South Carolina is filled with Baptist churches, many of which go by the name First Baptist. But only one church can truly lay claim to being the oldest: First Baptist Church of Charleston.
In fact, it claims to be the first Baptist church in the whole South.
The congregation was founded in 1682 in Kittery, Maine, under the sponsorship of the First Baptist Church of Boston. Fourteen years later, Pastor William Screven and two dozen members of his congregation moved to Charleston and joined with immigrants there to create a congregation of nearly 100 by the early 1700s.
The church credits minister Oliver Hart from Philadelphia with helping to lead the church and the denomination through a growth spurt in the late 1700s, culminating with the creation of the Charleston Baptist Association, which worked to launch missions to "frontier" portions of South Carolina and to create a fund to educate ministers.
After Hart came Richard Furman, who led the church into the 19th century and was a proponent of education and missions. Furman was the first president of the first national Baptist Convention in the United States. Furman University was founded in 1826, a year after his death, and from that came the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Furman is buried at First Baptist in Charleston.
The current building was designed by famed South Carolina architect Robert Mills and completed in 1822. The building lost an organ to a Civil War shell and was damaged by a storm in 1885 and by an earthquake the next year. Each time, the church was repaired. In the mid-20th century, the church's interior was restored to its original Robert Mills design. By the end of the century, another storm, Hurricane Hugo, forced more repairs and renovations.
Today the church has two organs: The Henry Erben-built organ was installed in the late 19th century and the second, built by the Wicks Organ Co., was installed in 1992.
If You Are Going
First Baptist Church's sanctuary is at 61 Church St., and its parking and offices are at 48 Meeting St. The church has volunteers to welcome visitors for sanctuary tours 10:30 a.m.-noon on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and 1-3 p.m. on Friday. Sunday services are at 8:30 and 11 a.m. Contact First Baptist Church of Charleston for more information.