RINGGOLD — First Baptist Church of Ringgold was established in 1840, when Martin Van Buren was president of the United States and Charles J. McDonald was governor of Georgia. The state’s population was less than 1/10 of what it is today. Cotton was king in Georgia and it fueled the growth and expansion of the state’s economy.
Ringgold, like Atlanta, was not founded until 1847. Cherokee Indians were early settlers of the area around Ringgold and during the Civil War the area served as a point of entry for Union troops invading the state. Later during the Andrews Raid – also known as The Great Locomotive Chase – Confederates pursued Union soldiers in a locomotive called The Texas, heading in reverse. The Union train ran out of wood and water just north of Ringgold. The Union soldiers abandoned the steam engine and were later caught and arrested.
First Baptist Church of Ringgold, according to its historical record, erected a log building on the western side of town at Taylor’s Crossroads during its infancy, but a new brick building was constructed near the center of Ringgold by 1861. Minutes of the Georgia Baptist Convention record a letter from Ringgold First Baptist “asking for aid in erecting a house of worship.”
The church was still considered new when General Sherman’s army invaded Ringgold on November 27, 1863. At that time all of the church records from 1840 to 1863 were destroyed. The church building was also damaged by artillery fire, but spared the torch in the 1863 burning of Ringgold.
During those days the church members were loyal to the Confederacy. It is written in the history of the church that several members not loyal to the Confederacy and its cause had their names stricken off the roll as undesirable church members. However, after the War the church served not only the Baptists, but Methodists, Presbyterians, and Cumberland Presbyterian churches on into the 1870s.
In 1879 times were difficult for the church and community as they were continuing to try to rebuild from the war. One entry in the associational minutes from the Ringgold church reads: “We regret to report our church in a cold and languishing condition. Pray for us that we may be revived. Our Sabbath school has not been in operation for several months, in consequence of the dilapidated and uncomfortable condition of our church building, and our stated Church has been irregular partly from the same cause.”
Fast forward the church’s history to the present day and Randy Rolen, one of the lay leaders in the church, says, “Our guiding principle has been and will remain the fulfillment of the great commission – taking the message of salvation in Christ to the world and growing disciples for Jesus. That has sustained us for 175 years and will remain our future goal.
“In the late 1950s and during the 1960s our church had great years of growth. However, as the surrounding culture changes and becomes increasingly secular, we believer our role as the visible presence of Christ is increasingly urgent. This is a significant time for all churches in the United States as our nation continues to move away from its Christian heritage and desperately needs a clear and bold witness for Christ.”
Rolen continued, “We are grateful for our current period of growth, with new members being added to our congregation regularly. We hope, of course, that our best days are yet ahead and that we will grow into a new and more fruitful territory for Christ.”
Eric Kennedy, who became the pastor at the Ringgold church almost one year ago, has been credited with bringing tremendous energy. He has formed a long range planning committee to initiate a fresh look at the opportunities that lie before them. The committee is prayerfully working to identify specific goals to insure the future success of the church.
Currently the church’s worship attendance is approximately 330 and growing. Attendance for the homecoming celebration on Aug. 23 was approximately 450. State missionaries Charles Jones and Scott Preissler represented the Georgia Baptist Convention at the celebration.
The homecoming worship was accented by a special presentation covering “meditation on Music and Worship” by organist Beth Foster Long. The church’s men’s ensemble sang “Sweet Beulah land” and “I’m Feeling Fine.” Pastor Kennedy preached a moving sermon titled “Leaving a Legacy.”
Rolen praised the convention, commenting, “We owe a great debt to the Georgia Baptist Convention and consider our relationship with the convention to be instrumental to our past, present, and future.”