Strength in spirit for a new church

Published 12:02 pm Thursday, August 27, 2015

“The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord,” the old hymn goes, written in 1866 by Samuel John Stone.

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It was only 10 years later in 1876 when four men came together to purchase an acre of land for $8 to form what’s now the Ridgeway Baptist Church.

For the past 139 years, Ridgeway’s spiritual foundation hasn’t faltered or weakened. But, it’s physical one definitely has, to the point beyond repair.

The old stone foundation that was laid decades ago by family members of the present-day congregation has deteriorated, as have the sanctuary’s plumbing, floors and window sills that envelop beautiful stained-glass images of Jesus Christ.

The church, nestled in the woods on Ridgeway Road in southern Buckingham, one with deep roots in the county, is in need of help.

Deterioration around stained-glass windows is of the many physical and structural problems that Ridgeway Baptist Church is facing.

Deterioration around stained-glass windows is of the many physical and structural problems that Ridgeway Baptist Church is facing.

“This is our second home,” Lucy Bartee, a member of the church, said while sitting in one of the pews recently among other members of her church family.

Behind Bartee in the vestibule hang two sets of floor plans for a new sanctuary — the church’s hope for the future and a reminder of what’s to come.

“We need to rebuild the sanctuary,” said Maebelle Brown, the church’s financial secretary and trustee. “This right here … It’s beyond repair,” she said, while facing a slump in the sanctuary’s floor that’s developed because of termite damage.

For over three years now, the church has been fundraising for the project.

“The foundation [is] the main thing…” said Aubrey Holman Jr., chairman of the church’s deacon board, of the sanctuary’s physical issues.

Brown said that the walls in the sanctuary are suffering and are unstable because of termites.

The windowsills are leaking too, according to Pastor Austin F. Jones Jr., who’s been at the church for 15 years. “Some of the boards on the other side are coming off, too, around the church.”

“The foundation is sitting on rock,” Brown said. “We’re still praising the Lord in here. We’ll put it like that,” said Brown, whose family roots, like many of the other member of the church, span back for decades.

The congregation and their pastor want a new church that will serve the future generations as it has for the past.

According to the church’s records, “On the 14th of January 1876, a deed was established between the late Mr. James H. Grigg, Mr. Sam Trent, Mr. Gilbart Harris and Mrs. John Bolling … Eight dollars would be considered for one acre of land. This land was to be held in trust for the benefit of the Colored Baptist Church which was later named Ridgeway Baptist Church.”

Once the land was aquired, a brush arbor was erected of logs, branches, leaves and pine needles to protect the worshippers from the elements. The present church was constructed sometime before 1903, church records indicate.

The new church that the congregation is envisioning will be to the left of the current one, Holman said. It will be somewhat larger, and have three aisles — and will be leak and termite free, a contrast to both the brush arbor and the existing structure.

“We got a quote from the contractor for the sanctuary,” Brown stated. “We need $170,000 for him to break ground … He said he will work with us if we can come up with $100,000, he’ll get started,” she said.

According to Brown, $80,000 has been raised through donations and fundraisers. The church wants to raise another $20,000 so ground can be broken.

“We believe in miracles,” Brown said, while sitting at the front of the church. She said that the church is undertaking the project in phases, contingent on funding. A new fellowship hall, which too has suffered visible exterior termite damage, will follow.

Several fundraisers have been held, and more are planned, Brown said.

“When you give, you’re going to be blessed,” she said.

The congregation agreed that the church is the anchor of the community and has been for many years. It’s also been a focal point for other Buckingham churches in the past as well, said longtime member Blanche Bowles.

In the past, the church has offered arts and crafts for area youth, Bible study programs, a robust Sunday school program and has a coordinated food distribution program.

Donations for the new sanctuary can be sent to Ridgeway Baptist Church Building Fund, P.O. Box 374, Dillwyn, VA, 23936. Donations are also being accepted at For more information on the building campaign or the church, contact Pastor Austin at (434) 983-9834, Bowles at 983-3569, Brown at (434) 983-3685 or Holman at (434) 983-7944.