On Aug. 5, the church will celebrate its 165th anniversary. Activities, at its current 102 Dixie St. location, will include two special services, at 8:30 and 11 a.m. in the sanctuary, and a reception from 2-4 p.m. in Burns Hall, the fellowship hall which opens on South White Street.
“The theme of the celebration is ‘Open Wide the Doors,’ which has been part of our order of worship for many years,” said Zan Marie Steadham, church historian and chair of the anniversary team. “We’re selling commemorative plates for $25 and all the money will go into an endowment for maintenance of the building.”
The church’s pastor, Dr. Steve Davis, said more than 200 people are expected to attend the Sunday reception.
“We’ve sent invitations to as many of the old staff members as we have addresses for,” Davis said. “The active membership will get the information through our newsletter. We have many former church members scattered around the county, or who have moved away and attend different churches. We hope they read it in the paper.”
The church celebrates its anniversaries every five years. The last major celebration, similar to this one, was for the 160th anniversary in 2007.
Steadham said the original church apparently met in the Bealls’ home for about three years until it changed its name to Carrollton Baptist in 1850 and moved to the corner of Bradley and Lee streets in Carrollton, near the railroad tracks.
“On our 150th anniversary, we took a little group through the woods to the original Beall home site,” Davis said. “It was located near where the Sony plant is now. We found a cemetery with graves of our ancestors.”
Steadham said she’s not sure of the exact date when the name of the church switched from “Carrollton Baptist” to “Carrollton First Baptist.”
“It was probably when another Baptist congregation moved into town,” she said.
Steaham said the history of the church before the U.S. Civil War is interesting.
“Before the Civil War, the white members were in charge of the morning services and the black members sat in the back,” she said. “Then at the 3:30 p.m. service, the members swapped places and the service was led by the black members.”
In 1873, around the time when the era of reconstruction ended, the newly freed black members withdrew to start their own church, with the help of the white members.
“That’s why there’s two First Baptist churches in this town, which often befuddles people,” she said.
She said the first African-American church was built on Church Road, behind the Carrollton city cemetery. In the 1990s, the church moved to its current Old Bremen Road location to construct a new building.
“We were blessed to be able to help them with a generous donation,” Steadham said. “Our two churches continue to have close ties and regularly swap pulpits and choirs. We have worked together on Habitat houses, on a mission trip to Jamaica and now in the Open Hands United Christian Ministry.”
The First Baptist Church moved into its current location at the corner of Newnan and Dixie streets in 1875. The church was first housed in a wooden frame building.
“That white frame building was moved across Newnan Street and the foundation was laid in 1907 for the present sanctuary,” she said. “The new church had Tiffany-styled stained glass windows facing Newnan Street.”
She said the old white frame building became a boarding house and later burned.
The church has made several additions to the original 1907 octagonal structure. The sanctuary was enlarged by expanding into an adjacent Dixie Street building, which had been used for Sunday School classes. Stained glass was added to that section in 2003-2004, which matches the older Newnan windows and tells the story of Jesus’ life from nativity to his adult ministry.
The current office area and music suite were added in the 1920s. The Benson Building was added in 1954 and the Burns Hall building in 1989.
“We added The Firehouse on Newnan Street in 2000,” she said. “It was originally the youth house. It now houses the Open Hands United Christian Ministry.”
In 2008, the church added The Place, for youth activities, in a building on South White Street, next to the old junior high school building.
Steadham said mission work has always been an important part of the church, dating back to 1874, when mention was made of “Indian missions.”
“We’re not sure if they were talking about Native Americans or people on the subcontinent of India,” she said. “We do know it’s the first mention of outreach work at that time and it was in the handwritten original minutes.”
Steadham said in the last 15 years, the role of missions has become an important part of the church. She said Open Hands is an example.
“Open Hands started as our food closet,” she said. “Now it’s grown and is supported by 14 churches. It does so much more now than food. It offers reading glasses, blankets, coats, jackets and financial aid.”
She said Open Hands has been able to help families, who had been living in their cars or out in the woods, find shelter.
“We couldn’t have done that by ourselves,” she said, “but when you have 14 churches coming together, you can do a whole lot more.”
In a summation of the past five years in the church’s official history book, Steadham wrote: “The past five years have been fantastic! We have grown as Christians in our daily walk. Our modest food closet has grown into a food, clothing and financial ministry involving 14 churches. We’ve partnered with the Boys and Girls Club, Appalachian Outreach and Stop Hunger Now. Our Accessibility Team is helping to meet the needs of all our members. The Place, our youth building, continues to grow along with our growth in young members. Now our Vision Team is working on future plans to keep the doors of FBC wide open.”
“We’ve decided not to leave downtown,” Davis said. “It’s a choice we made as a congregation, to stay here, because this is where our origins are.”
In addition to Steadham and Davis, the 165th anniversary team includes Dr. Glenn Eernisse, music team; John Steadham, deacon chair; Louise Smith and Olivia Russell, hospitality team; and Eleanor Barnes and Linda Fulford, flower team.