Columbia Baptist’s new building is a fresh start

By Alex Russell

Looking at the Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church today, one will find a large area of ​​occupied construction adjacent to the original building, with myriad vehicles and a large working steel crane. This work in progress is itself the result of more than a decade of planning and fundraising led by Columbia Baptist to renovate the established space and create a new, modern space for all visitors.

Jim Baucom, Columbia’s senior pastor, told The News-Press that they had been “working on the possibility of this building” for about 15 years, in a process that incorporated “several different plans [and] architects.

Part of the impetus for this project was functionality. Baucom explained that Columbia had been “overcrowded”, with its duties increasing to “five times a weekend”. Brett Flanders, the church’s executive director, agreed on the capacity issue, saying the renovation was “something that has been needed for some time”.

The church has a rich history, founded by abolitionists in rural Virginia.

The current project, which has an expected completion date somewhere in early 2023, according to Baucom, will feature “a new front door” with an entrance hall, making it easier to navigate on-site for newcomers. As Flanders explains, the current building has “26 doors” which made it difficult for people to tell exactly where to enter.

In addition to redoing the church’s “front door,” there will be a new, expanded “state-of-the-art worship center,” a larger and redone parking lot, an upgraded auditorium that can accommodate approximately 4,400 worshippers, new areas of education that will be used by the child development center, and a new church steeple, which will be “the tallest building in the city, apart from the radio towers”.

This new Columbia Baptist complex will also have a cafe, providing an additional opportunity for people to meet and converse.

Regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, Flanders shared that the biggest obstacle was related to “supply chain problems, mainly [dealing] with steel. Construction was “suspended for two to three months” due to the suspension of the steel required. Site work using the crane began early last month. Flanders reports that they are “three-quarters of the way with steel.”

The lockdown was not without its silver lining, as Baucom pointed out the Covid-induced pause helped the overall process “when we got the work done on site”.

During the lockdown, the church focused on ensuring the new car park was paved and ready, as well as completing more work on the site – such as removing the old pavement – before resuming more important works. “Much of the facility is older,” Baucom added, so the lockdown has allowed time to be accomplished for significant redevelopment.

As construction progresses, Flanders considers many elements of the work “almost like an archaeological dig”, allowing people to see “what kind of changes have been made” throughout the long history of the building. building.

During “some work on the site, we found an old septic tank from the early 1900s”. Inside the current structure, “changes in elevation” and slight “shifts in [the] corridors” remind Flanders of the long and rich history linked to the church and its surroundings.

With a construction project of this size, providing financing and reducing future debt was a priority for the church from the start.

Along with donations from ‘long-time members’, Flanders said ‘fundraising campaigns’ constitute the bulk of their funds – a process by which people commit money over a long period of time to cover incurred expenses. , in this case, by construction and renovation. – ultimately raising “over $11 million”.

Looking ahead, Baucom is considering the ease of Covid restrictions and how it will continue to rush people back to in-person worship “at their own pace”.

“For some people,” adds Baucom, “it’s just hard to go back [that] social rhythm.

He acknowledges that going forward “it will take us some time to recover,” but he also argues that the church as a whole will need to take on a new perspective when construction is complete. This will be the time to “reposition”. The goal, as Baucom said, is to “grow the church that we are, as opposed to the church that we were.”

‘Churches can’t meet every need’, but Baucom hopes to see Columbia branch out and have its new, revamped auditorium space – which will be ‘the largest auditorium in the city, by far’ – fill others , maybe music or drama. targeted, uses.

Flanders adds that after all the planning, fundraising, building and renovations, he looks forward to welcoming visitors to a new vision of Columbia that is ready for more people, more events and greater community involvement within the small town. “I’m thrilled to continue to be able to serve the community… It’s been a long time coming.”

Jerry B. Hatch