- February 13, 2014
- By George Henson / Staff Writer
TEMPLE—When First Baptist Church in Temple opened its new campus last month, it marked the new birth of a church rising from the ashes and the celebration of a new chapter in its ministry.
The church worshipped in the same location for the first time in four years Jan. 19—the anniversary of the date fire destroyed the church’s historic sanctuary. About 1,000 people attended the worship service, and an equal number met for a dedication service of the church’s new facility the following week, Pastor Ronny Marriott said.
“I was anxious to get that knocked out and focus on ministry again,” said Marriott, who arrived at the Temple congregation about seven months ago. “Now we can talk about, ‘Now we have this building—what are we going to do with it?’”
The church hadn’t originally planned to begin meeting in its new facility exactly four years after fire claimed its old sanctuary. But when a building contractor asked for one more week to finish the job, the church rescheduled the move from Jan. 12 to Jan. 19.
“It was significant for those who were there for the fire. For many of them, it was like, ‘This is a new beginning, and we can let go of the past,’” Marriott said.
Since the fire, the congregation has been scattered. The church held two Sunday worship services in its repurposed youth building downtown, which was not damaged in the fire. Bible study classes also met in that building, as well as in the city’s library, its Chamber of Commerce building and assorted downtown businesses.
About three years ago, around 50 church members started another ministry point with a contemporary service at an elementary school near the church’s new property on the city’s west side.
“When I first got here, we had an 8 o’clock service downtown,” Marriott said. “I would preach there, and then drive here to preach the contemporary service at the elementary school, and then drive back downtown for the 11 a.m. service. So, there were three services because the room just wasn’t big enough to have everybody in there at once. I’m really glad that’s over.”
Now the church worships together in the new facility on the west side of town. The church plans to sell most of its downtown property but will retain one location for missions and community ministries.
“We will always have a ministry downtown,” Marriott said.
He is glad to have the congregation together in one place.
“It just didn’t feel like your typical church experience being so separated. They made it work, but just getting back together in one location was one thing everybody was really looking forward to,” he said.
After four years meeting apart, church leaders have asked members to introduce themselves to each other. Many saw one another around town but did not know they belonged to the same congregation, Marriott said.
First Baptist still offers two worship services—a 9:30 a.m. blended service and a contemporary service at 11 a.m—and small-group Bible studies meet during both times. While Marriott preaches the same message during both services, the music, his illustrations and clothing are changed to be appropriate for the setting.
Even though Marriott has lived in Temple less than a year, members have told him the congregation has a different mindset than before the fire.
“People realize it kind of humbled the church. It was a beautiful sanctuary that burned, and it was really the icon of the church and the community,” he said. “The fire chief talked about how devastated the firefighters were that someone would burn a church, and second, that they could not save that building.
“It’s taught the people here, though, that the people are the church, and the people are called to serve—because everyone’s had to pitch in. It’s been amazing what they’ve had to do, but they’ve done it, and they’ve done it graciously.
“It’s really brought the church together to say, ‘We’re in this together, and we need to work together.’ And I think that is very healthy.”
The new church building sits on 138 acres, and Marriott expects much of the land to be used for the community.
“One of our visions for First Temple is that we’ll be an active part of the community—making Temple a better place to live because we’re here,” he said. “It’s not about building our kingdom, but helping the people around us.”
The church designed its new facility with that goal in mind. It includes an indoor playground, a gymnasium and a café.
“As much as they loved the other building—so many of them were married there, had children dedicated and baptized there—it was very sentimental to them. But out of this, they realize they are the church, and the church needs to be on the move and out where the people are,” Marriott said.
For that reason, the congregation has been prayerwalking the community around the church and placing door hangers on homes, alerting neighbors the church wants to serve them.
“There are no benchwarmers here—we’ve all got to be part of the team. And I think when people begin to serve and help others, that solidifies them and they begin to grow spiritually. If you’re just coming and sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, you’re only getting a spoonful of what’s available at a church,” he said.
Maximum length for publication is 250 words.