First Baptist Church (Knoxville, Tennessee) - The Church Today 1978-1993

The Church Today 1978-1993

Dr. A. Douglas Watterson, 55, accepted a unanimous call to become pastor of First Baptist Church in April 1978. He came from the Cliff Temple Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. That same year he was chosen First Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention at the meeting in Atlanta, Church membership was 3,904 with 2,855 listed as resident members. September 23, 1978, Miss Katie Roberts died. For the first time the church was without a direct descendant of the Moses brothers who had founded First Baptist. Miss Roberts was the great-granddaughter of John L. Moses.

The following year Sara Bessie Rogers retired from her position as Financial Secretary after 30 years with First Baptist Church.

Again in 1980 when the deacon selection process was under discussion, Mrs. A. D. Petrey and Mrs. Tom Siler asked that the congregation be encouraged to nominate women as Deacons. It was four years later, in 1984, that the first woman deacon, Loraine Stewart, was elected to First Baptist's Deacon Board. Since that time there have been thirteen other women elected to serve as deacons.

Sunday School enrollment reached an all-time high of 1,900 in 1980. One year later the church announced its first million dollar budget, but had second thoughts even before January was over and revised it to a total of $894,815, which was some $50,000 less than the previous year.

A Debt Free Campaign raised almost $130,000 for church improvements. Plans included: (1) retiring the debt, (2) replacing the roof on the multipurpose building, (3) repairing the sanctuary ceiling and (4) renovating the nursery area.

�The sanctuary ceiling (which weighed six tons) was removed and replaced with a combination of plaster and vermiculite weighing three-and-a-half tons less.

Needlepoint tapestries were hung in the church vestibule. Artist Nancy McCauley of Oak Ridge designed the tapestries in a stained glass motif with vibrant colors. Eight women of the church (Verlie Mae Ladd, Nancy Siler, Mary Nell Johnson, Jenny Parris, Lida Hoskins, Mary Hall Frost, Grace Gentry and Miranda Brown) worked hundreds of hours to complete the tapestries. In 1981 First Baptist recognized the 104th birthday of Mrs. Susan B. Cooper, mother of Sam Cooper.

The Knoxville World's Fair opened in 1982, and at the deacons' suggestion the church's multipurpose room was made available to youth and choir groups from other Southern Baptist Churches.

In 1982 Mildred and Jerry Goode, as members of the Worship Committee, took over the responsibility of the sanctuary flowers. In the past Mrs. A.C. Miner and Trula Dunlap had each for a time been in charge of the Sunday morning flowers.

The Goodes keep a list (and a waiting list) of members who want to provide flowers for Sunday's service Most often the flowers are given in memory of a family member. Many people choose to give flowers each year on the same date.

After the service the members may take their flowers (often to the cemetery) or leave them for use in the church. Mr. Lewis Homer takes a �photograph of the flowers in the sanctuary each Sunday in order that the member who gave them may have a permanent record. Easter, Christmas and Palm Sunday sanctuary flowers are handled by Eugene Hattaway. The dramatic Christmas display of poinsettias was for many years the gift of Mrs. Halmond Clark. Recently the impressive choir-loft poinsettia tree has become an annual tradition, and the entire congregation contributes to the fund that purchases these plants. The Greening of the Sanctuary has become a special holiday event since it first was started in 1981. At an evening service the children's choirs are featured and garlands hung on the balconies and throughout the sanctuary,

First Baptist Church joined the county-wide FISH program in 1983. This is a five day a week program where people in need call, and food is delivered to them. A central pantry is maintained The first Monday of each month is First Baptist's day to be "on call." Ladies work two-hour shifts and take calls from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. The church has its own food pantry and handles its own deliveries.

As the food is delivered attention is paid to the genuine need of the family. Experience has shown that very few families call without good reason. The FISH program (F-friendly, I-immediate, S-sympathetic, H-help) is meeting a genuine need in the community.

First Baptist Directors of FISH through the years have been: Buz and Lisa Thomas, Richard and Karen Smith, Tom and Becky Jackson and Billy Wallace.

In July 1984, First Baptist began a cooperative program with Wallace Memorial, Sevier Heights and Calvary Baptist Churches to take advantage of The American Christian Television System (ACTS). The TV dish was located in the parking lot behind Fellowship Hall, and two Sunday School classrooms were converted into a control room.

Four months later the ACTS equipment was in operation. The receiving dish on the church's rear parking lot feeds the satellite signal of the ACTS Network into the Telescripps Cable System throughout Knox County.

�The nine members of the Family Life Committee work with Rev. Bob Money, Minister of Counseling and Family Life, to focus attention on all aspects of family life. They offer enrichment opportunities and promote special weeks of focus on family problems and possibilities.

Each year since 1984 the Family Life Committee has recognized a church member "exhibiting the true spirit of senranthood" by awarding the Trula Dunlap Service Award. The award was named for Trula Dunlap in recognition of her outstanding service. A plaque naming each year's winner is displayed outside the church library56. In 1985 Mrs. Alberta Sisk, who had been church librarian for twenty-seven years, retired. Mrs. Dean Sanders became Library Director and has held that position for the last seven years. Assistant Director Kay Reed and a staff of eight assist in operating the library.

At present the church library is open before Sunday School and until the worship service begins. It is open again on Wednesday afternoon at 430. It is an active part of Vacation Bible School, as all classes come to the library for at least one visit during this week.

Book reviews by the librarian are a popular part of Adult Options on Wednesday nights. Dean Sanders schedules a visit to each adult Sunday School department's opening assembly to present a library-related program. All children's Sunday School classes come to the library for a story at some time during the year. The JOY Group has a special Library Day each year. First Baptist library's two strongest areas are local history and children's literature. The collection of interesting books continues to grow and is well used by the congregation. Vacation Bible School at First Baptist is an annual summertime activity for children three years through twelve years. Average enrollment is 120 in eleven departments with a staff of fifty. The first mention of Vacation Bible School in the church minutes was in 1938. It has been held annually for fifty-four years. For a period in the 1980s Vacation Bible School was scheduled as a nighttime activity and included �young people and adults. Attendance was larger, but there were fewer children being served, so the church returned to a daytime schedule.

First Baptist is a singing congregation who appreciates good church music and encourages an active music program throughout the church. The 50- member sanctuary choir is an all-volunteer group and sings each week at the 11 A.M. service. During the 1970s and 1980s the choir sang at the 8:30 service as well. Soloists continue to be featured at both morning services. The choir rehearses every Wednesday evening from 7:30 to 9 P.M. Jon and Nancy Burnett are recognized for the longest term of membership in the choir.

Approximately one hundred of First Baptist's children (from three years old through senior high school) participate in the six children's choirs. Two Preschool Choirs, two Music Maker Groups, Young Musicians and the Youth Choir meet each Wednesday night. Eugene Hattaway directs the Youth Choir. The other choirs are directed by volunteers.

The turmoil in the Southern Baptist Convention became a real concern of First Baptist members. Dr. Watterson provided calm leadership for the church during this difficult time of contention between "moderate" and "fundamental" factions and helped members understand the difference between the two.

In 1990 a concert by Mr. Albin Whitworth, concert pianist, recognized the splendid new sanctuary Steinway, a gift from family members to honor the memory of Carlton and Maude Dobbs. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous church member a system was installed in our sanctuary in 1990 for the hearing-impaired. The small, portable units (similar to a "Walkman") can be used anywhere in the sanctuary and are available on loan without charge. Members contact Eugene Hattaway to reserve a unit and pick it up from the usher as they enter the sanctuary. The original gift was three units. The church now has six units in use.

According to current Woman's Missionary Union President Mary Hutson the purpose of that organization is unchanged since 1880. The women (1) study missions, teach missions and keep the church aware, (2) support missions with prayer and money and (3) are active in mission work (Home �Missions, Foreign Missions, State and County Missions). Education and action are the primary purposes, though the emphasis may shift from year to year. The Woman's Missionary Union has grown from a small group early in the church history to a graded organization of over 300 women and girls of all ages. The youngest girls are called Mission Friends. GA's and Acteens are other young people's groups. Baptist Young Women and Baptist Women complete the organization.

For many years the Woman's Missionary Union was divided into "circles." Old timers will remember the Emily Mahan Circle for young matrons and the Nona Brown Circle for brides. Now the grouping is by interests, though many of the groups overlap in their activities. Groups in the Day Baptist Women's framework are Book Review, Mission Action, Prayer, Current Missions and Bible Study. There is also a Night Baptist Women's Group.

The WMU emphasizes the church's special mission offerings: Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the September offering for Golden State Missions. One church-wide mission project that was spearheaded by the WMU in 1984 is now called the Judy Russell House and operates as a Safe House for women in need. The house on Tulip street was given by a First Baptist member to Volunteer Helpers, but the seventy-year-old house was virtually rebuilt and made livable by First Baptist members over a two-year period.

Judy Russell was the driving force behind the college students, young marrieds, Sunday School classes and many others who painted, papered, rewired and furnished the house. The house was opened in 1986 (complete with pictures on the wall and linens in the closet) and named for Judy Russell in tribute to her dedication.

When the Mission Committee voted that First Baptist would sponsor refugees57 from troubled parts of the world, the WMU and other church groups rushed to help Four family groups and one young man on his own came to Knoxville at the church's invitation. They were from Rumania, Cambodia, Vietnam and Russia. The first arrived in 1985.

�As their families joined them, they adjusted to American life in different ways. Some have since moved to other parts of the nation. Leonte Leuciuc and his wife, Lenuta, joined First Baptist Church and continue to attend with their family.

In 1986 with the proposed development of the Whittle complex east of the church across Main Avenue, new parking arrangements became urgently necessary. The bank building just west of the church was being planned with a multi-story, city-owned parking garage beneath the bank.

First Baptist entered into an agreement with the city in 1988 that for an investment of $232,500 (part of the $565,000 received from the sale of the Main Avenue property) the church would have parking rights "forever" in the new garage at designated times. The church has free parking all day Sunday, Wednesday evenings and forty other days for special occasions as arranged (such as a revival week).

First Baptist also paid ($50,000) for the bridges that connect the garage and the church. The arrangement has been most appreciated by the congregation. To have under-cover parking and a covered walkway to the church door is a splendid convenience.

For almost a year First Baptist had been talking with the late Mr. Gene Monday about the possibility of purchasing property he owned that was located between the new parking garage and the Lord Lindsey Restaurant. Since the church was bound on three sides by the City-County Building, the Post Office and the Tennessee River, this was almost the only direction for �future growth. Mr. Monday was not interested in selling, until one morning in 1988 at 5:30 A.M, he called Dr. Watterson with a most unusual proposal. Mr. Monday was a regular TV watcher of the First Baptist service and had a strong interest in helping young people. His proposal reflected both his keen desire to be helpful and his shrewd business sense.

The plan was this: The church would pay Joe Fielden $80,000 for his interest in the property. Mr. Monday would then give the church his mortgage on the property ($488,000), if the church would take $475,000 and invest it in a mission trust. His stipulation on the income from this investment was that it must be spent on mission work. Bob Chandler, Deacon Chairman at that time, with Dr. Watterson, Jack Nelson and Mont Egerton, met many hours with Mr. Monday to clarify intent and details. And the plan has worked very well.

First Baptist Church borrowed $330,000 and, with $160,000 that was available from the earlier property sale, created the Monday Family Trust. Part of this money is invested in a manner that will compound through the years. Approximately $475,000 is invested to provide annual income.

At the Trustees' recommendation, the first ten percent of this income is put back faithfully into the principal each year in order that the fund may grow. From the rest of the income the church has approximately $35,000 a year to spend on mission work.

Of the original note about $150,000 remains to be paid. The property has been paved and leased as a parking lot, for which the church gets some income as well. Mr. Monday's generous gift, and the responsible development of his plan by the church, insures that First Baptist will have money for mission work far into the futures. First Baptist Church is a contributing member ($10,000 annually) of the Knox County Association of Baptists. This group of 153 Baptist Churches promotes cooperation among all Baptist Churches, helps smaller churches in the area, and sponsors activities such as Camp Ba-Yo-Ca.

At present, in 1992, First Baptist Church operates with an administrative staff of eight plus an organist and a pianist.

Morning worship is scheduled each Sunday morning at 8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. and Sunday School at 9:45 A.M. The eleven o'clock service is televised over W1OCT-TV Channel 8. This live television broadcast, which started on a regular basis in 1975, is widely watched and accepted by the membership as a church mission. No appeal has ever been made for contributions from the TV audience. The broadcast costs the church about $1,250 each Sunday under a three-year contract with Channel 8.

For the most part the TV cameras in the sanctuary are operated by church volunteers. There is a technician from the TV station in the control room (behind the balcony) each Sunday. The morning service is rebroadcast on Channel 12 on Tuesday afternoons at 4:30 P.M. The Sunday morning deaf service is taped to be broadcast on Channel 12 at 7 P.M. each Monday evening. Channel 12 operates as a public service channel and there is no charge for these broadcasts.

The Baptist Student Union at the University of Tennessee is a special interest of First Baptist Church. BSU Director Bob Hall is a member, and many of the college students are in the front center section of the sanctuary each Sunday. Eugene Hattaway directs the BSU choir. Nick Foster teaches a Bible Study Class at the BSU each Wednesday night. First Baptist supports the BSU financially and helps finance many of their mission trips. The WMU provides lunch for the students at intervals.

First Baptist's Ministry to the Deaf has responded to changes at the Tennessee School for the Deaf. At one time there were 400 children on campus each weekend. Now there are approximately eighty. A First Baptist bus goes to the school, and a van picks up people throughout the neighborhood. There are currently about 270 adults and children in the Deaf Department.

Counseling has become a significant part of Dr. Jerry Seale's work with the deaf, Parents of deaf children often seek help, and there is a real need for marriage and family counseling among the deaf, First Baptist Church is proud �of its 112-year history of working with the deaf in the community and remains strongly committed to this work.

In 1992, the administrative organization of the church recognizes fifty active Deacons6°, three Trustees61, a church Treasurer6i (Russell E. Allen) and church Clerk (Glenn Sloan). The three Trustees, whose job is primarily to sign for the church when legal transactions are made, are Jon Burnett (chairman), Jon Roach and Mont Egerton.

The church's fifty deacons are elected to serve five-year terms as voting members on the Board of Deacons. Rotation is provided in that after that term a deacon must stay off the active board for two years before becoming active again. But the designation as a deacon stands and, active or inactive, all the deacons are involved in church affairs. At present nine of the fifty deacons are women.

The church still has five lifetime Deacons: Martin Baker, Dexter Chtistenbeny, Raiford Dean, Roy Cruze and Luther Wallace. Eight major committees are organized around church activities. Each is chaired by a Deacon and has approximately fifteen members who serve three-year terms. The committees are: Finance, Missions, Personnel, Worship, Facilities, Education, Planning and the newly created Denominational Relations. Recently a Church Council has been added. This is a coordinating group made up of these eight committee chairmen and other church leaders.

Two deacons are appointed each week to be "Deacon of the Week." Among their responsibilities, they are to be greeters at the front door, visit the hospitals and be a contact for new members who join the church that week.

In 1987 the church started a Family Ministry Plan, chaired by Sam Jack, in which each deacon was to be responsible for several church families. At present seventy-three deacons, both active and inactive, along with nine volunteers from the congregation are involved in this ministry. It is recognized that the women deacons have been especially effective in this area. Some of the nine volunteers are women as well.

�Knowing the importance of Christian education, Baptists have been historically strong supporters of Sunday School for the entire congregation. As early as 1845, Knoxville's First Baptist Church had a Sunday School, which is considered the first in any east Tennessee Baptist Church. After the Civil War, the church's Sunday School quickly regained its strength and in 1868 was selected as the "Banner Sunday School of the State."

Today at First Baptist, there are six departments in the Adult Division of Sunday School, as well as classes for Single Adults, the Shalom Class, Deaf Adult Class and a class for College Students. The Youth Division covers grades seven through twelve including a Deaf Class. The Children's Division covers grades one through six and also includes a Deaf Class. The preschool Division has four groups for children under two, and individual groups for two, three, four and five-year-olds.

Jack Nelson is currently Sunday School Director and Maynard Tribble, Minister of Education, is the staff member most directly responsible for Sunday School organization. The Adult Sunday School Classes staff the Share and Care Center on Thursday nights. Recently they have made it a priority to buy underclothes for the center, since that is a badly needed item that is seldom donated. Most classes annually fill a Thanksgiving basket for a needy family. Many classes have been taking one day a month to buy, prepare and serve a meal to approximately 120 men at a downtown mission.

The newest church mission activity is a Construction Ministry with Bob Hall and Joe Petre as co-chairmen. A survey in the church bulletin drew a response of forty members who expressed an interest in doing construction work where needed. The group decided to first test their skills by renovating the Share and Care Center which now has new shelves and fresh paint. �There is actually no end to the story of service and dedication of First Baptist Church members, but all books must end. In the future the church will adjust, change and continue to be a vital force in the city of Knoxville. First Baptist Church members are well aware of their "proud past", firmly committed to their "dedicated present" and certainly "looking to the future." �

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