In the early summer of 1834, Baptist ministers in Pittsylvania County decided that the time had come for a Baptist church to be planted in the “flourishing village of Danville,” by then 1,000 people. They called together a presbytery and on June 28, 1834, organized the First Baptist Church of Danville, Virginia.
Kentuck Baptist Church furnished the charter members. Luther Rice, probably the most well-known early Baptist in America, recorded the minutes.
Progressing from the first meeting place in the Masonic Temple on Craghead Street to the first permanent church at the corner of Ridge and Patton to the present gothic revival style building on Main at Chestnut in 1885, the church has been a strong center of religious life in Danville. The present structure was gutted internally by fire in 1905, leaving only the exterior walls and the spire. The baptized body of believers were unscathed and immediately began plans for rebuilding. This was done at a cost of $16,974, plus $870 for “cathedral glass windows.” (The original building had cost $32,500.) Today, with two additions built in 1929 and 1953, the property is valued at approximately $3,000,000.
Always, the congregation has been ecumenical; has placed strong emphasis on missions and education; has insisted on dignified and meaningful worship through proclamation and music.
In 1853, the Danville Baptist Church agreed that it would influence and encourage Danville Female Institute which resulted in the formation of Averett University. Working beside and mutually beneficial to each other, the church and the university have served the community well. Pastors and laypersons have intertwined their responsibilities at the university and the church.
First Baptist Church had one of the first “Sabbath Schools” in Virginia. A men’s missionary organization, which preceded the women’s organization by twenty years, promoted the Sunday School, spearheaded mission needs in the community, and began the sponsorship of other churches in Danville. Union Hall (now Glenwood), Lee Street (now College Park), Second Baptist (now Woodberry Hills), and Melville churches rose to plant a Christian witness in their immediate neighborhoods.
Vital mission interests have resulted in direct support of four missionary couples sent overseas at various times – the Melvin Bradshaws in Japan, the Jim Greens in Korea, the John Nickells in Nigeria, and the Larry Yoders in Belgium.
Both Virginia and the Southern Baptist Convention have benefited from outstanding leadership by the pastors of the church. These men have led both the denominations and the church with firm convictions in Baptist beliefs – soul competency, a free church in a free state, equal access to God and church polity based on one member a pastor or layperson, one vote.
Members have taken seriously Jesus’ command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and tell the good news that Christ’s Kingdom may come on earth.
Today the spire remains the silent symbol of the church pointing ever upward to God.
- Christine Gregory