- (Photo: Screengrab/WXIA-TV Atlanta, Ga.)
A 143-year-old historic Baptist church in Atlanta, Georgia recently held its final service after leaving its worship site to make way for the new Atlanta Falcons NFL stadium, slated to open at the start of the 2017 professional football season.
Friendship Baptist Church, Atlanta's first autonomous black Baptist congregation, is being demolished to make way for the city's new $1.3 billion stadium. The city of Atlanta and the NFL contributed funds for buying out the church property, ultimately settling on a payment of $19.5 million that the church agreed upon by vote last year.
At their final worship service this past Sunday, the Rev. William Guy spoke of the church's "transitioning" phase and about how change in life is inevitable. "This is not a pity party, and I'm not going to make it one," Guy reportedly told his congregation, according to CL Atlanta.
The Rev. Guy also sang the Gospel song "I Thank You Jesus," that says, in part, "You've brought me from a mighty, a mighty long way, a mighty long way."
"The church is more than the building, it is the people," he told the congregation.
As the first independent black Baptist congregation in Atlanta, Friendship Baptist Church holds a great amount of historical significance in the city. The congregation originally consisted of 25 former slaves who first met in a discarded railway car that had been given to them by a white congregation in Cincinnati, beginning in 1862.
According to the Associated Baptist Press, the church has since grown to become the "mother church" of Atlanta, responsible for sprouting nine other congregations in the city, as well as two African American colleges, Morehouse College and Spelman College, that began their first classes meeting in the church's basement.
Friendship Baptist is reportedly meeting at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center temporarily, until it finds another location. Another well-known Baptist congregation, Mount Vernon Baptist Church, was also given a deal of $14.5 million to move locations to make way for the new NFL dome. The church is 98-years-old.
According to My Fox Atlanta, Mount Vernon's congregation voted overwhelmingly to take the deal in a February 2013 meeting that lasted only 90 minutes. The Rev. Rodney Turner told the media outlet that accepting the deal was not easy, but ultimately beneficial for the congregation to expand its ministries.
"There are a lot of people here who have strong ties, who have been members of this church for a long time," Turner told My Fox Atlanta, adding "Certainly additional moneys will help us to expand our ministries and cater to an even greater number of persons."