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First Baptist Church celebrates debt retirement

March 4 marked a very special date in the life of First Baptist Church of Washington. That Sunday, First Baptist celebrated the debt retirement of $1.1 million for its most recent renovation and expansion project with an old-fashioned note burning at both morning services. The total cost of the project was $2.6 million.

“We stand at a unique place in history. Simultaneously, we freely enjoy the legacy of our predecessors while also leaving a legacy for our children and children yet to come, who know nothing of the giving and sacrifices made to provide the facilities they now enjoy. We are blessed, and we are to be a blessing,” Dr. Greg Barmer, pastor of First Baptist, said in preliminary comments.

Barmer then introduced David T. Cox, Building Committee chair, who coordinated a presentation that included a brief overview of First Baptist Church facilities, the scope of the most recent building project and the financial milestones reached in retiring the debt. The presentation culminated in the burning of the note by Wesley Adams, Deacon chair, Steve Gruninger, Budget and Finance chair, Jeff Williamson, trustee at debt inception, and Max Gaines and Murray Whitford, co-treasurers.

First Baptist Church was founded in 1822 when it secured ownership of the building, then known as the Free Church, which was shared with Methodists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians until those congregations built separate churches. The Baptist congregation was located in the wooden structure on Market Street until 1917, when the familiar domed and columned brick edifice of today was built on the corner of Main and Harvey streets. Several additions have been made since then, including a 1955 educational building, a 1963 sanctuary renovation with expanded chancel and choir loft, and a 1988 Family Life Center.

In 2005, First Baptist began with prayer for God’s leading in future ministries and planning was initiated in 2006 for expanded facilities. The church stepped out in faith with its Widow’s Mite stewardship and capital campaign for the expansion in 2008, in the middle of what is known as The Great Recession, and groundbreaking was held Oct. 3, 2010. The completed project entailed new construction, renovation and upgrading of all areas of the church, provided improved traffic flow across all building additions and included a centralized elevator to provide handicap accessibility to all three floors of the facility. The project provided a new WEE School/Pre-school wing, Children’s wing, youth area, gallery, gathering space, media center and parlor. The sanctuary, Family Life Center and music suite were upgraded, along with all Sunday School rooms and administrative offices. A new porte corchere and handicap ramp now provides a protected drop-off for the elderly and families with young children. First Baptist dedicated the new and improved spaces on March 25, 2012.

At the conclusion of the March 4 presentation, Cox asked the congregation, “What’s next? Well, I can assure you I don’t know what’s next! Perhaps the better question is, to what ministry or ministries is God calling us? This photograph is a shot of ‘the alley.’ It was a long narrow space between the 1917 sanctuary and the 1955 educational building. The ‘alley’ was most probably the ugliest place on the property. For years, it was the repository for junk. But God inspired a transformation for the alley. He turned the ‘alley’ into today’s gallery. I don’t know what’s next, but I am convinced that God will provide First Baptist Church with the creativity, the energy, the resources and the talent to accomplish whatever ministry is in His will for us. Perhaps it will involve some bricks and mortar. Perhaps not. But we just need to seek His will, and He will lead us.”

Barmer further stated, “We are thrilled to see the hand of God at work among the people of God at First Baptist and want to be particularly careful to recognize that all our blessings come from Him. This is yet another cause for great celebration and praise. To God be praise and glory! “