First Baptist Dallas celebrates 150th anniv. of its 1868 founding
By Jane Rodgers/Southern Baptist TEXAN
DALLAS (BP) — First Baptist Church in Dallas celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding on Sunday, July 29, with decorations, cake, gifts, guests, songs and praise.
Festive balloon archways and banners decked hallways. Churchgoers sang “Happy Birthday” and balloons floated from the worship center’s rafters at the conclusion of the 10:50 a.m. service and sermon by Robert Jeffress, First Baptist’s fifth pastor since the legendary George W. Truett.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott read a congratulatory proclamation from the state of Texas at the start of the service and led in prayer. Abbott called First Baptist “a pillar of faith in Dallas” and “an example to all Texans of God’s faithfulness.”
Dallas was a frontier town in 1868 with a population of a few thousand and a reputation for lawlessness when eight women and three men gathered to form the first Baptist church to survive in the city.
“One of Jesse James’ sisters-in-law used to be a member of our church,” Jeffress remarked in his sermon.
Jeffress described the 1867 arrival in Dallas of Col. W.L. Williams, a 32-year-old lawyer, with his wife Lucinda, 23, and their infant daughter, saying that the two “devout Christians” were Baptists seeking a church.
In July 1868, evangelist W.W. “Spurgeon” Harris rode into town on horseback, renewed a friendship with Williams and preached a two-week revival at the Masonic lodge. The revival culminated in First Baptist’s founding on July 30, with Harris serving bi-weekly as a “half-time” pastor.
In 1872, Lucinda Williams mobilized churchwomen to encourage the hiring of a long-term pastor and construction of a facility. By summer’s end, First Baptist’s women had raised $500 to pay for the foundation of a building, Jeffress said.
Newly-called pastor Abram Weaver proclaimed at the fall 1872 dedication of the foundation, “It is a day when we tell the people of Dallas that the Baptists are here to stay,” adding that the “women of our church must be reckoned with.”
In 1890, the church’s historic sanctuary at Ervay and Patterson was built. Now home to First Baptist’s contemporary Day One service, the sanctuary was expanded during Truett’s tenure, 1897-1944, as membership soared from 700 to nearly 8,000.
Calling the Gospel a second foundation of First Baptist, Jeffress presented the plan of salvation from Scripture, counseling “urgency” in evangelism with 152,000 dying each day, most facing a “Christ-less eternity.”
Such “urgency,” he noted, prompted Lucinda Williams to go door-to-door seeking support for the fledgling church, led Truett to preach the Gospel to World War I troops overseas and inspired W.A. Criswell to expand the church’s outreach for five decades.
Jeffress announced a campaign beginning this fall to enlarge the Horner Family Center education complex.
For 150 years, First Baptist has prioritized not just the Word of God, but also community outreach, Jeffress noted.
Truett helped found Texas Baptist Memorial Hospital, now Baylor Scott & White. Criswell, pastor from 1944-1990 and a leader of the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, pioneered more than 20 missions, including the Dallas Life homeless shelter, First Baptist Academy and Criswell College. Members today continue to volunteer with numerous ministries in Dallas and beyond.
Editors honor Terry & Harris; name Colson as exec. director
DALLAS (BP) — Two retiring state paper editors, Bobby S. “Bob” Terry of Alabama and J. Gerald Harris of Georgia, were honored by the Association of State Baptist Publications during their June 11 meeting prior to the SBC annual meeting in Dallas.
Also during the editors’ annual gathering, Margaret Colson was named as ASBP’s executive secretary, succeeding Terry, a former association president who has been its executive secretary 25 years.
Colson will continue to serve as executive director of the Baptist Communicators Association, a post she has held the past 10 years. Colson also is a writer and editor based in the Atlanta area.
A resolution of appreciation for Terry, who will retire Dec. 31, noted that he has been editor and president of The Alabama Baptist since 1995, earlier serving 20 years as editor of the Missouri Baptist Word & Way and seven years as associate editor of Kentucky Baptists’ Western Recorder.
The resolution stated that The Alabama Baptist has been among the top-honored Christian newspapers in the nation, being selected as either the first- or second-place winner in the ‘Best Regional Christian Newspaper’ category … every year after his first full year as editor.” The regional awards have come from the Evangelical Press Association, Religion Communicators Council and/or Associated Church Press, sometimes two of the three in a year.
A resolution honoring Harris, who retired as editor of The Christian Index on May 31 but will continue as senior editor through December, noted that he has led the paper since 2003 after serving as a pastor in North and South Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia.
The resolution stated that Harris had overseen The Index’s move “into an online format that has witnessed tremendous digital growth since its inception in January 2016.”