Ginter Park Baptist Church was constituted on October 22, 1916, by a group of seventy men and women who had recently moved into the growing community of Ginter Park, formerly a separate township, but by then a part of the city of Richmond. The congregation met in Miss Grace Arents’ school house, now the Ginter Park Community Building. Later that year the first deacons were ordained and the Women’s Missionary Society was begun. In December 1917 Dr. William Hedley, a native of Yorkshire, England, became the church’s first minister.
At Dr. Hedley’s urging the growing congregation purchased the property at the corner of Brook Road and Wilmington Avenue for the construction of a church building. Fortunately for them the Grace Street Presbyterian Church, built in 1868 at the corner of Fourth and Grace Streets, had just sold their building to Richmond Engineering Company which was owned by Ernst Farley, a church member. They decided to purchase, dismantle, and reconstruct this beautiful building, a daring project for a group of ninety people. On April 6, 1920, ground was broken for the new church. This Gothic structure was, in their words, “beautiful in design and spacious enough to provide for future growth.”
Gradually over the next several years, their dream became a reality. They even had the good fortune to purchase the stained glass windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the Grace Street Church. These windows had not previously been for sale. During the early years, the unique character and spirit of Ginter Park Baptist Church began to emerge. Members, encouraged by Dr. Hedley, dedicated themselves to give generously and, if necessary, sacrificially to missions at home and around the world. In November 1933 the church members, now over four hundred strong, were shocked and deeply saddened at the death of their beloved minister.
In August 1934 the congregation called Dr. T. Rupert Coleman, who had recently graduated from Duke University Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Seminary, to be its second pastor. With his energy and enthusiasm, he was the ideal person for a church with a rapidly expanding membership. He was somewhat of a pioneer in the use of audio-visual instruction and was actively involved in the Richmond Baptist Association and the Baptist World Alliance. During the next two decades, the Sunday School was fully organized to include classes for all ages, Bible classes for children were held on Tuesday afternoons, Family Night dinner and activities were started on Wednesday evenings, and orientation classes for new members were begun. By the church’s twentieth anniversary, membership stood at 611.
The next decades of the church saw steady growth. In 1939 a new wing was added to provide much-needed space for the Sunday School. Also that year church members affirmed their commitment to world evangelism by adopting missionaries. This meant that the church would pay a portion of their salaries as well as offer prayers and encouragement. Active involvement in world missions has remained a hallmark of Ginter Park Church. In 1943 a church staff was created when a secretary and a minister’s assistant were hired. James and Hattie Copeland came in 1946 to develop a church-wide music program providing choirs for toddlers through adults, an innovation in church music at the time. Mr. Copeland subsequently became minister of education and then associate minister. The Copelands were instrumental in the acquisition of a four-octave set of English handbells, believed to be the first set cast for a church in Virginia. These were given in 1956 by a church member as a memorial gift.
As the church reached its thirtieth anniversary, membership was 1,127. During the fourth decade, the church expanded its mission in the city by sponsoring two chapels. Stukely Hall was established in 1947 and became an independent church in 1960. Trinity Chapel, founded in 1950, became independent in 1954. It is now a part of Staples Mill Road Baptist Church. Also in 1950 two Sunday morning worship services were begun to accommodate the ever-growing attendance. That same year the building was again enlarged to include a chapel, office space, a choir room, and additional classrooms. Even with additional space, overcrowding made it necessary to have two sessions of Sunday School each week for the next four years. The decade ended with the conclusion of the twenty-two year ministry of Dr. Coleman, who resigned to accept a pastorate in Florida. Dr. Paul Crandall served as interim pastor.
The Reverend James L. White, III came to Ginter Park in 1958 from Union, South Carolina. The young people thought it was quite exciting to have as their pastor a former college football player and a decorated marine fighter pilot. During his first year, Vacation Bible School set a record attendance of 308 students with 87 teachers. The church ended its dual Sunday Schools but maintained two morning worship services. The Church Council was organized and included a representative from the youth along with the adult leaders from various church organizations. In 1960 church membership reached its highest number at 1,425 members. Thus again in need of additional space, ground was broken for another wing in February 1966, the fiftieth anniversary of the Sunday School, which began meeting eight months before the church was officially established. This addition provided new classrooms for children and adults as well as a new music suite. At this time an elevator was installed, and the parsonage on Wilmington Avenue was razed so that a parking lot might be built. Mr. White resigned in March 1970 to pastor a church in Wallace, North Carolina.
Dr. Paul E. Crandall left his position as executive director of the Richmond Baptist Association to become Ginter Park’s fourth pastor. His “friendly words” (personal notes written to practically everyone for practically any reason) and boundless energy quickly endeared him to the congregation. During his tenure a new church constitution was drafted, the present Lewis and Hitchcock organ was installed, and the first pictorial directory was printed. In 1972 Ginter Park Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches incorporated a preschool center providing child care and nursery school for children ages two through four. The Ginter Park Churches’ Preschool Centers continued for twenty years. At the end of 1973, Dr. Crandall retired leaving the church an extensive collection of photographs which he had taken during his pastorate. He was named the first Pastor Emeritus. John Chandler, former minister of education and then associate minister for a total of eighteen years, served the congregation prior to the arrival of the fifth pastor.
Dr. Elmer S. West arrived in May 1974 from Nashville where he had chaired the Southern Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission. Under his leadership the Career Class for young adults was added to the Sunday School, and the congregation opened its facilities to the fledgling New Community School for children with learning disabilities. The church designated the property at 1203 Laburnum Avenue as the Maude Starke Farley Missionary Residence for missionaries on furlough, and participated in several combined worship services with churches in the African American community. The first Christmas Eve candlelight service was held in December 1975, and women were ordained as deacons for the first time in 1977. The two Sunday morning worship services were combined into a single service at 10:30 a.m. Dr. Robert Stevens came as the first minister of visitation in 1979. Also in that same year a church covenant was written and adopted. In June 1980 Dr. West resigned to accept a position with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board (currently the International Mission Board). Several church members led the congregation until a new minister could be called.
In March 1981 Dr. Timothy K. Norman came from Raleigh, North Carolina, with a reputation as an excellent speaker to serve as Ginter Park’s sixth pastor. He presented a “new dream for church awakening and growth” to the congregation. During the next decade, church members participated in the Richmond Baptist Evangelism Ministry to Portugal, and “Operation Treasure Chest” was begun to establish a permanent collection of historical memorabilia. In 1998 a children’s sermon was added as a way to provide a more meaningful worship experience for them. Dr. Norman left in May 1991, the year of the church’s 75th anniversary, to accept a position with the Virginia Baptist General Association. Dr. Robert Woodward, who greeted church members every Sunday with the words, “It’s a beautiful day at Ginter Park”, served as the interim pastor.
Dr. Christopher C. F Chapman arrived in April, 1992 from Warrenton, North Carolina to serve as the seventh pastor. Dr. Chapman enjoyed participating in music and drama events, and he was the first minister since Dr. Coleman to have a baby born into the family while at the church. During his pastorate, the Richmond Baptist Association conferred its award for social ministry on Ginter Park in recognition of the church’s efforts led by then minister of education, June Hardy Dorsey, in providing a Bible School for children in the inner-city Blackwell neighborhood. Ash Wednesday services were held for the first time, and the community garden was planted and harvested with the crops going to the Baptist community centers. Dr. Chapman resigned in 1998 to pastor a church in Wake Forrest, North Carolina. For the second time, Dr. Robert Woodward served as the interim pastor.
This time the new minister did not come from North Carolina, but from Georgia in the person of Dr. R. Lee Gallman, Jr. In October, 1999 he began as the church’s eighth pastor. Dr. Gallman was active in the Alliance of Baptists and encouraged church members to participate in this organization. With his encouragement the church established a relationship with the Emmanuel Christian Community in Cuba. Several members from Ginter Park visited them, and some of their members visited Ginter Park. He also encouraged the church to be totally open and inclusive in its membership. During this time the former missionary residence became the Farley House for students attending the Baptist Seminary at Richmond. In 2011 Dr. Gallman retired to Florida.
At the beginning of the new century, the church was eighty-four years old. Many changes had occurred. As was true with other urban churches, membership had declined. As a result the size of the church staff changed. There was no longer an associate minister; the secretaries, minister of education, and custodian were now part time; and Michael Simpson, the longest serving staff member with a thirty-six year tenure, was the last full-time minister of music. The church had separated from the Southern Baptist Convention but kept its association with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists. In 2012 the Baptist General Association of Virginia voted to end its relationship with Ginter Park, because it had made the prayerful decision to ordain for ministry an openly gay member. The Richmond Baptist Association, organized in 1951 in the sanctuary of Ginter Park, decided by a very close vote to maintain its long-standing relationship.
In January, 2013, the reverend Mandy England Cole became the ninth individual and the first woman to pastor the church. This was extremely fitting since Ginter Park was among the first Baptist churches to ordain women as deacons, had employed six women as ministers of education, five women as ministers of music, and several women as pastoral interns. Also in the 1950’s, Eleanor Sheppard, a church member, was elected the first woman mayor of Richmond and later was among the first women to serve in the Virginia General Assembly. In the early years of the church, it was believed that two Ginter Park Church members were the only women in the entire Ginter Park neighborhood who drove automobiles.
In 2016 Ginter Park Baptist Church will be one hundred years old. It has witnessed the development of antibiotics, atomic energy, jet planes, space travel, computers, the internet, and smart phones. It has survived two world wars, five additional wars, the world-wide influenza pandemic, the Great Depression, the 2011 terrorist attacks on the United States, and the Great Recession. At its inception in 1916, seventy men and women were called to be God’s people in this place. In spite of all the challenges and the changes that have taken place, that call continues today.
This is intended as an overview, not a complete history. Additional information and a collection of pictures are available in the church archives.