The main focus of this column going forward will be the history of parts of Tabernacle Baptist Church as it exists now, and how and why it got to be the structure that it is. Before reminiscing about special parts of the church, let’s visit the history surrounding the building of Tabernacle Baptist Church—that is, to present a snapshot in time of the fledgling church, and the challenging times that surrounded its expansion.

Many readers will know that what is now Tabernacle Baptist Church started as a mission school in what was then a rural part of Richmond in 1897. The mission school, known then as West View Sunday School, was located at the corner of Meadow and Cary Streets and was an outgrowth of Grace Street Baptist Church.  In 1891, West View Sunday School decided to become its own church:  West View Baptist Church.  It was recognized in that year.  In 1893, problems with the building had become apparent.  Anyone who has owned property will appreciate how maintenance can become an issue!  In just a few years the baptismal font required extensive repairs, and the furnace had failed to such an extent that replacement was necessary. Growth in the congregation necessitated extension of the existing building.

In 1893, some parallels may be seen to our own challenging winter of 2014. The US had suffered a financial panic, causing people to hoard what money they could, as banks would only pay $50 from any given account. The understandable hoarding of money accelerated a depression, and many suffered in Richmond and elsewhere. Financial worries abounded, and many businesses failed.

The winter of 1893 in Richmond was sheer misery. Deep snow covered Richmond, and the James River was frozen from bank to bank. On January 16, the temperature was 12 degrees below zero. Food was scarce and expensive. On January 17, fires broke out in the American Tobacco and Valentine Meat Juice factories, nearly destroying those businesses. It was impossible to fight the fire as pipes everywhere were frozen. Enterprising firemen dug down into Richmond’s canals to find unfrozen water, but when this water was piped from the canals to the building, it froze before it could even reach the fire. Schools were closed for nearly two weeks as the winter weather persisted, with blizzards that lasted for days.

Still, fundraising for West View Baptist continued, and work on the expansion was undertaken in spite of cold and hazardous conditions.  The church never stopped working to relieve people’s suffering from the winter and from the financial depression, and the size of the congregation and the services provided to the community continued to grow year over year.  Today, as in the early years of our church, we face the task of raising funds to alter the physical space of the church to achieve the mission that the Lord lays before us.  Borrowing words from our pastor:

“Each generation that has come before us has taken a significant leap of faith into the unknown. God has blessed those courageous efforts in the rebirth of the church, one beautiful chapter at a time. Now, it is time for us to continue that legacy of bold faithfulness. The God-Sized Vision that has been given to us is creative, responsible, and transformative. The Vision mandates sacrifice in the present with eyes cast toward the future. …The answer to prayers offered a generation ago is being revealed through the reemergence of our congregation. The legacy of our forbearers is being lived out by each and every one of you. …One day, the next generation will look back at this critical moment in our story and I believe they will do so with hearts full of gratitude.”



[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]We sincerely appreciate the talent and efforts of Natalie Powers in helping us gain this historical perspective of Tabernacle. Credit for content of this article is given to The First Hundred Years: a History of the Tabernacle Baptist Church of Richmond, VA by Margaret Hickerson, Emery, 1991.[/author_info] [/author]

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