when First Baptist was organized in Martinsville,
we were “the new kids on the block.” The Methodists arrived in 1838; the Episcopalians in 1842. There was, however, a Baptist church in Henry County: Leatherwood Primitive Baptist church, built in 1770. Our founders, were not of the primitive Baptist persuasion, so in 1884 a different kind of Baptist presence was organized in Martinsville, in the home of Clarence and Rebecca Kearfott.
Four years later, in 1888, a building was constructed on Broad Street. In 1927, another, larger church was dedicated at the corner of Broad and Church Street. Then, in 1960, we made our home here at 23 Starling Avenue. The educational wing was built first and the fellowship hall was used for worship on Sunday mornings. It took two services to hold all the people. Some of us were baptized in what was once part of the fellowship
That’s the “nutshell” version of the basics, and how we arrived here today. But in our 134+ years of existence, in what ways have we been a holy people – that is, different and distinct from other Baptist congregations in the area? What factors have set First Baptist Church apart in Martinsville and Henry County?
The ministries of two extraordinary gentlemen played a major role in forging our congregational identity: Dr. James P. McCabe and Dr. Chevis F. Horne. Their ministries overlapped. Chevis began as Dr. McCabe’s Associate Pastor, each serving our church for over 40 years. Added together, they pastored this church for over
Dr. McCabe assumed the pastorate in
By all accounts, Dr. McCabe’s passion was church planting. He played a major role in the formation of 19 sister Baptist congregations in this area. In addition, in 1931, he hired a seminary-trained educator for the church, C. S. Hodge. Rev. Hodge called Dr. McCabe a philosopher, a thinker, and a planner; other members called him a “walking Chamber of Commerce.” Though highly educated, he never lost the common touch: Dr. McCabe spent his Saturdays downtown at the square talking to people. Over the years he married over 6000 couples, conducted around 2000 funerals, baptized about 3000 individuals, and preached over 6000 sermons.
In addition to education, the music ministry continued to flourish under Dr. McCabe’s leadership. The church was blessed with two outstanding musicians who gave their time and talent to First Baptist: Miss Annette Fuller, whose father had been pastor of the church in the late 1800’s, and Miss Elizabeth Davis, a graduate of Converse College and The Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. Miss Annette became choir director in 1904, before Dr. McCabe’s arrival. She and her sister operated a school for girls in Martinsville. College-level courses were offered in Music, Greek, Latin, Philosophy, Mathematics, and the Natural Sciences there. Miss Elizabeth was organist for 30 years, and taught private piano, organ and violin lessons. Under their leadership, the music ministry here became a vital asset to the church and the community. First Baptist Church grew rapidly during the ministry of Dr. McCabe.
Upon his retirement, Chevis Horne became senior pastor. Chevis was educated at Wake Forest University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, and completed postgraduate study at Yale University and Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Dr. Horne had a number of consuming interests, among them a lifelong passion for education and scholarship. He was a published author, and brought outstanding speakers and theologians to Martinsville. Dr. George A. Buttrick, Harvard professor and one of the finest preachers of the 20th century, and Dr. Elton Trueblood, Quaker theologian, philosopher, and author, were just two of the gifted men who preached from our pulpit. In the past, Martinsville has hosted everyone from theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
When the time came for a new church facility, the church hired architect Harold Wagoner of Philadelphia. Wagoner had designed the chapel at the US Air Force Academy, the Chapel at the United Nations, and a portion of the National Cathedral. Willet Studios, also of Philadelphia, was contracted to design the faceted glass. The architecture was dramatic and controversial, but a Georgian or colonial style church large enough to accommodate our congregation would have been beyond our means. The architecture also made a theological statement; Chevis believed the gospel message, not the pulpit, should be the focus of the room. Thus the pulpit was to the side, and the Lord’s Table, cross and resurrection window were in the center of the chancel. Under his direction, whatever we did, we did well. Without question, Chevis Horne insisted on excellence in every endeavor this church undertook.
More importantly, Chevis Horne had a passion for inclusiveness and racial equality; he believed strongly in breaking down barriers that divide and isolate people. First Baptist opened a racially integrated daycare in the early 1960’s – which caused quite a stir at the time. But because of his and others’ tireless efforts at bringing together the black and white communities, Martinsville did not suffer the same degree of racial tension as did other cities during that era. The transition to integrated public schools was a relatively smooth one.
Chevis also believed in tolerance, and encouraged religious people of various persuasions to come together and attempt to understand one another. Everyone from the local Rabbi to the Catholic Priest spoke from our pulpit. For the 1960’s, that was a daring undertaking and a remarkable achievement. Chevis was clearly a man ahead of his time. During Lent, we Baptists even had what were really “Confirmation classes” for older children. After taking a series of weekly lessons with Chevis covering the basics of Christianity, most of us made professions of faith and were baptized.
Chevis also hired a female Minister of Education for our church – Alpha Manson – in 1955. Largely, because of her presence, most of us were comfortable with the idea of women in ministry for many decades. Later, the transition to including female deacons was a smooth one, and the church called another woman to be Minister of Education in 1980, Nancy Stanton (McDaniel). Later, Nancy Stanton would become the Associate Pastor preaching many times from our pulpit.
Unfortunately, there are still many Baptist churches today that will not allow female deacons, much less female pastors. First Baptist is proud to continue its tradition of affirming women and men in the full scope of Gospel ministry. We are also grateful for Chevis Horne’s vision and courage to pursue justice when church and societal conventions dictated otherwise.
In 1979, after 40 years of ministry, Dr. Chevis Horne retired. Following him, Dr. James E. Baucom became pastor, and it was during his pastorate that Rev. Nancy Stanton McDaniel was hired and served for 20 years in Associate Pastor positions. Dr. Baucom resigned in 1990 and was followed by Dr. Thomas R. McCann in 1991. Dr. McCann resigned in 2003, and the church then spent two years in an intentional interim period before calling Dr. Dennis Knight as pastor in 2006. Dr. Knight, still an active member of First Baptist, retired in 2012, and Rev. John Fulcher, a long-time (and still current) member of the church, served as pastor from 2013 until 2017.
Since August 2018, First Baptist has been under the leadership of Rev. Libby M. Grammer. In this new season, we are striving to reach out to the community in new ways, and revitalize those ministries we already have, such as our Early Learning Center ministry. Libby is committed to seeing this beautiful church campus used as a place of ministry for the whole community, and she looks forward to serving alongside this family of faith for years to come.
Looking back, then, it’s easy to see that we have not been a typical Baptist church; our journey has been quite different from the norm. Our history has been rich and colorful, and full of surprises, and those who went before us laid a solid foundation. The road has certainly had its twists and turns. During the first three quarters of the 20th century, Martinsville was booming and life here was good, and full of opportunity. Today things are quite different. Our community is struggling and times have changed, but we can’t live in the past It’s a waste of the present to try to do so.
As First Baptist continues to move forward, we are excited to rediscover our calling and mission together – both in our community and throughout the world. Trusting in God’s faithfulness, we hope to continue to journey asking, what will it mean to be a holy people in Martinsville, Virginia, in the 21st century? How is God calling us to continue to be different, distinct, and set apart? May the Holy Spirit guide us as we prayerfully continue to seek the answers.
by Pam Burgess
History of the Faceted Windows
The Parlor Windows
Dr. Henry Lee Willett, the artist who is responsible for the beautiful windows of our church, designed the parlor windows to express the life of the church through four of its basic functions: worship, preaching, teaching
The Worship Window
This first window represents the worship of the church, symbolized by the harp. The church is called to perform no higher function than that of worshipping Almighty God. Therefore, the first and last thing God calls upon His church to do is to worship Him. (Given in memory of Mr. Ronald A. Henderson, Sr.)
The Preaching Window
The second window represents preaching. Here the monogram, chi rho (XP), which are the first two letters of the Greek word meaning Christ, is atop a stylized mountain peak which is reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount. This window indicates that the theme of all preaching is Jesus Christ. (Given in memory of Mr. James Ford Burgess, Jr.)
The Teaching Window
The early church developed the tradition of teaching along with that of preaching. Therefore, this third window represents teaching, which is symbolized by the lighted lamp on which there is a small cross. (Given in memory of Mr. George Thomas Hennessey)
The Service Window
Authentic Christian worshiping, preaching and teaching will result in service to mankind. Thus, it is logical that this last window should represent Christian service as symbolized by the outstretched compassionate hands with the flaming torch of inspiration and enlightenment. (Given in memory of Mr. George Thomas Hennessey)
The Chancel Window
The cross and the resurrection window in the chancel express the heart of the Christian gospel. The cross is the basic symbol of the Christian faith. However, in the time of Jesus, it was an instrument of death. The cross serves as a reminder that Christ died for our sins.
Transcending the cross is a beautiful resurrection window, which keeps before us the victorious fact that Jesus Christ rose again the third day. In this depiction, Jesus is emerging from the tomb. His right hand is raised in blessing while in the left He holds the banner of triumph over the death. In the extreme left portion is a bursting pomegranate, symbolizing the bursting forth of Jesus from the tomb, emerging into life. At the extreme right is a butterfly, representing the resurrection of the body of the Christian. Thus, the dead in Christ will be lifted into the new dimensions of eternal life and will be given bodies fitted for their new existence.
The Facade Window
Leaving the worship service, one will face the beautiful façade window. This is an interpretation of the Great Commission of Jesus to his disciples. At the center of the window is an oblong world. A cross is upon an open Bible, which is superimposed upon the globe, symbolizing that the Church is to go into all the world with the Word of God.
The basic symbol of the cross tells of the redemptive love of God expressed through the death of Jesus Christ. Representing the power to perform such a task is the descending dove of the Holy Spirit at the top of the window. The people who have trusted Jesus Christ and have been baptized will take upon themselves the spirit and character of the Lord. Thus, at the bottom of the window is a fish immersed in waves representing the baptism of Christians into the life of Jesus Christ. (Given as a special gift by Mr. Frank G. LaPrade and Mr. Garland T. LaPrade)
The Faceted Window Wall in the Sanctuary
The Window Wall in the sanctuary illustrates the story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
The First Panel
On the upper left, God’s hand reaches down to create the universe. The sun, moon, and stars are in the sky; and birds fly above the earth where Adam and Eve are seen in silhouette. (Given in memory of Joseph Henry Stultz and Nannie Allen Stultz)
The Second Panel
At the bottom of the first and second panel, fish swim in the water around the Ark. At the bottom are Noah and his wife and two dogs at the end of the procession of animals emerging tom the Ark to repopulate the earth. Above the Ark, Abraham is being prevented from sacrificing Isaac by an angel. A ram caught in the bush by his horns is seen behind Abraham. (Given in honor of Mary Kathryn Nininger Frith)
The Third Panel
Moses receives the Tablets of the Law from God on Mt. Sinai. Above is his staff with the brazen serpent roused for the healing of the Israelites bitten by serpents. Below in silhouette is David with his harp. (Given in honor of Madge Field Hooker and Alfred F. Hooker, Sr.)
The Fourth Panel
This panel is devoted to the Prophets. At the bottom in silhouette is Jonah, who is returned to land after being in the belly of the whale. Next is the fiery chariot in which Elijah rose to heaven. Above that are three lions to which Daniel was thrown but which did not harm him. At the top a seraph seals Isaiah’s lips with a coal from the alter of sacrifice, purifying him and enabling him to prophesy. Close by is the vision of Christ as the suffering servant in the wine press. (Given in memory of Artie Bourne Field)
The Fifth and Sixth Panels
At the top of these two panels, the life of Jesus begins. The holy family sits in the stable with the ox and the ass. The star shines above them. Below, in
The Seventh Panel
The ministry of Jesus begins with the Sermon on the Mount above and the miracle of feeding the five thousand below. The boy offers Jesus a basket of bread and fish which He miraculously multiplies. (Given in memory of Victor Arlington Lester)
The Eighth Panel
This contains three of the healing miracles. (Given in memory of Victor Arlington Lester) of Jesus. At the bottom, He heals a blind man by anointing his eyes with moistened clay. In the center, He raises the daughter of Jarius. At the top, a healed leper kneels to thank Jesus for curing him while the nine ungrateful ones go without looking back. (Given in honor of Placide and Steve Mitchell)
The Ninth and Tenth Panels
The Passion of Jesus extends over the next two panels. At the top, He enters Jerusalem riding an ass, greeted by people waving psalm. In the middle, He presides at the Last Supper, blessing the bread and the wine. Below, in silhouette, Judas steals away with a bag of money. The grapes and sheaf of wheat are the natural elements of the ritual foods. Also seen at the bottom is Jesus kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane. The cup of His suffering is seen above. (Given in memory of Mr. and Mrs. John B. Sparrow and Emmett and Grace Hennessey Stover)
The Eleventh Panel
Jesus is crucified. In the middle and bottom below is the Great Commission. Jesus, newly risen from the grave, sends out His disciples to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” (Given in memory of Max Hubert White)
The Twelfth Panel
At the bottom is the event of the descent of the Holy Spirit to the faithful gathered together in an upper room to celebrate the Feast of the Pentecost. They experienced a sound like a mighty rushing wind and saw tongues of fire over each head. At the top right, John is sitting writing his vision of the New Jerusalem, the Apocalypse. The eagle is the symbol of John. (Given in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Ainsley Jackson Lester)
The Window in the Entrance Hall to Sanctuary
This window which depicts the Good Shepherd with children was given by the church as the Chevis Ferber Horne
The Artist’s Interpretation of the Chapel Windows
“The purpose of the Willet Studios was to design and execute these windows to fill the charming contemporary chapel with color to become the crowning glory of this outstanding group of buildings.”
The interpretation of these windows begins with the window nearest the pulpit and moves consecutively towards the large Narthex Window with the stone cross set in it.
The First Window
This window represents the interpretation of the Divine Grace into everyday human life. The mood set by this design has an analogy in the spiritual life where the divine light, like grace, must penetrate wherever and whenever it can. (Given in memory of Mrs. Lena Elizabeth Ramsey Johnson)
The Second Window
This window speaks of the Ascension. It symbolizes not only the great ascension of Jesus Christ but also the ascension which is a universal law of life. This ascension of the human spirit in its day is liberated from the
The Third Window
This window interprets the idea of Resurrection with its colors and form that express life and light and a continuance. Death has its grip on us all through this life. Whenever progress is halted, whenever sin straps our idealism, there is death. Therefore, the design of the window depicts the triumphal busting out and up through death. (Given in memory of Mrs. Dorothy Spaulding Barker)
The Fourth Window
This window represents the idea of Living Water which, when poured from above in infinite abundance releases the soul from its dry and static existence, setting up in it a new, circulatory activity of the spirit. (Given in memory of Mrs. J. W. Owen)
The Fifth Window (The Narthex Window)
This window is on the Cross Victorious. There is nothing ambiguous here. Together all the colors seem to make bold statements and shout of an incredulous victory. It symbolized the world’s greatest tragedy has become the most stupendous victory; evil and death have been conquered! (Given in memory of Henry Claybrook Lester, Jr.)