First Baptist in Waldo recognizes its past, plans for future
Jul 20, 2014
By CAROLYN NICHOLS
Florida Baptist Witness

WALDO (FBW)—First Baptist Church in Waldo is concentrating on the future while “keeping our historical perspective alive,” according to Pastor James Dubois. The 130-year-old church shares an 1884 birth year with the Florida Baptist Witness.

Robert and Fannie Campbell of Waldo donated land for a church in May 1883, and the church organized the next year. Their gift was enhanced when an adjacent owner gave permission to build on part of her land. The first building was constructed of wood in 1885 and included a sanctuary, five Sunday School rooms, a small office and a utility room. Although the sanctuary included a baptistry, most new believers chose to be baptized in local lakes. Bathroom facilities were behind the building.
 
The present campus of First Baptist Church in Waldo includes several buildings. Recently, the church purchased eight acres adjacent to its property. Courtesy photo
According to a written church history, worshippers’ seating patterns inside the building were seasonal. People arrived early to claim seats near mounted oscillating fans in the summer heat, and near a large kerosene heater in the winter chill. 
 
Betty Brooker, a member of First Baptist most of her “almost 85 years,” is a former member of the Historical Committee and revised the church history two years ago. She said cardboard funeral-home fans “got a workout” during the summers.
 
“It was a sight to see so many of the fans in motion at once,” she said.
 
The 1885 sanctuary served the growing congregation for 70 years until it was replaced in 1955 by an Ocala block building that accommodated 350 worshippers. Local newspaper coverage of the groundbreaking ceremony featured the headline, “$25,000 Waldo church auditorium started.”
 
“We’ve never had really money people in the church, so lots of people thought there would be no way to pay for a new building, but through the years, the Lord blessed the people of Waldo,” Brooker said.
 
A special offering was collected every fifth Sunday to pay for the construction, and the congregation celebrated with dinners on the ground.
 
“They really were dinners on the ground. There were enough tables to put the food on, but people ate on the hoods and trunks of their cars,” Brooker said. “I don’t recall even one fifth Sunday when it rained.”
 
The congregation, which now numbers 210 in attendance, still meets in the 1955 sanctuary. The church has added other buildings through the years, including an educational building with a kitchen that formerly served as barracks at Camp Blanding. Recently, the church purchased eight acres adjacent to its property.
 
According to Dubois, short-range plans for the new property include a field for soccer and flag football. The church gymnasium is the site of basketball games. Long-range plans include a new worship center. All of the church’s development plans are made with the goal of reaching Waldo’s 800 residents, Dubois said.
 
The church is loyal to the Cooperative Program and sends mission teams from the church every year. Twenty-five youth and five adults soon will travel to north Georgia to conduct Vacation Bible School at a church in Ellijay. A second team will work to renovate a Christian camp in the same area.
 
Ladies of the Mission Circle “do all kinds of projects,” Dubois said. They sew items for the local hospital and make dresses for children in Haiti. W.I.N.G.S. (Women in Necessary God’s Service) offers retreats for women of Waldo, and the church's Clothes Closet provides free clothing for about 100 people monthly.
 
First Baptist will host Vacation Bible School July 27-Aug. 1, “the best week of the year,” Dubois said. About 200 children will study the Bible together, and an adult class is offered.
 
The church, which the pastor said is “demographically well-rounded,” will celebrate its 130-year history during Homecoming the first Sunday in November. Historical displays will help members remember the past, but the congregation also will be challenged to look ahead to the next 130 years.
 
“I hope, if Jesus tarries, that the church will continue to be an incredibly loving church family, and that we will still be reaching people in Waldo and sending missionaries all over the world,” Dubois said.

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