A Great Host Surrounds Us – Celebrating 335 Years

Not many churches in the United States can boast of being 335 years old, but on September 24, 2017 First Baptist Church of Charleston will celebrate that honor. The current sanctuary, designed by Robert Mills, was dedicated in 1822. The congregation moved from Kittery, Maine in 1696. Mr. Elliott gave the current property for a Baptist church in 1699. We know there has been a Baptist church at this location since 1701.

It is inspiring to think about the people who have worshipped here, the ministers who have served here, the ministers and missionaries that the church has produced. The most significant milestone is the thousands of ordinary people who have contributed thousands of hours and millions of dollars to make our world a better place. We may never know their names but they have built and repaired houses, taught school, mentored children, served in the homeless shelter, sang in retirement homes and jails, coached sports, visited in homes and hospitals, prepared and served meals to the bereaved, packed school bags, gone on local and foreign mission trips, visited the sick at home and in hospitals, performed yard work, tutored inner-city children and provided childcare and senior care. What has been the impact of 335 years of faithful service for no other reason than it is the right thing to do? What has been the impact of millions of hours of volunteer service to this city and around the world? No one can calculate the impact.

We remember the names of the famous pastors: Screven, Hart, Manly, Furman, Hamrick and organist David Redd, but these are the ones who inspired the volunteers and urged them on to fulfill the mission of the church. Before the Civil War the church had 200 African/American children in Sunday school and more Black members than White members. After the war the Black members were invited to remain and many of them did and served until their deaths. Others went across town and formed Morris Brown Baptist Church. From the beginning the pastors nurtured young prospective ministers. Furman University was the natural offspring of those efforts. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary grew out of Furman.

Dr. John Hamrick started a day school in 1947 long before the civil rights movement. He was the founding president of what is now Charleston Southern University. The church started the rehabilitation of Market Street during the pastorate of Paul Craven Jr. by purchasing a site and erecting the John Hamrick Activity Center in the early 1970s.

Under the leadership of the current pastor, the Rev. Marshall Blalock, the church is building a new high school campus on James Island and planning to renovate the historic campus downtown.

For 335 years the congregation and its leadership have modeled the scripture, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” There is still a vision and the future is bright.

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