RALEIGH - The 200-year history of Raleigh's oldest Baptist church is the subject of a new book written by Dr. Glenn Jonas, professor of Religion and chairman of Campbell University's Department of Religion and Philosophy.
"Nurturing the Vision: First Baptist Church, Raleigh, 1812-2012," Jonas' book chronicles the capital city's second-oldest church, founded one year after Edenton Street Methodist. Decade by decade, from North Carolina’s early years to the Civil War through World War II and into the 21st Century, Jonas tells the church’s story within the context of the story of Raleigh’s growth and the growth of the nation.
“I think it’s different from other books on church history,” Jonas said. “While many may focus solely on the church, I write in each chapter about what’s going on in the nation at the time -- or the city of Raleigh at the time -- and intersect that with what’s going on with the church. Those interested in Raleigh, North Carolina or Baptist history in general will find something interesting in this book.”
Jonas said he was contacted by the church first in 2008, and the book is the product of four years of research. His only similar experience came when he archived the history of a small Baptist church he led in Texas. While writing a book proved to be a much more daunting task, Jonas said he benefited greatly from the church’s extensive records.
“First Baptist has the best archives of any church in North Carolina,” he said. “They’ve got conference records that go all the way back to the founding. There’s records of deacons’ meetings, Sunday School classes … literally thousands of pages of archives. And a lot of it was digitized, which helped tremendously.”
He said he found two things particularly fascinating about First Baptist in Raleigh … the first being that despite its proximity to the central hub of state government for 200 years, the congregation rarely if ever used its political muscle to influence votes.
“They’ve been a great neighbor, politically speaking,” Jonas said. “The same could be said for all those churches in that area. They rarely try to use their influence for selfish means. It’s been a harmonious relationship.”
Also fascinating, he said, is the church’s harmonious relationship within. Jonas said aside from a “major split in the 1830s,” First Baptist has avoided the in-fighting and inner politics that have plagued other churches through the years. He believes part of what has kept the church strong for so long is its willingness to focus on the well-being of others.
“Since the Civil War, it’s been a church comprised of a mostly affluent congregation,” he said, “yet at the same time, it’s a church with a deep compassion for underprivileged people. They have a rich history of taking care of people who aren’t as blessed as many of them. That’s also really stood out to me.”
Jonas credited Campbell University Divinity School graduate assistant Jonathan Lee for helping him edit and finalize the book.
“Nurturing the Vision” can be purchased in hardback form at the Mercer University Press website, http://www.mupress.org/productdetails.cfm?sku=H845. Jonas will appear at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh at 7:30 p.m. on June 25 to share his book and sign copies.