Through Many Dangers, Toils and Snares: Reflections on our new church


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Riverside Baptist Church began as Island Baptist Church in 1857.  Eventually, it outgrew that humble wooden dwelling and built a stone edifice after the Civil War and renamed themselves Fifth Baptist Church.  Then one hundred years later, urban renewal razed that building and other churches in SW and they built a contemporary and modest church on the corner of 7th, I and Maine Avenue. They also renamed themselves to Riverside Baptist Church.  There is that verse from Amazing Grace that rings true for this journey, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares/I have already come;/’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,/ and grace will lead me home.”

We have been working hard for several years now in an effort to secure the future of our beloved church.  When we started, we wanted to secure Riverside financially by creating an endowment; we wanted to remain in SW, never having any desire to move out of the city; we wanted to build an iconic building, modest and yet beautiful.  We are on the precipice of completing this.  Having won the unanimous affirmation of the Zoning Commission and worked with innumerable agencies and groups, we are poised to move forward.  Our architect, Philip Renfrow, and his team have designed an iconic building and that design continues at this point to be tweaked.  I would like to share my thoughts about the church building that will replace our current sanctuary while at the same time reminding you that our primary goal has been to establish an endowment to safeguard the church over the coming next decades.

Our church will be the approximate square footage of our current building but will be comprised of two floors. The lower floor will find a fellowship hall that can be used for meetings, lectures, classes and overflow for special events in the sanctuary.  It will have our receptionist office, an archives area and a meeting room for deacons and trustees.  A caterer’s kitchen will also be located there along with restrooms.  An elevator from the garage will bring people up to that floor and to the sanctuary (the sanctuary will also be accessible by a stairwell in the atrium level).  Outside, the building will have an undulating roof and metal screen along the front of the building, all of which evoke themes of water. This is an important theme to us as Baptists, since we immerse people when we baptize, and it is a great theme in the bible (we recall Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea, Joshua led them across the Jordan River, and the ancient Church likened itself to an ark with Christ as our Captain).  Indeed, one of the stained glass windows in our current sanctuary depicts an anchor.  On the sidewalk along the front entrance will be inscribed an anchor cross.  The outside also will have a “bell tower” with a cross and inside of that will be a digital carillon so we can call the community to prayer and play various hymns and songs.  Stained glass (not all of the glass) will be placed along that front wall and then on the 7th Street side, a slip of stained glass will ornament the stone wall, stones which echo the materials of our current building.  Inside, the theme of water will continue with a dramatic placement of our baptistery in the floor of the sanctuary. Currently, our baptistery is behind the chancel and above, totally out of sight and mind.  With this placement, the faithful will always see reminders of the two ordinances of the Baptist Church (and indeed of Christian life):  baptism and communion. The communion table will be center with a pulpit. The cross that now hangs in our baptistery (in honor of Anwar Trask) will be suspended behind the chancel area and center.  The inside will be warm and austere (this is quite in keeping with Baptist theology which is aniconic, that is, without images in deference to the first commandment).  Adjoining the sanctuary and standing between the church and Apartments will be a small “garden” that will provide a contemplative space even as it provides a green space between our two buildings. This will be solely for  the church’s use.

There is much left to do.  We will make decisions in the coming months about materials and some of those decisions will be predicated on our commitment to keeping the endowment intact. Our goal has never been to create a mega-church or use all our money on the building itself. We want to build an iconic church with a secure financial future. We are about to cross the Jordan River of our dreams and plans and into the promised land of our future. May God endow us with courage, faith, hope and love.

~Pastor Bledsoe

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