First Baptist Church is a thriving community in Christ where we all participate in worship and are transformed by mission.
Becoming a Member
First Baptist Church, Athens, welcomes as members any person who professes faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to be a member of our congregation. New believers are baptized by immersion. Members are also welcomed by transfer of membership from any other Christian congregation regardless of denomination.
Those desiring membership in our church present themselves during the final hymn of any Sunday worship service. If you have questions about our congregation or how to become a member, please contact one of our ministers.
A Brief History
The congregational family of First Baptist Church has built, moved, and renovated its home through the years according to the changing needs of the congregation and community. Athens Baptist Church, constituted January 31, 1830 in the Presbyterian Church building, began with 15 charter members, including natives of Ireland, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia. The church adopted a covenant and rules for operating conferences in 1840, incorporated in 1866, and changed its name to First Baptist Church in 1944. The first pastor, the Reverend James Shannon, a native of Ireland and professor at the University of Georgia, and the 24 who have followed have served the church since its founding providing variations on the themes of evangelism, education, fellowship, and stewardship. The emphasis has remained constant along with the determination to provide a downtown church for the whole Athens area.
The physical home of the church began with a “plain cheap house” on the northwest corner of the University of Georgia campus near the intersection of Broad and Lumpkin streets. The church moved in 1860 to a new facility on Washington Street near College Avenue where it became one of the first buildings in Athens to have gaslights installed. Members remained there until 1898 when they moved into a new facility at approximately the same location but facing College Avenue. The current location at Hancock and Pulaski became the home in 1921. A new education wing added in 1951; all facilities were renovated in 1980-81; and a third building with additional classrooms, new offices, a new library, a new kitchen, and new fellowship hall was added in 1993-94.
First Baptist has a long history of service to the community and of extending its ministry through the establishment and outgrowth of mission churches. A number of congregations developed in the mid-nineteenth century, one being East Athens Baptist Church in 1888. Two decades earlier, the African-American members expressed a desire to form their own congregation. Initially they were encouraged to remain, but subsequently the church accepted their resolve to separate and assisted the 129 African-American members in the development and formation of their new church, Hill First Baptist Church, in 1867.
The twentieth century saw the establishment of missions that have become self-sustaining, including West End Baptist Church, 1907; Milledge Avenue Baptist Church, 1958; and Beech Haven Baptist Church, 1959. First Baptist also cooperated with four other churches in developing the mission in 1986 that became Cleveland Road Baptist Church. Service to the community extends beyond establishment of congregations. First Baptist provided the house property on Lumpkin Street used by the Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Campus Ministries) for many years, and in 1961, deeded the property over to the Georgia Baptist Convention so that it could build the expanded facility still in use there. Furthermore, it has sponsored a Scout troop, Troop 22, since the beginning of the scouting movement in 1910.
The church benefited from consistent leadership in the twentieth century having four pastors serving for a near eighty-year period: Dr. Jim Wilkinson, 1921-48, Dr. Howard Giddens, 1948-67, The Reverend Julian Cave, 1968-75, Dr. Jon Appleton, 1976-99, Dr. Bill Ross, 2000-07, Dr. Paul Baxley, 2010-19.
The historical roots of First Baptist provide strengths of leadership, commitment, vision, and faithful witness. Affiliated locally with the Sarepta Baptist Association, First Baptist also partners with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia, and nationally with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. First Baptist is one of the founding churches of the McAfee School of Theology. Members are confident they made the right decision in April 2000 when they voted to withdraw from the Southern Baptist Convention and to withdraw from the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2001. These decisions were based on their belief that the SBC favors increased pastoral authority, restrictions on inquiry and discussion at the seminaries, and a reduced role for women at a time when First Baptist strongly favors priesthood of the believer, congregational authority, academic freedom, and the ordination of women. First Baptist continues its commitment to be faithful with the gifts and opportunities God provides.
Last Published: July 11, 2014 2:39 PM
Always Becoming New
A History of First Baptist Church, Athens, Georgia
The history of First Baptist Church, Always Becoming New, written by the late Ernst C. Hynds, member and church historian, was published in 2011. Dr. Ernest C. Hynds was emeritus professor of journalism and mass communication and former head of the Department of Journalism in the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. The book is dedicated to his wife, Mary Ann, who died in 2012. Both held numerous offices, including deacon, in the church.
Copies are available through our Church Office at a cost of $25.00 per copy. (Church members are provided with one copy per household at no charge). You may obtain a copy by calling the office at 706.548.1359, or e-mailing Heather Swank.
A brief description of the book follows:
The long and productive history of First Baptist Church, Athens, Georgia, published by Fields Publishing, Inc., Nashville, in 2011, can be summarized effectively in the first three words of the title, Always Becoming New.
Since the church was founded in 1830 to provide Baptists a voice and influence in the town that was growing up adjacent to the University of Georgia, members have maintained their basic beliefs and principles. Individuals are saved to eternal life with God by the grace of God and their faith in Jesus Christ as His Son and their Savior and Lord.
Members have remained firm in that stance, but expressed their willingness to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance in finding new approaches to reaching people for Christ and new ways of being in their community and throughout the world. They are willing to become new again.
The history is organized to provide a readable narrative of the First Baptist story and easy-to-locate details on ministers, organizations such as the Sunday School, Women’s Missionary Union, choirs, and deacons; missions such as the medical-educational mission to Southern India, and, ministries such as Interfaith Hospitality Network to help the homeless and the program to provide meals for those in need.
Early chapters cover developments in time frames such as the founding years, building church in the antebellum period, the Civil War, and growth and expansion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The remaining chapters describe developments in the administrations of Jim Wilkinson, Howard Giddens, Julian Cave, Jon Appleton, and Bill Ross. Paul Baxley, the current minister, is mentioned in an epilogue.
The author is the late Dr. Ernest C. Hynds, emeritus professor of journalism and mass communication and former head of the Department of Journalism in the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. The book is dedicated to his wife, Mary Ann, who died in 2012. Both have held numerous offices, including deacon, in the church.