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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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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Story by Allen Cumbia. Photos by Paul Bickford.

David Powers in the Control RoomDavid Powers, FBC’s Associate Pastor for Communication will retire September 1, 2013.

Since January 2013, a Communication Visioning Team has been studying First Baptist communications in the past and present, as well as technology advances that might impact the future. The team has presented a final summary report to the Personnel Team, as background for a more informed search for a new Pastor of Communication.

Following is a synopsis of the full report.

A mission statement was adopted to act as a guide in the discovery process:
• Take a comprehensive look at how First Baptist has communicated and is currently communicating its message.
• Determine which methods are most effective or accessible.
• Evaluate how the current social, technological and cultural changes will affect future communication habits and preferences.
• Offer background to assist the search team in making informed choices for an individual to guide FBC’s future communications ministry.

From staff interviews and research into the current and potential future states of communication a number of things became clear. The relevance of many past ways of communicating has changed, and the following trends will only continue.

Print media is rapidly declining due to rising costs and the speed with which news becomes stale. With the exception of the Sunday bulletin and First Family News, most of our printed material has transitioned to electronic forms.

Broadcast does not hold the same status it did only a few years ago. With the rise of the internet and mobile devices, media consumers have many more options for content.

Social media has become a powerful and growing force in communication.

What does all of this mean as the church moves forward?

We will likely continue to communicate in many of the current ways, though to lesser degrees. What will be different is the amount of communication that will become electronic in nature. Fewer people are entering the church doors during a given week, month or year. That is not indicative of poor leadership or a lack of good programming. It does reflect that our culture is now engaged with churches in vastly different ways than in the past. People have more demands on their time, are involved in more activities, and connect with a church in different ways than have in the past.

First Baptist needs to recognize and work with the emerging trends. We have some unique opportunities for congregational life if the coming technological, social and church changes are embraced –

• embraced to tell our story in effective and meaningful ways;
• embraced with the understanding that we have many more options to tell our story to the world;
• embraced with willingness to adapt to new possibilities;
• embraced because we have a good story to tell, one that the world needs to hear.

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By Sally Ann Smith. Photos by Paul Bickford.

Callout-tv-crewAs worship fills the sanctuary each Sunday, there is a discreet and dedicated team of volunteers capturing the joy and message of Sunday morning and delivering it to the living rooms, hospital beds, hotel rooms, and prison cells of those who cannot physically attend First Baptist.

Since November of 1986, FBC’s TV Crew Ministry has extended God’s love beyond the church walls. As David Powers, Associate Pastor of Communication, notes, the response has been overwhelming: “Every week we hear from someone who says, in effect, ‘Thank you for being a lifeline for me – providing a way to worship right where I am.’ Heaven comes a little closer to earth every Sunday morning at 11 am as those folks gather in front of their TV or computer to worship with us.”

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Camera operator’s view of WebClass

The FBC TV Crew is a team of about thirty who are devoted to this ministry’s success. Generally, each volunteer works about half the weeks of a two-month schedule, but there are many who are geared up and excited to serve almost every week.

MediaTeam4Amy Kane was drawn to this ministry because, “It is a ministry of faith, and it allows me to serve without my ‘self’ getting in the way.” Amy reiterates that often it is the team’s prayer to remain “transparent” as they do their work during the worship service. “I think this does happen, because when I meet new people at church, they sometimes say that I look familiar, but they can’t place me.”

While the team works hard to stay invisible as they perform their jobs, they are responsible for making our Church’s message and mission the most visible.

MediaTeam5In recent years, the ministry has extended ways to broadcast the Sunday service beyond just television. Now, the service is also streamed over the Internet and shared via podcasts, allowing members and seekers to access and participate in FBC’s service from literally any part of the world.

Janet Chase, who has served on the crew for over a decade, notes, “I regularly hear kudos from family who ‘attend’ FBC on TV when they can’t get to their own church. My in-laws even tune in online when they are weathered-out of their local services in far Southwest Virginia.”

MediaTeamWhile away on vacation, members like John and Shirley Seibert still start Sunday with their church family on their iPad.

In October 2011, the Ministry launched a WebClass Bible study. It is streamed live from a studio on the second floor of the FBC building Sunday mornings at 10:00. Shelia Dixon, who manages the questions and comments that come via email during the WebClass, shares that what she loves most about this ministry is getting to know the hearts of the people our church wouldn’t be able to connect with otherwise: a teen with cerebral palsy, a physically ailing woman in Tulsa, and many local seekers. They are “very inquisitive with tons of questions,” she says, and because of our Church’s use of technology and willing volunteers like Shelia and her husband, Charlie, these people can interact and continue a spiritual dialogue within the class from their homes.

MediaTeam2Many long-distance attendees never have the opportunity to come inside FBC’s real walls. But for others this technology provides a future member’s first introduction to First Baptist – a safe, loving and worshipful setting in their homes transitions into their home church.

TV Crew members: Bill Bandy, Chuck Batteau, Kevin Beale, Paul Bickford, Matthew Brown, Keith Carroll, Janet and Mark Chase, Susie Coomer, Elise and Skyler Cumbia, Charlie and Sheila Dixon, Win Grant, Rick Henshaw, Bill Hodge, Amy Kane, James Kyle, Bob Linkous, Jim Mairs, Scott Medina, Mark and Trevor Norton, Benjamin Oliver, Jack and John Pettigrew, Dwight Ross, David Storey, Brenda Street, John and Richard Ward, Ollie Wells, Stephen West, Tom Wright.

To get involved in this powerful and vital ministry, contact David Powers at 358-5458, ext. 117. A current need is for volunteers to serve as stage managers, camera operators, and crew members for the WebClass. As with most of God’s work, the only experience needed is a willing heart; the team will provide plenty of training.


Sally Ann Smith Sally Ann teaches 8th grade English at St. Catherine’s School. She serves on the Ministry Consultation Committee for Hanna Zhu, contributes devotionals to Appointment with God, and is an active member of the young couples class with her husband, Clint. Sally Ann and Clint reside in the Near West End and are proud parents of their daughter, Bellamy, who will be two in February, and are excitedly expecting a son at the end of January.

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