AUGUSTA — A church building in Augusta with ties to the birth of the Southern Baptist Convention has been condemned by city officials.
The structure, located at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Greene Street, served as the home for First Baptist Church in Augusta from 1902 until the 1970s, according to WAGT 26. Following up on reports that homeless were sleeping on its front porch, a city inspector noticed plaster falling from the ceiling in the sanctuary and a small prayer group meeting in a room heated by a propane burner, a code violation.
The building is not the one where the SBC was founded, pointed out Georgia Baptist Convention archivist Charles Jones, though the previous building was on the same location. First Augusta relocated to the western side of the city in the 1970s, with its old building being sold into private ownership and at one point becoming an independent, non-accredited seminary before the existence of seminary extension centers. The congregation is no longer affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
“First Baptist’s founder was W.T. Brantley, who later became pastor of First Baptist Church in Philadelphia and purchased The Index from Luther Rice and sold it to Jesse Mercer in 1833,” he stated of the congregation’s importance in the history of Southern and Georgia baptists.
Jones also noted Lancing Burrows, a pastor in the 1890s who was instrumental in establishing the Baptist Young People’s Union into SBC life. “This was later renamed Training Union, then Church Training before becoming Discipleship Training. In that time many viewed it with great skepticism [but] it was foundational to the development of Baptist leadership in the 20th century. Next to Sunday School it’s been the most important educational development in Baptist life.”
Another early pastor at First Augusta was Joseph G. Binney, said Jones. A native of Boston, MA, Binney had served as pastor of First Baptist Savannah before going to Burma as a missionary. He returned to the states due to his wife’s health and became First Augusta’s pastor, but later went back to Burma. Before doing so, however, he was instrumental in establishing a college in Richmond, VA for the training of African-American pastors after the Civil War.
“The first language work beyond Indian missions in Georgia was a Chinese Sunday School class at First Baptist – a class that still exists,” Jones continued. “It had been targeted to Chinese immigrants and their descendants who, after the completion of the Continental Railroad, were brought to Augusta in the 1870s to help widen the Augusta Canal.”