Attending a Baptist history conference in Charleston is a bit like learning anatomy in the operating room — the city reeks of history, and First Baptist Church of Charleston is at the heart of it.
A plaque embedded in the front wall of the sanctuary building notes that it was founded in 1682 by a group of Baptists in Kittery, Maine, who relocated — church and all — to Charleston, in 1699.
The current sanctuary dates to the 1820s. Its pews are on a platform several inches higher than the wooden floor, and organized in boxes, with a swinging door leading into each one. The high pulpit area is covered with marble. Large commemorative plaques recalling significant church members line the walls on either side. Most prominent, to the left of the pulpit, is one dedicated to Richard Furman, a long-time pastor (1787-1825) for whom Furman University is named.
The streets of Charleston are lined with homes and churches from ante-bellum times. A wharf and an old slave market are reminders that Charleston has been home to suffering as well as celebration.
Some say there are ghosts here.
I don’t know about ghosts, but there’s no question that the past is all around.
Coming up: getting acquainted with Primitive Baptists, who are not all history, but still alive and well in many parts of the country.