Charleston Speech and Hearing Center Board member Mrs. A. Baron Holmes (Dewar ) was the first to tell me about First Baptist Church when I came for an interview, but Lester Hamilton was the first to invite me to visit. He said, “When my wife comes to invite you to the church, tell her that her husband already beat you to it.” Nell was a paid visitor for the church.
On our first visit we encountered an amazing, inviting and engaging group of young professionals. We left a similar group behind at Goodwood Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. When we heard Dr. John Hamrick preach the deal was sealed. Liz said, “It is formal enough for me and Baptist enough for you.”
When we joined, Dr Hamrick said to Liz, “I will ask you this, but I will only ask you once. Do you have any interest in becoming a Southern Baptist?” “No, Dr. John I don’t” “Welcome to the church,” he said. “The only thing you can’t do is to vote to give it to the Presbyterians.” Dr. Hamrick understood that she could not abandon the faith of her Presbyterian missionary parents. When David Redd became the Minister of Music and Worship, our cup was filled to overflowing. I came to First Baptist knowing how to praise God, how to thank him and how to petition him, but together Dr. John and David taught me how to worship. What a combination of talents. Of course the beautiful historic sanctuary inspires worship.
Our children, Suzanne and Michael, were baptized at First Baptist and Suzanne was married here. In late August, 1989, Liz was rushed to St. Francis Hospital. During the terrible thirteen days that she was in intensive care and I remained in the hospital to be close, Dr. Scott Walker and G. W. Bowling never missed a day in visiting us. The people of First Baptist and Westminster Presbyterian Church, where she taught kindergarten, kept me well supplied with food and company. At Liz’s funeral Scott said, “When that aneurism hit Liz, God was the first to cry.” Two weeks after her funeral Hurricane Hugo devastated the sanctuary and the entire Charleston area.
When Carol and I were married at First Baptist nine years later by Dr. Hamrick, Dr. Tom Guerry and Dr. Monty Knight, the church welcomed her with open arms. She relished singing in the choir until she had to give it up late this summer. Carol asked Mary Peeples to represent her mother who was in a nursing home. Ann Fox coordinated the event.
We started the John A. Hamrick Lectureship in 1996. Dr. John’s life illuminated his faith. “If God tells you to do something, he will find a way for you to do it.” When Marshall Blalock arrived as our pastor, he fully supported the lectureship. He also supported Forty Days at First Baptist and Say Something Nice Sunday. None of these could have thrived without his support. Lori Lethco, Marshall’s administrative assistant, deserves a lion’s share of the credit for the success of these programs. There is nothing like the lectureship in the state. It is supported by contributions. The committee and especially Marshall are routinely criticized for our choice of speakers overwhelmingly by people not connected to the church. Marshall simply states, “The people of First Baptist Church are sophisticated enough to make up their own minds.” The Hamrick Lectureship will celebrate its 20th. Anniversary in January, 2015.
When the editor of the Florida Baptist Witness wrote a front page editorial denouncing Say Something Nice Sunday as, “Gospel Free Sunday,“ Don Kirkland, editor of the Baptist Courier, asked Marshall if he wanted to respond. Marshall replied, “No. His words speak for themselves.”
The celebration of the church’s 325th. Anniversary in 2007 was a glorious affair. The Rev. Dr. Thomas McKibbens, now interim pastor of the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island – the first Baptist church in America, delivered an electrifying sermon, “The Theology of Friendship.” The service was followed by a congregational lunch at the John Hamrick Activity Center.
I have always loved church. I made my profession of faith public in Northside Baptist Church in Woodruff, South Carolina when I was eleven years old. The invitation hymn was, “Just as I Am.” I am grateful for the wonderful people in that small church that gave me a firm foundation that has allowed me to explore and expand my faith with assurance. “I know in Whom I Have Believed.”
October 6, 2014, is my 50th anniversary as a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston. For about twenty seven of those I taught an adult Sunday school class after stepping in as a substitute. Although these fifty years have not been without heartbreak and pain, my family and I found a home. This is a loving, supportive church family. I have nothing but gratitude for the people at First Baptist and thanksgiving for the spiritual nourishment I have found here.