Franklin’s First Baptist turns 143

Published 8:37 am Friday, November 20, 2009

FRANKLIN—Drive down any street in Franklin, and you will likely see a number of churches. However, you would be hard-pressed to find one that can trace its existence back to 1866, the year after the Civil War ended.

First Baptist Church can.

The church was founded 143 years ago as Cool Spring Baptist Church on the banks of the Blackwater River downtown, with most of its members only a year removed from slavery. The church was renamed First Baptist about 40 years later and church members built the present location on Hall Street in 1908. An annex was built in 1992.

According to church records, it’s the oldest church in Franklin. In fact, the church predates Franklin’s incorporation as a town by 10 years.

“That’s monumental,” said Pastor D. Shawrod Riddick. “For this to be one of the oldest churches in the area to still be active and relevant is big.”

Last week, church members put on a weeklong series of events to commemorate the church’s 143rd anniversary centering on the theme of “Partnering to Produce.”

“Our goal was really to worship with more than one church worship with different organizations, so it’s been great to see people come together and to see friendships built because of church,” Riddick said. “Churches are often talked about as being really divided and hypocritical, but the last week and really this year, we spent a lot of time really being intense about bringing people together.”

Riddick said planning for the anniversary started last year and members were determined to make it a different experience from what people are used to seeing in church.

“It was similar to a college or high school spirit week as opposed to a regular revival,” he said. “You get Christ, but in a different way.”

The week’s activities included Bible games, a black-tie gala on Saturday and a special anniversary service on Sunday, with guest preachers and choirs from two local churches, Piney Grove Baptist and Full Gospel Kingdom. A band and cheerleaders also participated.

“A lot of times churches kind of grow and they get old and then they act old, but this is kind of like an old church with a young personality,” Riddick said.

Riddick and Kim Walker-Lee, who headed the church’s anniversary committee, said that the week’s activities were well received by people of all ages.

“A lot of our seniors loved it.” Riddick said. “We didn’t do anything that was sacrilegious. I think we did some things that were out of the norm for church, but not out of the norm for other organizations.”

While most people enjoyed the week’s activities, Riddick acknowledges that some may not have liked the approach, but “it at least caused them to pay attention and that’s the goal,” he said.

“If they didn’t like it, it made them go research,” Walker-Lee said. “So, the goal was still accomplished.

Riddick took over as the church’s pastor three years ago when he was just 27. Before coming to First Baptist, he served as a youth pastor at Gethsemane Baptist Church in Newport News. Going from ministering to youth to people of all ages was definitely a transition.

“Before, I was watching BET everyday to be relevant, but when I came here I was going to the hospital trying to figure out the whole health care and Medicare thing,” he said. “They have different concerns.”

Ophelia Taylor, who’s been a member of the church for more than 65 years, is impressed with the direction Riddick has taken the church.

“We all have hidden talents. He has brought the talents out of the young, the old, the middle-aged. He has touched all groups,” she said. “For me, it’s just so wonderful to see the church still growing”

Riddick is optimistic about the church’s future and expects it to continue growing in upcoming years.

“Our goal is really to impact the community,” he said. “We’ve been really active in the community, but I think we’ll have an even stronger presence, where people who don’t even come to the church will feel comfortable coming in for anything.”

“Overall, God is just faithful, you trust God and God works it out,” Riddick said.

Taylor said the church’s 143rd anniversary was “a blessing.”

“I’m expecting the next one to be even better,” she said.