James Island Church Builds $3 Million Living Center to Serve Growing Community | Characteristics
Few congregations are engaging in multimillion-dollar initiatives during the pandemic, which has otherwise caused a dip in their finances at many places of worship.
But the First Baptist Church of James Island began work on its new $3 million family life center before the pandemic hit. Stopping the project is not an option.
“We are still trying to be progressive in the pandemic because we still have to live in the pandemic,” said the Reverend Charlie Murray, pastor of the congregation. “Our faith is strong.”
The church is months away from completing its new center, which is intended to serve a growing part of the region. The nearly 17,000 square foot space will be connected to the sanctuary, located at 1110 Camp Road.
The new site will include two full-size basketball courts, men’s and women’s private showers, and a family meeting room.
The church got a loan to build it and is raising money to pay it back. Donations can be made online at fbcji.org/giving.
When completed, the addition will be one of the largest faith-based event venues on the island. The church wants the space to be community-focused, serving as a heated shelter and also housing a future after-school program, summer camp and technology classes for seniors.
James Island is among Charleston County’s historically black communities that have become increasingly white over the years as development continues to expand across the island.
The church was established by African Americans in 1869 shortly after the Civil War as black people in the Lowcountry took advantage of newfound freedom and established their own communities.
Stuart Walters witnessed the changes in the area as a 27-year-old resident of the Fort Lamar area of the island. What was once a mostly rural community is now mostly suburban, he said.
That’s partly because younger family members are selling their ancestors’ land as property values have risen, Walters said.
Walters and his wife own three acres in the community. It will stay in the family, even when Walters and his wife are gone. Their will calls their descendants to keep the land.
James Island’s growth has brought some benefits, Walters said. New residents in the neighborhood have been advocating for infrastructure improvements, such as new sidewalks in the Fort Lamar area, Walters said.
However, downsides to the new development have included increased flooding and traffic problems, he added.
“Infrastructure is the biggest issue,” Walters said.
First Baptist sees growth as an opportunity to diversify. The nearly 1,500-member church already has a few white members.
Walters seized an opportunity to raise awareness by touring a new 30-home development adjacent to the church, inviting residents over the summer to the outdoor First Baptist revival.
Only one family came. But it was a start.
“We hope to attract other people,” Walters said. “At the end of the day, we hope they come to get served.”
Murray sees the new center of life playing a vital role in the future of the island as the church continues its outreach efforts, including food drives and clothing distributions.
“The church is not just for members,” he said. “The church has a responsibility to the community in which it is located. My job as a pastor is to equip my members to go out and care for others.”
Like many churches, First Baptist continues to navigate with caution as COVID-19 cases rise.
The church resumed in-person worship recently, but its 1,300-seat sanctuary accommodated at most 175 people.
To reach Ricky Dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.