Brief History of First Baptist Church by Scott Culclasure
The beginnings were modest, but, after years of faltering effort, a new Baptist church was consecrated in Greensboro on March 13, 1859. Fourteen members were listed in the church clerk’s record book, including a section master for the railroad and his wife; the wife of a merchant in town; a handful of faithful women who had been gathering in homes for worship; and several individuals who were probably enslaved in the years before the Civil War. The little congregation read a covenant—a latter-day version continues to be read in today’s church—in which the members pledged to “walk circumspectly in the world,” in the assurance that God would make them, in the words of Scripture, “perfect in every good work.”
Those early days were far from easy. Baptists were latecomers to town and not always a welcomed presence. One early pastor even remembered being hissed in the streets as he walked to his small, brick church on South Elm Street! But the congregation persevered, even after a fire destroyed the building. A new sanctuary was built on West Washington Street, supported by a growing membership. The hallmarks of a Baptist congregation also emerged as the membership placed growing emphasis on home and foreign missions. One mission emphasis was especially significant in the rapidly growing town: the establishment of new churches to the point where early in the beginning of the twentieth century the congregation adopted a new name—First Baptist Church of Greensboro.
Years of rapid growth ensued. Once again, the growing congregation relocated, this time to West Market Street. And while a bigger town—with its new railroads and factories and neighborhoods and places of commerce and entertainment—was welcomed, one long-serving pastor challenged the congregation to ask what would make for a better Greensboro. As the congregation grew, so too did its influence among Baptists across North Carolina, evidenced in many ways, such as the church’s first-in-the-state organization of a summertime program for children in 1922. Not surprisingly, the century’s years of war and prosperity and economic hardship continuously required the congregation to finds ways of remaining relevant.
Remarkably, in the later years of the Great Depression, the membership took a step of faith by organizing a building fund to seek out land on which to construct a larger building that would replace a woefully outdated and worn-out facility. A lot was purchased that would allow the church to move to a large, tree-shaded property situated between the central business district and growing neighborhoods on its western edge. With the coming of war in the 1940s, however, nothing occupied the property except for a sign announcing the church’s intention to build. A decade would pass before the new facility was constructed, dedicated in November 1952 and fronting what would eventually be called Friendly Avenue.
Heady years of growth followed and new ministries quickly evolved. Church starts around the city were organized with First Baptist’s sponsorship. Recognized for its leadership across the state and region, the church also became a home for furthering outreach in the community, supporting missionary work in near and faraway places, and encouraging new leadership in both lay and vocational ministry. Debate among Baptists about future directions left First Baptist Greensboro with a renewed commitment to a centrist theology that encompasses the freedoms and confessions of our Baptist heritage while also embracing persons from other Christian traditions.
Every generation of Christian believers faces a world of challenges. Worship, spiritual development, fellowship, and ministry to our community and the larger world define First Baptist Greensboro today just as they have for more than a century and a half. In all these things, members of First Baptist Greensboro have sought to walk in brotherly and sisterly love with Jesus Christ who, in the words of the church’s covenant, has called us out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.
To read more about First Baptist Church Greensboro’s history, check out the latest book on FBC Greensboro “In Every Good Work: A History of First Baptist Church Greensboro” by Scott Culclasure