Original Richland Baptist Church Building

Richland Baptist Church Historical Sketch: 

In July 1889, representatives from seven local Baptist churches met to establish a church in the Hartwood area of Stafford County. They came from Berea, Ramoth and Rock Hill in Stafford County; and Zoah, Mt. Carmel, Mt. Holly and Grove in Fauquier County. The original land was acquired from H.A. Crittendon, one of the charter members. Land for the cemetery was purchased from Willie Nash for the sum of $6.00.

Richland Baptist Church was established in an area noted today as “Richlands” on county tax maps. There were thirteen male members listed as charter members. There were also eighteen female members, but as was common at that time, their names were not listed. A church business meeting on May 19, 1917 was the first one female members were invited to. That was the first time they were able to vote on church decisions. Reverend W.T. Newman served for two years as the first pastor of the church. Reverend C.W. Brooks became pastor in 1891 and served until 1935, a period of 44 years. By 1895, the young church had more than doubled in size, with 29 male members and 38 female members.

The first church building was a white clapboard wooden structure heated by two wood stoves. The old rock-lined well and its well house, which stands between the present Sanctuary and Richland Road, is the only structure from the first church building which still exists. It provides an interesting reference point in photographs while tracing the church’s development over the years.

In the early years strict codes of conduct for church members were observed. Behaviors such as dancing, playing cards, playing music, and instructing others in dance were prohibited. For example, in April, 1897, it was decided that “dancing was a moral evil and leads to other sins destructive of the peace and prosperity of the church.” Expulsions from church membership for those who violated these rules and refused to receive correction are recorded in the minutes. 

In 1900, eleven years after the founding of the church, “a protracted meeting” or revival was held beginning the third Sunday in August and lasting through Thursday. Two professions of faith resulted from that meeting. This is where the long-observed custom of observing Homecoming on the third Sunday in August came from. This practice endured until 2010, after which, in recognition of changing dynamics in our population and culture, the church decided to try moving the observance to the first Sunday in October.

Richland was originally in a circuit of four churches, meaning one pastor served four churches simultaneously, preaching at each church on different Sundays of the month. Over the years, the preaching circuit decreased first to three churches, then to two, and then in 1961 Richland went on its own, no longer sharing a pastor with another church. That same year Richland left the Potomac Baptist Association to join the new Fredericksburg Baptist Association (now the Fredericksburg Area Baptist Network).

In 1948 a building program was launched to build a new, brick Sanctuary. Construction began in 1952. It was estimated at the time that the cost of completing the new structure (our present Sanctuary) would be $20,594.00! The entrance vestibule of the old church building was removed to make room for the new brick Sanctuary to be built immediately in front of the original building. The final cornerstone was laid on the new Sanctuary Thanksgiving Day, 1954. At that time the structure had front steps but no porch roof with white columns, no steeple, and no stained glass windows. Those improvements would be added in later years.

The “Old Church” building continued to be used for classrooms until 1960, at which point it was torn down and the first educational wing, with Fellowship Hall and Kitchen in the basement, was constructed in its place. This is now primarily the administrative office wing immediately behind the Sanctuary (with Youth area and Children’s Church in the basement). At that time the Nursery was located in half of what is now the Senior Pastor’s office (that office was later formed by eliminating the dividing wall between two small rooms in that space). The men of the church completed the interior of the wing. 

In 1985 a church secretary and a music minister were hired for the first time. Genevieve Major (“Sissy”) has been in the position of church secretary (now Administrative Assistant) for twenty-six years. Her first office was in what is now the custodian’s closet behind the Sanctuary.

At the beginning of the 1990’s it was clear the church needed more space and the congregation moved forward to meet that need. The expansive, two-story educational wing on the north side of the church building was completed in 1993. The Nursery was moved to larger quarters in this new wing. Several large classrooms and a much larger Fellowship Hall and Kitchen were features of the new wing as well.

Pastor William Jeffcoat, who had served the church as pastor since 1964 (with the exception of 1972-73, when Melvin E. Martin was pastor), retired in 1998, at which time the church called Rev. Clyde Findley to serve part time as an interim pastor while a new full time pastor was being sought. 

A full time youth minister, Steven Latham, was hired in late 1998. Pastor Jim Bethany’s first Sunday here was August 22, 1999. A weekly preschool was started to meet the needs of families in the community. The church committed itself to become very intentional about effectively making disciples in Jesus’ name. The church membership also went through an extensive “Discerning God’s Will” process as we sought God’s unique design and purpose for this church. This process revealed that God’s desire for Richland was that we focus on three major areas: 1) Richland was to be a healing place for people, ministering healing and deliverance; 2) Richland was to focus on cradle to grave discipleship with a comprehensive family life ministry; and 3) Richland should reach beyond itself in Jesus’ name through outreach and evangelism. Since that time, Richland has worked to establish a solid foundation for each of these areas in turn. The Sanctuary underwent substantial renovation in 2004, with church members doing most of the work. The front platform was significantly expanded so there would be room for a small worship band in addition to the choir.

In July 2005, the church called Phil Howard as its first Associate Pastor, to focus on Family Life. In 2008 one of the church’s members, Richard Lavoie, was called and Licensed as the church’s second Associate Pastor, to focus on Outreach and Evangelism. Twelve men have served as solo or senior pastor since 1889, along with a number of interim pastors. 

In recent years the land across Richland Road was acquired from the Monroe family to provide room for future expansion. The necessary permits were acquired to remove an old wooden house on that property through a controlled burn by the Hartwood Volunteer Fire Department. This was done in a training exercise on June 23, 2007 and the expansion site was dedicated later that year. Plans have been adopted by the church for an ambitious renovation and building program, which will consist initially of three major phases: 1) general improvement of the old educational wing with the primary focus being the establishment there of a spacious and secure Nursery and Toddlers area; 2) a large Welcome Center being added to the present building; and then, 3) an expansive multi-purpose building across Richland Road. Long-term vision calls for a fourth phase as a large permanent Sanctuary and additional office and classroom space is added across the road as well.

The church moved to two Sunday morning worship services in November 2009; one traditional and one contemporary in style. A ministry geared specifically to men called Men’s Fraternity launched in 2010. In January 2011 we added a new dimension to Adult Bible Study on Sunday mornings with informal “Table Top” Studies in the Fellowship Hall (offered in addition to traditional Sunday School classes). The Wednesday night Family Night schedule was also changed to allow for more time and a greater number of adult classes as we continue to emphasize reaching out to our community and the making of disciples in Jesus’ name. Richland Baptist formally ordained Associate Pastor Lavoie to the Gospel Ministry February 13, 2011. The spring of 2011 saw the launch of our “Hearing from God” emphasis as a vital part of our Forward in Faith Campaign to expand our ministry as we advance the Kingdom of God. The summer of this year saw the introduction of our very successful outdoor Summer Family Fun Night on Wednesday nights. Late this summer a mission team from Richland traveled to Kenya to dedicate a church building a previous team from our church had put the roof on in 2008. In September of 2011 Pastor Bethany launched The Church Unchained: LukeNine1&2 Ministries as a model of this church enabling, encouraging, and partnering with individual members to pursue what they are passionate about in the Kingdom of God as they minister in Jesus’ name. It is the goal of this specific ministry to release the larger Body of Christ to more effective service in God’s kingdom through ministering healing and deliverance to the followers of Jesus.  In July, 2012, Amanda Russo, who had been serving as our part-time Minister of Early Childhood Development (Preschool Director and Nursery Coordinator) was asked to fill a new, full-time position as Childrens Minister. 

It is not recorded whether the founders of the church felt they were led by God to choose the name “Richland” because of any prophetic significance, but recently a church logo was designed to reflect our belief that this church was indeed established by God as a “RICH LAND,” a place to grow in Spirit and Truth, with the Cross of Christ firmly established at the center of our life as a congregation as we look forward to a bright future.

In these changing and challenging times, Richland continues to trust the Holy Spirit to lead us as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord to reach the world with the gospel. At a time when the vast majority of established churches are either not growing or are actually declining or even dying, we believe we do indeed have a bright future ahead as we continue walking in faith, steadfast in our purpose “to raise up a loving community of Christian disciples who seek to be like Jesus in every way.” We know our own wisdom is insufficient for the challenges ahead, but we trust the Lord will continue to be our helper, guide and strength as we depend upon him, refusing to turn inward or to serve ourselves, but keeping our eyes on the Kingdom of God and ministering the love of Christ self-sacrificially to our community and our world. To God be the glory. 

This story to be continued...

           --By Pastor James H. Bethany, drawing upon church records and an earlier sketch by Barbara Dempsey. 

Richland Baptist Church

● 2482 Warrenton Road ● Fredericksburg, Virginia 22406

T 540.752.9352 ● F 540.752.9366