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Posts Tagged ‘sanctuary history’

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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By Jeannie Dortch.

University Baptist Church, Charlottesville, VA

University Baptist Church. Photo from UBC website.

In 2010, Peter James Flamming, pastor of First Baptist Church from 1983-2006, was asked to speak at University Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. Never having been there before, Dr. Flamming was taken aback upon entering the sanctuary. He was inside a smaller version of the Richmond sanctuary, from the balcony to the stained glass portrait of Jesus’ baptism above the baptistery. He later learned that the same Virginia architects designed both buildings and that the Payne Spiers Studio of Paterson, New Jersey had been commissioned to make the same stained glass window to hang behind the pulpit. FBC was built in 1928 and UBC, in 1929. This unexpected surprise made Dr. Flamming feel right at home!

The Baptism of Jesus window

The Baptism of Jesus. Photo by David Powers.

But feeling at home in the FBC pulpit on Monument was destined to be only a dream for George White McDaniel, pastor of FBC from 1905-1927. Dr. McDaniel had invested much of his time and energy overseeing the plans for the new church building, but died just four months before the first worship service on December 10, 1928.

In Dr. McDaniel’s honor and memory, his family commissioned the Payne Spiers Studio to design and make The Baptism of Jesus, the Tiffany style stained glass window behind the pulpit. As a beautiful symbol, the window promised a new life – whether buried with Christ as was Dr. McDaniel or raised to serve Christ as FBC members would continue to do from their new location at Monument Avenue and The Boulevard. The Baptism of Jesus is the oldest and probably most familiar window of the twenty-five portraiture windows that hang in the church.

Editor’s note: 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.


Jeannie Dortch

Jeannie 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 attends the Journey class presently. Recently retired from 16 years of teaching at Rudlin Torah Academy, Jeannie enjoys exercising, cooking, reading, tutoring New American students at Maybeury Elementary, and writing articles for FTF.

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