become members since then even if their Christian baptism was by other methods. An organized orientation program for new members was also initiated at this time.

Before each worship service, deacons pray for the service, its leaders, those on the prayer list and any other needs. When he was deacon chair, Robert “Bob” Palmer (2000, 2003), also added a short devotional thought which this author revived when she served as deacon chair.

As Jim Norvelle told his successor, “You’ve taken on another full-time job.” All the former deacon chairs who were available to offer advice and counsel made the task easier. Along with that resource, the Deacon Advisory Committee, made up of the last five deacon chairs and vice-chairs, is available to every deacon chair and pastor.

Other former chairs are Burton “Mac” Marshall (2001-02), Lee Hilbert (2004-07), Jim Markham (2008-2009), Mary Ann Delano (2013), Richard Szucs (2014-2016), Charles Tilley (2017-2018) and current chair Mark Larson (2019-2020).

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By Virginia Darnell

Richmond’s First Baptist Church is a good example of the truth that from a single seed multiple plants can grow given loving care. First Baptist Church was organized on a June evening in 1780 by Joshua Morris at a prayer meeting in the Church Hill area of Richmond, with fourteen members. The church met in homes, in Henrico Courthouse and in Mason’s Hall. Prayer meetings were held in homes during the week at various locations in the city.

Sunday school was beginning to be established in many areas and First Baptist had classes in the church on Sunday afternoon. There were four teachers. The Pastor decided that Sunday school should not meet in the church which led to a division among members. On April 14, 1820 Second Baptist Church was constituted as a result of the controversy over whether to support the Sunday school movement and several members from First Baptist left to be a part of the new church which decided to have Sunday school meet in the church. The group that left First Baptist included the William Cranes, David Ropers, Herbert Thompson and other leaders of the Sunday school as well as other areas of the church. Three original teachers of the Sunday school remained at First Baptist and they persuaded the ministerial staff to continue the school. We are grateful it remains a part of us today.

In 1832 seventy members of First left to form the Sycamore Church, the first to be established in Richmond by followers of Alexander Campbell. Later this became the Seventh Street Christian Church, the first of that denomination to be formed in Richmond.

In 1835 New Bridge Baptist Church in Henrico County was formed by thirteen members of First Baptist, one of whom was licensed to preach and one an ordained preacher. The church was dissolved in 1841 but was reorganized the following year.

In October 17, 1841 three hundred and eighty-seven white members of First Baptist moved into their new church at 12th and Broad Streets. The old church at College and Broad Street was purchased by the colored members of First Baptist, with help from some members and “friendly citizens of Richmond.” They became the First African Baptist Church and Dr. Robert Ryland, President of Richmond College, became their preacher.

Daughter Churches

Leigh Street Church

Several years later, members of First Baptist residing in the Church Hill area expressed interest in holding church meetings there. A group from First led by Elder Reuben Ford was authorized to hold church meetings. In June 1854 they reported a fund-raising program to build a church in that area. As a result, Leigh Street Baptist Church was organized. First Church dismissed eighty-four of its members to join with nineteen members of other churches in the constitution of this church.

Members of First Baptist lived all over the city and getting around was not as easy as it is today. Frequently groups who lived in an area near each other would hold prayer meetings and sometimes Sunday school. Such was true in 1857 when the Sydney area was approved to be a Conference and called “The Sydney Section.” This group later became known as Grove Avenue Baptist Church.

Daughter Churches

Venable Street Church

We do not know when the Venable Street Mission was organized, but in 1874 the Venable Street Baptist Church was organized and much of their support came from the ladies of the First Church Sewing Circle (they paid the pastor’s salary for some time).


Daughter Churches

Woodland Heights Church

The Young Men’s Missionary Society was a group that had been instrumental in organizing, funding and leading missions and Sunday school groups all over the city. In 1905 the name of this group was changed to the Men’s League. In 1907 Northside Baptist Church was established as an outgrowth of a mission Sunday school supported by the League. Woodland Heights Baptist Church was established in 1910 from a movement launched by Dr. McDaniel, Pastor of First Baptist, and the Men’s League.

Daughter Churches

former Oakwood Memorial Church

A tent meeting was also held near Oakwood Cemetery, where a number of persons were converted and expressed a desire to unite with First Church. Eighteen were received by baptism and seven by statement. In January 1916, Oakwood Baptist Church was constituted and Dr. McDaniel was asked to serve as moderator of the council which met for that purpose. We wonder if the twenty-five then joined the new church!

The Fourth Street Baptist Church was established in 1940 and fourteen FBC members joined in to help organize that church. While we don’t know much about what happened, the church seemingly struggled along and finally disbanded. Most of the fourteen original members returned to FBC. The church eventually became what is today known as Immanuel Baptist church.

Daughter Churches

River Road Church

In response to a request from a group in the Westham neighborhood of Richmond, First Baptist voted to “sponsor the organization of a chapel in the Westham area, with the expectation that it will, in time, become an organized Baptist church.” One thousand dollars was appropriated from church reserve funds to assist in the purchase of a lot on the northwestern area of River and Ridge Roads. The Baptist Council and local committee of Westham residents added enough to complete the purchase price. Within three months the University Chapel Branch adopted a budget, called a pastor, began regular services and other activities and took steps to form an independent body. In 1945 it became River Road Baptist Church.

Daughter Churches

former Sunset Hills Church

In December 13, 1949 First Baptist agreed to sponsor a new chapel at Patterson and Horsepen Roads. In November 1950 First Church paid the Baptist Council $8,400 for the property purchased by that organization one year previously and the new church was organized as the Sunset Hills Baptist Church. Several members from First became leaders in the new church.

The Fulton Chapel was established in 1951 with C. Lawrence McRae, a student at Union Theological Seminary and a member of the First Church Forum, serving as pastor. Members of the Forum at First did “everything from sweeping the floor to leading the services.” The Forum was a Sunday evening group that was established by two deacons and those who attended the group were mostly young people. They met for a snack supper and had a speaker. Their meeting was held before the Sunday evening service.

In addition to the above, First Baptist Church aided in the organization of the following churches:

North Run Baptist Church (Brook School House) 1834
Pine Street Baptist Church (Belvidere) 1855
Bainbridge Street Baptist Church (Manchester) 1857
Montrose Baptist Church (Fulton) 1870
Calvary Baptist Church (Clay Street Mission) 1977
Raleigh Forbes Memorial Baptist Church 1919
Ebenezer Community Church, Brooklyn, MN 2016

Daughter Churches

Ebenezer Community Church

There is not a direction in the City of Richmond today that you do not find a Baptist church. And from the above you can see what a tremendous impact our church has had in the birthing and support of so many of them. In 1843 Pastor Jeremiah Bell Jeter gave a lengthy history of the church and concluded with remarks about the future, saying “A solemn responsibility rests upon us. We occupy a prominent place in the metropolis of the Old Dominion. Let us be true to ourselves—the position we occupy—to the principles we maintain—and to Christ our great Captain.” Does this not speak to us today?

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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By Jeannie Dortch.

Jim Somerville reminds First Baptist Church members frequently that there are a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth, in Richmond and throughout the world. One of them is giving to FBC’s Endowment Fund. This Fund was established in 1913 with small gifts left by two members who foresaw the potential their generosity held for the future.

Woods and MCV Wood Memorial Building

Dr. Judson Wood and his wife, Mrs. Bettie Davis Wood. An unexpected windfall from FBC member, Judson B. Wood, allowed the Medical College
of Virginia to build their School of Dentistry’s Wood Memorial Building.
The building was dedicated January, 1954.
Photos from http://www.dentistry.vcu.edu/pdfs/winter2008_mag.pdf.

In 1938, the Endowment’s resources increased considerably with Bettie Davis Wood’s bequest of more than $1,000,000. This gift, however, was not initially earmarked for FBC. The story of how it came to the church demonstrates the effect of seemingly unconnected events.

An unpopular professor at Richmond College (now the University of Richmond) was fed up with one particular prank. His students persisted in bringing a small dog to class. One day, strained to his limit, the professor ordered the dog dropped out the window, a distance of about ten feet to the ground. Knowing this to be a possibility, the students had asked a cohort to stand guard under the window. The dog was safely caught, but the incident was reported to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Dr. Judson Wood, husband of Bettie Wood, was a graduate of Richmond College, president of its Alumnae Association, one of the first graduate dentists to practice in Richmond, and also president of the local chapter of the SPCA. Incensed by the dog incident, he felt duty-bound to sue his alma mater. Since the dog was not injured, the court dismissed the case, but Dr. Wood cut off all relations with Richmond College, an intended beneficiary, and changed his will. At his death, over a million dollars was left to the Medical College of Virginia instead of Richmond College.

A million bucks out the window

Photo by Dean Hawthorne. “The Annunciation to Mary” is one of two windows dedicated “In Grateful remembrance of Dr. and Mrs. Judson Wood” by the First Baptist Church Endowment Fund. It is located on the east side of the main floor of the Sanctuary and is the second window from the Monument Avenue entrance.
Its companion window, “The Gifts of God,”
is in the corresponding position in the balcony.

Efforts by Frederick W. Boatwright, president of Richmond College, to conciliate Mrs. Wood and win back her favor – and money – proved fruitless. Mrs. Wood, a lifelong member of FBC, was married to Dr. Wood for 47 years. With no children of their own, the Woods focused much of their service on their church, which she chose as her beneficiary. When she died in 1938, Mrs. Wood bequeathed more than one million dollars to FBC. It was only after Mrs. Wood’s death that President Boatwright, also an FBC member, shared this story of how the Woods’ fortune was tossed out the window.

Author’s note: Pamphlets related to the history and ministries supported by the Endowment Fund can be found in the church kiosks. 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.

Editor’s note: According to FBC Endowment Board President Carl Johnson, this fund began with small donations and grew with gifts from the Woods and many others. It expressed its appreciation for the Woods’ gift and service with the dedication of two windows in the sanctuary, “The Annunciation to Mary” and its companion, “The Gifts of God” in 1949. The Endowment Fund continues to help First Baptist fulfill its mission, giving away $22,000,000 in just the past 20 years.

Jeannie DortchJeannie Dortch joined FBC in 1974 after being lovingly mentored by the members of Buddy Hamilton’s Sunday school class. A grandmother of four, Jeannie has served as a deacon, taught in our children’s, youth, international, and adult Sunday school departments, but is presently a member of the WebClass. A retired teacher, Jeannie enjoys exercising, cooking, reading, ringing bells with FBC’s newly formed senior adult Joy Ringers directed by Ruth Szucs, and writing articles for FTF.

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