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FBC Georgiana blends past, future in new buildingcomment (0)

November 17, 2005

By Grace Thornton

Mary Hicks said the stained glass windows in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Georgiana, in Butler Baptist Association have captured her attention for years.
In fact, she’s been captivated by them ever since 1939, when her mother started carrying her in her arms to “big church.”
“The windows have been a part of this church as long as anyone can remember,” Hicks said. “If you could see them, you would understand why we wanted to keep them.”
Keeping them — or not keeping them — became the question when the church’s 1922 building was deemed structurally unsound two years ago and the congregation chose to level it and rebuild on the same spot.
But Hicks said the issue of the stained glass was never really a question at all.
“We decided in complete agreement to incorporate the old with the new and blend the two together,” she said. “The windows mean so much to the older members, and it would mean a lot to the younger members coming up through the church also. The windows give them a sense of their Christian heritage.”
The windows, she added, share Christ’s Word — one features Christ with the children, another shows Him praying in the garden of Gethsemane. There are 14 windows total, eight of which share some sort of straightforward biblical message.
And now they are part of the new sanctuary of First, Georgiana, which opened Oct. 30.
“We were able to have them restored — they had been transferred once from a previous building and had also been through a fire,” said Pastor Allen Stephenson. “The church was founded in 1865, and our first two churches on this site burned. We believe the windows have been around since at least the turn of the century.”
As the church’s fourth sanctuary was being constructed, the congregation met in the community’s Ga-Ana Theatre, graciously loaned by its owners for Sunday services.
And during the two-years’ time between tearing down the old sanctuary and opening the new, the congregation was not only working to preserve the old windows but also finding ways to incorporate new opportunities for ministry.
The new sanctuary — like the old — seats 220. 
But the accessibility of it and the classroom space built around it minister to members — especially senior adults — in a profound way.
“We were very fortunate to have the big, three-story (educational) building through my childhood, but the staircases were narrow and hard to get around in,” Hicks said. “Now the church is all on one floor and much easier to get around in.”
With the new facility, First, Georgiana, also made another big step in opening its arms wide to the community.
“We just signed an agreement to be a special-needs shelter with the Red Cross. In the future, if there is a disaster, they can bring in a generator and we can accommodate 100 folks who might be diabetic, be on a breathing apparatus or have other special needs,” Stephenson said. “This is not just a building for the church — it’s a place where the community can come and feel safe.”
He said church members realized after Hurricane Ivan hit in September 2004 that their community was more than just a stop-off point for people fleeing Florida when storms are imminent.
“We had more need in the six or eight blocks around us than anywhere else I know,” Stephenson said. “We want to create a relationship with the community for intentional, relational kinds of witnessing.”
Church members are excited about the new possibilities for ministry, he said.
“Before the carpet went down in the sanctuary, we all came together and wrote our favorite scriptures on the floor,” Stephenson said.
At both the 11 a.m. homecoming and 2 p.m. dedication services, the church packed out the new sanctuary and an overflow room where people participated in the services by closed-circuit television.
“It was an incredible day of testimony — we glorified God and got the focus off man,” he said.
Glorifying God was not a difficult thing to do, Hicks said — the inspiration of the new and legacy of the old in the sanctuary that day was overwhelming. “We are just so blessed.”

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