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Trinity Baptist Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

Sometimes the best way to realize a dream is to step back and reevaluate your direction. In doing so, what you may find is a completely different path than you ever expected.

The leadership of the century-old Trinity Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, followed this process and found a special way to connect with its mission to “glorify God, edify the church, and uplift the community.”

In the mid-60s, Trinity moved into a 20s-era Catholic high school building. Soon after, the church built a 1,000-seat sanctuary on the grounds. In 1980, the Rev. Dr. A. Lincoln James, Jr. came to Trinity with a goal to nurture the faith of his constituents, as well as to reach out to the community as a whole.

One of the first orders of business was to build a new church that would also provide amenities for the community. Trinity leadership purchased 14 acres of land a few miles away, and hired an architect to design the church that would help them realize their dream. The plans were impressive, but also astonishingly expensive.

Leadership decided to accept the $7 million price tag and push forward with a major fundraising campaign. But the economy pushed back. The church couldn’t even raise enough money to cover the down payment required to begin construction.

Over time, however, they did raise enough to prepare the site. They continued to solicit funds, realizing it could be decades before they had enough money to build the church of their dreams.

Ten years later, the church had an impressive $1 million socked away. The sobering truth was that the $7 million project a decade ago was likely even more expensive to build now. It was time to scrap that idea and consider new options. Leadership discussed taking the money it had saved and renovating its 90-year-old building.

But the more attractive option was to take the church’s vision to another architect and request a more reasonably priced plan. The firm hired William Henry Harris & Associates, a Richmond architecture firm specializing in church design.

One challenge, which also provided some benefits, was that the site had already been cleared, and underground utilities and retaining basins had been installed. Architect William Henry Harris had to design the new plan within those parameters.

But, because those measures had already been paid for those costs would not be included in the estimate. Furthermore, since city approvals were already obtained, construction could start earlier, which would speed up the completion of the project.

Harris also proposed a plan that could be built in phases with the most pressing project being built first, with other phases added as funds came available. After listening to church leadership express its needs, Harris developed a three-phased master plan. The first phase involved a multiuse family life center. The other two phases would add an education building and a new worship center.

The first phase, the family life center, would serve many needs, providing a space for fellowship and recreation space, including a full-sized basketball court, dinner seating for 350, a full commercial kitchen, a café, and a stage for concerts with state-of-the-art audio-visual support. The building would also include offices for pastoral staff.

However, as the process began to move forward, the Rev. Dr. James felt drawn to make changes. Turning back to the church’s mission to “glorify God, edify the church, and uplift the community,” he suggested the design focus less on the church’s desires and more on the needs of the community. After all, wouldn’t meeting the needs of the community, in turn, meet the church’s needs?

He suggested making the family life center more of a fitness complex, where church members and community members could enrich their bodies as well as their spirit. The complex would also provide recreation for people of all ages.

Thus, the Rev. Dr. James suggested that the office space be turned into studios for exercise, strength training and aerobics. Accommodating the request was not difficult. After all, the building was designed for varying uses, from basketball games to large, seated events.

Externally, the church was designed to look contemporary, with brick and stucco accents and gracious windows.

Once the plans were approved, construction on the first phase began. As the building began to take shape, so did the programs the center would provide, including senior daycare, childcare, and basketball programs. In February 2009, the building was completed. Community members joined church members in the grand opening celebration.

With the first phase completed, the church is focused on building more phases as it moves into the decades ahead.

William Henry Harris & Associates, Inc., based in Richmond, Virginia, offers complete design services for church-related design projects, www.HarrisArchitects.org

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