By Bob Allen
The birthplace of the Southern Baptist Convention in downtown Augusta, Ga., has been condemned for occupancy after a routine inspection, the Augusta Chronicle reported Nov. 23.
The city inspection came amid reports that homeless people were sleeping on the front porch of the building at 802 Greene St. formerly occupied by Augusta’s First Baptist Church.
The inspector’s report found plaster falling from the ceiling and discovered a small prayer group was heating a portion of the building with a propane burner highly unsafe for indoor use.
The building stands on a corner marked as the birthplace of the Southern Baptist Convention, founded in 1845 by Southerners disgruntled by a decision of the then-national Baptist denomination barring the appointment of slaveholders as missionaries.
The original church building built in 1821 was demolished in 1901 to make way for construction of a stately new Beaux-Arts style church in 1902 designed to resemble the Church of the Madeleine in Paris.
After the church’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1967, the growing congregation decided in 1968 to move to a 32-acre site five miles away in West Augusta.
The church sold the old building in the 1970s to a group called the Southern Baptist Non-Profit Historical Society. According to property records, the Southern Bible Church and School has owned the building since 2003.
Ron Drawdy, at the time pastor of Second Baptist Church in Thomson, Ga., led a non-profit group known as the Southern Baptist Landmark Association to raise money for preservation of the historic building in 2005.
Drawdy, president of the Southern Baptist Church and School, planned to use the building for classes in the non-accredited correspondence school started by his family offering doctoral degrees in theology, Christian education and counseling.
The inspector’s report said the large structure is difficult for small nonprofits to maintain and might be better used as commercial office space or apartments. An adjacent former church building is currently used as law offices.
First Baptist Church made the momentous decision to leave the old building behind under Jack Robinson, a former Baylor University basketball standout who led the church as pastor from 1953 until 1975.
It was up to his successor George Balentine, who served from 1975 until 1982, to lead construction of a new building, which was dedicated while Charles Bugg was pastor in 1983.
Bugg moved on in 1989 to later teach at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and serve as dean of the M. Christopher White School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University.
He was followed by Tim Owings, who served at First Baptist Augusta from 1990 until 2003.
Owings’ successor, Greg DeLoach, arrived in 2005 and just recently announced his resignation.
DeLoach will become president and CEO of Developmental Disabilities Ministries of Georgia, a non-profit agency headquartered in Norcross, Ga., serving adults with developmental disabilities in group homes throughout the state.
In his new post DeLoach succeeds Bill Neal, former editor of the Christian Index newspaper who retired after 10 years at the agency and eight as executive director.