Onslaught of birds brought a congregation to serve a church

Pigeons are technically members of the dove family, but preachers still don’t want them flying around the church sanctuary. Yet, that was a common sight at Southern Baptist Landmark Church.

“The pigeons had taken over,” said Ron Drawdy, president of Southern Bible Institute and Seminary, which is also housed in the building. A hole in the domed portion of the roof of the church at the corner of Greene and 8th streets allowed wildlife and water to rain down upon the pews, which are more than 100 years old.
Four thousand dollars and one bright blue tarp later, the seeping rain and creeping wildlife slowed to a trickle, and the church holds weekly services while raising money for the restoration of the historic landmark. It sits on the site of the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention, although the current structure is not the original.
“This is the landmark of our denomination. This is the birthplace,” Drawdy explained.The Southern Baptist Convention was born in 1845 after a split at the national conference over issues of slavery and foreign missions. The church voted in 1899 to rebuild its sanctuary in the style of the Church of Madeleine in Paris, and opened in 1902 as First Baptist Church of Augusta. In 1967, a weeklong sesquicentennial celebration was held to mark the original formation of the congregation, complete with a service of consecration with the Reverend Billy Graham.

Growth and population changes moved the congregation to its current location on Walton Way in 1975. A few years later, they sold the Greene Street church building to the Southern Baptist Non-Profit Historical Society.
The current congregation moved into the historic landmark four years ago, taking over a building that was slowly being demolished by neglect. They have made improvements, stopping the rainwater draining into the sanctuary, and just this weekend renting a huge crane to replace that tarp. Wind and weather have shredded parts of the thick plastic.
Nearly 30 pastors from around Georgia have joined to help in preserving the birthplace of the SBC through the non-profit Southern Baptist Landmark Association. But Drawdy estimates that the project to restore the church will cost several hundred thousand dollars. He rattles off a list: $17,000 for a new dome, $50,000 for a new air conditioner, new carpeting to replace the mildewed baby blue shag that covers the floors, repairs to the stained glass and painting inside and out. Structurally, the building is sound.
“We’ve been blessed with that,” he nodded.
The Baptist belief in an independent and autonomous congregation is both its strength and weakness in this endeavor. In such a congregation, each member is responsible and accountable to God, and the church is not bound to hierarchy or bureaucracy. The Greene Street congregation could take on this project without looking for approval from a higher human power.
The Southern Baptist Convention is a cooperative body of believers, and no member church is bound by its authority. However, that also means that the convention cannot be tapped as a funding source for local congregations, even the stewards of the convention’s birthplace.
But Drawdy is counting on that history to bring in the money needed to complete the project.
“There are people who were baptized here, whose parents and grandparents were married here,” he said. “They’ll want to help.”
The church plans a tax-deductible memorial brick walk centered on participants purchasing personalized clay bricks that will create a walkway lining the churchyard. Bricks will be chiseled with the givers’ desired names — their own or those of loved ones — that will be installed along the Greene Street entrance to the church. Miniature replicas will be made available, along with a mapping code to locate the brick.
Salvation Help for Youth (SHY) has also stepped in. The two dozen members of the non-profit youth leadership program have chosen the church’s restoration fund as their service project for the year.
“This is the biggest project they’ve taken on so far,” said Eric Tate, founder and CEO of the 10-year-old organization. None of the youth are members of the church, but they will run a year-long penny campaign and will organize a concert to raise money for the building fund.
Southern Baptist Landmark Church Fund
102 Greene St.
P.O. Box 906
Augusta, Ga. 30901
706-722-7593
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