Nearly 100 years ago, the people who formed First Baptist Church moved into their third church house, the space that would become the home for her ministries and missions for a century and counting. The 1920s saw many of the downtown churches building new spaces for their people to gather, and First Baptist’s new building was right in the heart of the city.
The cornerstone was laid February 3, 1924, the first service was held in September 1925, and the dedication of our current church building was held on November 8, 1925. The guest speaker was Dr. George Truett, North Carolina native and pastor of the First Baptist Church, Dallas. Texas. His first words from the pulpit were “I’m glad to be in another Progressive Baptist Church!”
The original plans for the current church building included a dome, but no tower. Mr. D. Rich, one of the leaders within the congregation, declared that it needed a “finger pointing upward to God.” When the church’s building committee questioned the cost of adding such a tower since the building’s cost was already over budget, Mr. Rich replied that he had found that the cost would be $50,000, and he knew a “good woman” who would pledge that amount. (The “good woman” was his wife!)
The dedication of our current church building was held on November 8, 1925. The guest speaker was Dr. George Truett, North Carolina native and pastor of the First Baptist Church, Dallas. Texas. His first words from the pulpit were “I’m glad to be in another Progressive Baptist Church”.
At first the current church was merely referred to as the “Round Church.” Its distinctive copper dome and curved, ornate Sanctuary set it apart from other Baptist churches in the region. Over the years, the Sanctuary has undergone a few seasons of renovations, most recently in 2007. Yet with every passing year, even in her age and constant care, this space lifts all who enter with the beauty and imagination of wonder.
Today, our building is the space where the church meets, which is why we call it our “church house” so as to not confuse “church” with “building”! Here, we walk together through all the changing seasons of life, holding life’s most ordinary moments, meals, experiences alongside the profound. Here, people of all kinds find belonging and meet God. From here, as Pastor Emily shares in her benediction each Sunday, “we end this form of worship to begin again the worship that is our very lives.” Here, we are seen and known and loved all the same.
Community Events at First on Fifth
We believe that our beautiful church house isn’t just our congregation’s to enjoy. Rather, meaningful space is space to be shared meaningfully with our broader community! Recently, we hosted the 50th Anniversary Celebration for Crisis Control Ministries and enjoyed the fiery preaching of Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. In the fall of 2023, we held the opening event of the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors, and all learned much from the pointed conversation between Celeste Ng and Jason Mott about censorship and book banning. We’ve welcomed Authoring Action’s summer intensive for teenagers, commended new Street School graduates, and hosted community groups and mental health seminars. We’ve celebrated weddings and enjoyed art installations and delighted in high school choral concerts, all the while giving thanks for a space to call home and to share!
If you’re interested in inquiring about hosting an event at First on Fifth, please fill out the form here.
What is now the Ammons-Lolley Commons was originally the Carrie Rich Memorial Room in memory of Mr. D. Rich’s first wife. It served as a church parlor and hosted many small weddings, later housing the Efird Memorial Library, given by the founder of Efird’s Department Stores.
As longtime member Lenwood Ammons used to share, his late wife, Doris, volunteered in the library but would often remark how much more useful the space would be as a parlor instead. In memory of Doris, Lenwood gave a gift to restore the space and give it new life – again! – as the Ammons-Lolley Commons. Designed to be a place for the cultivation of friendship and connection, this warm and welcoming space just outside the Sanctuary has become a common gathering place for our beloved community’s life together. The Ammons-Lolley Commons was named in celebration of Lenwood and Doris’s long friendship with Randall and Lou Lolley. The furniture was provided by Lucian and Robie Neal, given in celebration of their long history with First Baptist Church. The church dedicated this space on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017.
The Tower Bell
After the sudden death of her beloved husband, John, Mona Pass and her three daughters found a meaningful way to remember John and honor his long love of First Baptist Church by giving the gift of a bell. Not just any bell, but the steeple tower bell, which rings on the hour every single day. Mona even tested her fear of heights by climbing the steeple tower at Wake Forest to assess their carillon before deciding which bell would best serve First Baptist! The bell was dedicated by First Baptist upon its installation in 2006, and has brought comfort and steady presence to the downtown community ever since.
One particular memorable use of the bell came on Easter Sunday of 2020, when many of our world’s churches stood quiet and empty on the day of resurrection. As luck would have it, the automatic bell ringer had broken, and no one was traveling in those days for bell repair! Undeterred yet determined to share hope on that hard pandemic Easter, two of our members, Gary and Micah Knight, made their way downtown to ring the bell themselves. So on Good Friday last year and again on Easter morning, Gary and Micah ascended the tower and rang it themselves. With each ring, they sounded the multitudes. Past. Present. Death. Life. Scarcity. Abundance. Worry. Hope. Uncertainty. Trust. Anxiety. Vulnerability. Beginnings. Endings. Love. Love. Love.
The Children’s Stained Glass
A stained glass window was dedicated to the children of First Baptist on Fifth on Sunday, July 17, 2022, in loving memory of Daniel Tran Foskett Hudgins. Designed with elements of Daniel’s life embedded within, this beautiful piece just down the hall from the Sanctuary gives us all a space to remember our beloved friend, Daniel, and give thanks for his remarkable life.
Within the stained glass, you’ll find:
Stars: patterned on the Subaru logo, Daniel was a big Subaru fan!
Eagle: Daniel was an Eagle Scout
Mountain lion: the Mars Hill University mascot
River: the river’s shape is inspired by Vietnam, Daniel’s birth country
Dogs: Daniel’s beloved Max and Cody
The following litany was written by Daniel’s mother, Mary Foskett, and shared by the church at the window’s installation.
Leader: This morning we dedicate a new stained glass window to the children of First Baptist Church. The window is given and has been placed in loving memory of Daniel Tran Foskett Hudgins, whom this congregation loved, nurtured, befriended, and supported, from his infancy until his death last March, at age 21.
All: We give thanks to God for Daniel’s life and for this congregation, who loved Daniel well and embodied the love of Christ for him to see, experience, embrace, and share with others.
Leader: We give thanks to God for every Sunday School teacher, music teacher, youth leader, Passport Camp chaperone, minister, and church member who touched and shaped Daniel’s life.
All: We thank God, too, for our ministry to all our children, whose well-being we earnestly seek. Let us find ways to love, nurture, befriend, and support every child God brings into our midst. Leader: As the prophet Isaiah writes, “All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace.” Let us be instruments of peace in our children’s lives.
All: We celebrate and give thanks for the children of First Baptist Church. May the window that we are dedicating to them today remind them of the goodness of God’s creation, help them know they are loved, and bring them delight.
The 2018-2019 Building Project & “A Boundless Home” Capital Campaign
In the fall of 2015, First on Fifth called the Special Committee on Facilities and Mission to lead the church in discerning God’s will for our congregation. After much prayer and diligent work, they presented a plan to significantly change our physical presence so that we might better live out our mission in downtown Winston-Salem. In the summer of 2017, the congregation affirmed that plan in an overwhelming vote, and work began in the summer of 2018.
The goal of this first phase of the project was to create a physical home for our church that better fits our needs during this season of our church life, and to free up resources that have been going to maintaining our aging buildings. Phase One had several key components, including the demolition of Buildings B and C (the 1954 and 1963 buildings that housed our church’s Children’s Center, the gym, fellowship hall, chapel, and a number of classrooms); replacement of all roofs, including the copper dome; critical masonry restoration on the steeple tower and roofline; new mechanical and electrical systems; site work including temporary parking; new restrooms in the narthex; and new handicapped ramp on the Poplar Street entrance.
In the midst of all this change, the Special Committee clarified the church’s vision, to be “a community in the heart of the city called by Jesus to practice bold love of God and neighbor and boundless compassion for all people.” A Boundless Home: Building Beyond Walls was our $5.4M capital campaign to prepare the church to fulfill that mission for years to come. This campaign reflected the call we share as a church: to be a home where all are invited to experience God’s limitless grace and where the love of Christ is shared far beyond our walls. It enabled our church to continue its bold and boundless ministry into our hopeful future ahead by addressing the imminent need our facilities demanded.
Watch the “A Boundless Home: Building Beyond Walls” campaign video below.