First Baptist dedicates new #036;1.5M sanctuary

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 18, 2002

A vision became a reality on Saturday for the Orlando community as it opened the doors to a &uot;full-service&uot; ministry.

Rev. Henry G. Baker, 60, pastor of the Greater First Baptist Church-Orlando, led the community on a tour of the new sprawling edifice, which sits adjacent to the original 79-year-old sanctuary. Church members, neighborhood residents, and city officials marched just a few feet from the dilapidated structure into a $1.5 million 300-capacity church at 600 Factory St. The church followed with an outdoor feast Saturday.

If you ask Baker how a church with just over 200 members was successful at such a major undertaking, he’ll reply, &uot;God did it!&uot; And it was seven years of many struggles, recalled Baker, but it’s all worth it.

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He explained that the church represents more than a place of worship because it will house numerous outreach programs that will, in part, focus on mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, cancer workshops, a medical clinic, after-school tutoring, job training, men’s fellowship, and more.

&uot;The vision we have will completely turn this community around,&uot; said Baker.

A room on the upper level of the church, off from the balcony, will house a computer lab for students. Twelve computers have been purchased to date for the room.

Orlando is indeed a new place today.

For decades, the South Suffolk community was known for its substandard housing, prolific crime statistics, and lack of aesthetic appeal.

But seven years ago the wheels started turning in another direction. Suffolk City Council and the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority spearheaded the first in a series of neighborhood meetings to begin revitalizing many of the city’s poorest areas. Orlando was at the top of the list.

SRHA Executive Director Clarissa E. McAdoo, the keynote speaker for the open house ceremony Saturday, recalled that on Jan. 29, 1997 the church &uot;was filled to capacity with television cameras roaming.&uot;

Today, &uot; a vision of a model community continues to be spoken in your hearts and minds,&uot; said McAdoo from the pulpit of the original church, which again was filled beyond capacity. &uot;Orlando is an outstanding community icon. It’s not by chance that it began at your church.&uot;

McAdoo also noted that her experience with neighborhood revitalization has always relied heavily upon the church playing an integral role.

&uot;Divine order is held in the highest regard,&uot; she said.

Virginia Turner, 78, has been a member of the church since 1942.

Saturday was indeed a day to celebrate.

&uot;I never thought this would happen,&uot; she said. &uot;But I thank God that we did do it with the help of a strong leader.&uot;

Baker returned to the church seven years ago with the vision to build a new edifice, and rejuvenate the community.

In 1972 at the age of 30, Baker took over First Baptist – Orlando as pastor and was able to facilitate many improvements to the original structure, including restrooms, pastor’s study, and a fellowship area. He left the church in 1985, and was called on again to pastor in 1995.

When Baker returned, however, he found a church that had stood the test of time, but was steadily crumbling at its seams. Slowly but surely the church worked together to make the new sanctuary a reality. The former church will be renovated for use, in part, as a fellowship hall and recreational area.

Orlando’s rebirth became a reality through the partnership with the city and SRHA, which facilitated neighborhood enhancements that now include street lights, sidewalks, and new affordable homes replacing decrepit structures. The church, with its bold presence, is the &uot;cornerstone&uot; of these efforts, said Baker.

In keeping with the celebration on Saturday, Suffolk Habitat for Humanity cut the ribbon in Orlando on its 14th house in the city. Francine Davis, originally of Norfolk, was the very proud recipient of the home constructed via donations contributed labor.