BUIES CREEK, North Carolina – The First Baptist Church of Raleigh and the First Presbyterian Church of Raleigh have more in common than prime real estate on the same street in North Carolina’s capital city. Both churches partnered with Dr. Glenn Jonas, the Howard Professor of Religion and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to tell their stories.
Founded a mere four years apart, the First Baptist Church reached out to Jonas to ask if he would honor their 200-year history with a book. Jonas responded with “Nurturing the Vision: First Baptist Church, Raleigh, 1812-2012”, the result of four years of dedicated research into the church’s history, mission, and impact on the City of Raleigh and the state of North Carolina.
Members of First Presbyterian Church of Raleigh were so impressed with his book on the Baptists that they asked him to do the same for their bicentennial anniversary in 2016.
After his initial hesitation due to the magnitude of the research and work the first book required, he realized the groundwork had already been laid. It would just be about a different group of people this time.
He accepted and began the process again, transporting historical documents from the First Presbyterian Church’s offices to faculty study space on Campbell University’s main campus in Buies Creek.
In a unique twist, Jonas tells the story of the First Presbyterian Church through a narrative that blends church history with the history of the city, state, and nation.
“For me it’s about telling the history of a denominational group of people from the bottom up,” said Jonas.
“Most of the histories you read about Methodists or Presbyterians or Baptists are told by historians who look at the sermons of the great preachers, the confessional and creedal statements that were formulated by the founding theologians, or they are written from the records of the leaders of the denominations.”
Instead of reporting the history of the Presbyterians from the top down, he wrote “A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City, First Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, 1816-2016” from the perspective of the people in the pews.
Aside from an interesting story about the church elders voting to send the 1963 Christmas offering to Marina Oswald, widow of Lee Harvey Oswald, Jonas says the most meaningful discovery was that the two congregations are not that different.
“They have different labels, but when it comes down to Monday morning and day-in and day-out life, they are the same. They may differ on beliefs about baptisms, but when there’s a need in the community, they work together because they are Christian people living out God’s word.”