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A Journey of Faith and Community: The Story of the First Baptist Church of Augusta.

A Journey of Faith and Community: The Story of the First Baptist Church of Augusta. By Bruce T. Gourley. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press and Baptist History & Heritage Society, 2017. 341 pp.

Historian Bruce Gourley documents the story not only of a significant Baptist church but also of the times and seasons of American history. A Journey of Faith and Community commemorates the bicentennial of the First Baptist Church (FBC) of Augusta, Georgia. In addition to nine chapters of text, the front matter adds 38 pages of pictures/images and the back matter consists of 50 pages of appendices, bibliographical notes, and a name index.

The first two chapters summarize Baptist beginnings in England and America. A key figure in starting Baptist churches in the area was Abraham Marshall, Daniel and Martha Stearns Marshall's son. But since Augusta lay on the wilderness edge for early Baptists, it was not until 1817 that Baptists organized a church there. Chapters 3 and 4 relate the growth of the first generation of FBC up to the famous 1845 meeting that created the Southern Baptist Convention. Early key leaders of FBC included William Brantley and later his son, William Brantley Jr.

In chapter 4, Gourley rectifies Baptist history books on why FBC was selected as the site for SBC formation. Powerful Virginia Baptists suggested lesser-known Augusta to organizer William B. Johnson. The gentlemanly thing to do was to decline and counteroffer Richmond, but Johnson accepted. Strangely, FBC Augusta was known for its progressive streak: It held close connections with many Baptists from the North, few slaveholders were members, and the church served on the forefront of assisting African-American churches (and Native Americans). The growth and progressive nature of FBC continued even in the midst of the Civil War and Reconstruction and the volatile issues of abstinence and anti-missionism.

Chapters 5-9 cover the New South period to the present. Chapter 5 reveals the church's openness toward women in ministry and ministry to Chinese immigrants through the influence of ecumenical pastor Lansing Burrows. Chapter 6 covers local, national, and world events up to the centennial celebration of the church's first facility in 1921. Chapter 7 speaks to events surrounding the church's navigation through the Great Depression, World War II, McCarthyism, and up to the arrival of key pastor Jack Robinson in 1953. Chapters 8 and 9 complete the church's transition from an SBC congregation toward support of CBF.

After Robinson, pastors George Balentine, Chuck Bugg, Tim Owings, and Greg DeLoach guided the church through turbulent denominational times. Gourley points to youth counterculture and SBC opposition to civil rights and racial integration for its downward denominational trends. Meanwhile, FBC maintained its progressive stance, advocating for and electing women deacons, and exploring alternate missional outlets.

Thus, Gourley has not simply presented a local church history that interests readers with an Augusta connection, but he also invites everyone into the Baptist story. He successfully delivers a microcosm of the history of Baptists in America and expertly interweaves the theological, ideological, political, and cultural wars of several generations.

Gourley is former executive director of the BH&HS, and the author of numerous books and articles. His writing style is readable and engaging. First Baptist Church of Augusta is his canvas to picture and interpret not only Baptist history but also American history. This book received the 2018 Archives Award for Local History Advocacy by the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council.--Reviewed by Michael Kuykendall, president, Northwest Baptist Historical Society, Vancouver, Washington
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Author:Kuykendall, Michael
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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