ERWIN — For nearly a century, the old sanctuary at First Baptist Church has overlooked the intersection of Love and Main streets.
Since its construction in 1915, the sanctuary has weathered the elements and frequent use by church attendees. It was even maintained after construction of a new sanctuary at First Baptist Church was completed in 1957. However, time was starting to take its toll of the old sanctuary.
Around a year and a half ago, Lester Bailey was chosen to serve as chairman of First Baptist’s Structures and Property Team. Bailey said he and the committee quickly went to work, compiling a list of renovations needed on the old sanctuary, which was most recently being used to house some Sunday School classes and occasionally serve as the venue for church services.
Bailey said parts of the sanctuary’s roof leaked, causing plaster to bubble and fall off its interior walls. On the building’s exterior, there were areas where mortar had begun to come out of the brick. The wooden window sills around the sanctuary’s stained glass windows had begun to rot, and the windows themselves were showing signs of damage.
“It had gotten to the point to where we were going to have to make a decision either to fix it, repair it, keep it up, or tear it down,” Bailey said. “I think we really would have gotten a lot of flak if we would have made the decision to tear it down. Plus, it probably would have been more expensive to tear it down than it would be to remodel it.”
Still, the repairs weren’t going to be cheap. Bailey said the items needed to repair the old sanctuary were estimated to cost around $46,000. But First Baptist was about to get help from an attendee of another local church.
Several years ago, Canah Chapel Free Will Baptist Church burned down. Officials from that church approached officials at First Baptist to ask if they could hold services in the old sanctuary until Canah Chapel could be rebuilt.
“So for approximately two years, that church met in the old sanctuary at First Baptist,” Bailey said.
One of Canah Chapel’s attendees, who was just a teenager when circumstances forced him to attend First Baptist, apparently never forgot First Baptist’s generosity. Now grown, he recently contacted First Baptist officials to extend some generosity of his own.
“So they took the list of items that I had made up that needed to be done, and they gave us a donation of $50,000,” Bailey said.
With the funding from this anonymous donor, Bailey said First Baptist was able to re-plaster and repaint the areas where it was needed, put a new metal roof on the old sanctuary, have the necessary brickwork completed, and have the wood around the windows replaced. The church also was able to afford the purchase of Lexan, a material similar to Plexiglas, to cover and protect the stained glass windows from the outside. The work was done without compromising the sanctuary’s original structure and design.
Not only was the church able to afford to pay contractors for roofing, painting and window work, but it was also able to install a new heating and air conditioning system in the old sanctuary.
Renovations on the old sanctuary were completed in the latter part of July. Bailey said when the items needed to renovate the old sanctuary came up for consideration by First Baptist’s members, not one person cast a dissenting vote against having them done. Now that the renovations are complete, Bailey said feedback from the church’s members has been positive.
“They’ve been well pleased with it,” Bailey said.
Now, church officials are inviting the public to come celebrate the completion of the old sanctuary’s renovations. A dedication service will be held Sunday beginning at 5 p.m. at the old sanctuary. Dr. Ray Sorrells will officiate, and music will be conducted by Preston Holley. Following the service, light refreshments will be served in First Baptist’s fellowship hall.
Bailey has a long history with the old sanctuary. He and his wife were the last couple to be married there before construction of the church’s new sanctuary was completed. He said he was pleased to have a part in seeing the structure receive several much-needed repairs.
“It’s just very satisfying to know that you’ve had a part in seeing the renovation done, actually overseeing it,” he said. “I had a real good committee working with me. The church is real proud of it, pleased with it.
“It’s just a blessing. It’s a godsend.”