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Trinity Baptist Church -Richmond -Virginia
By: Jennifer-Walker Journey

Early last February, people lined the street in front of the new Trinity Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, for a chance to view the church's new Village Center. The celebration was a long time coming, taking more than a decade to come to fruition, but it was well worth the wait.

"We're just delirious and excited," says the Rev. Dr. A. Lincoln James Jr. "The building is a manifestation of our theme – to glorify God, edify the church, and uplift the community."

Trinity Baptist Church was established in 1906. Sixty years later, it made its home at its current location on Rose Avenue in a former Catholic school and soon after built a 1,000-seat sanctuary on the grounds. In 1980, the Rev. Dr. James came to Trinity and began a vision for the future – not just to grow the faith in the hearts of his congregation, but to reach out into the community. That vision included the purchase of 13.9 acres five miles down the road from the current church and a dream for a new beginning.

The leadership of Trinity hired an architect to design a new church on the grounds. The plans were ideal, but the cost rang in at a steep $7 million. The church was able to raise enough money to prepare the site for construction, but, try as they might, they just couldn't summon up enough funds to cover the down payment to build. So the plans laid in wait for a decade as the church got its books in order and saved.

 "I consider it a miracle that we put back $100,000 a year on top of spending $1 million a year to keep our operation going," the Rev. Dr. James said.

Ten years later, with $1 million dollars in the bank, the church found itself in an advantageous position. It could funnel the money back into its 1920s-era building. Or, it could consider another, more reasonably priced plan for a new church on its separate grounds. Leaning toward the latter option, the church hired William Henry Harris & Associates, a Richmond architecture firm specializing in church design, and asked them to design a less expensive plan.

The firm focused on developing a multi-phased master plan. The challenge was to design a new building on a site that had already been prepared with underground utilities and retaining basins in place for the church's original plan. By working within the site parameters already in place, the firm was able to save the church money, as well as time and energy applying and waiting for city approvals.

The firm developed a three-phase plan that began with a multiuse family life center and included two additional phases that would add an education building and a new worship center. The family life center was designed to provide multiuse fellowship, recreation, and education space on two floors, as well as offices for the pastor and his staff. It also included a full-sized basketball court, dinner seating for 350 people, a full commercial kitchen, a café, and a stage for concerts with state-of-the-art audio-visual support.

As the design began to take root, church leadership felt the need to focus more on the community aspect of the center and decided to make it into more of a fitness arena. Once built, the Rev. Dr. James' desire was to provide an affordable fitness complex where members of the church and neighboring community could enrich their bodies and their spirits. Not only would the complex serve as a fitness center, but also as a recreation center for the elderly and at-risk youth. He requested the architects change office space in the center to exercise, strength training, and aerobics studios. Harris said the request took him by surprise, but it was not difficult to make the changes in the plans. After all, the interior was designed to adapt to different uses, from basketball games to large fellowship gatherings.

Externally, the building was designed with a brick exterior, stucco accents, and large windows that offer brilliant views of the campus.

Haley Builders of Richmond began to move forward with construction with a goal of completing the project in time for the church's grand opening event in February. As the building came together, so did the various community programs that would be held there: senior daycare, childcare, and midnight basketball for at-risk youth. By February, the building was complete, and the community came out in droves for the grand opening celebration.

Trinity continues to look to the day when it can build out the other phases in the plan. The second phase – an elementary school – is perhaps closest to the Rev. Dr. James' heart. He believes strongly in providing children in the area with a good education. He said the third phase, a new worship center, will come after that goal was met. For now, the church will focus on reaching the community through the Village Center.

"This church has been in our hearts for a long time, and now that it's up, we see it," he said. "It is the greatest thing since apple pie and ice cream!"

William Henry Harris & Associates, located in Richmond, Virginia, has worked with more than 200 Virginia churches in the past 26 years, www.harrisarchitects.org.

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