Downtown Baptist Church was built with faith, perseverance and hard work.
Hard work as Misters William Lambeth, Harry Harlow and Frank Perry, Sr. and their crews from the Southern Railroad repaired, refurbished, and improved the building at 212 South Washington.
Perseverance as Mrs. Frank (Sue) Perry rallied thirty-three dedicated Christian visionaries helping her maintain a Christian and Baptist presence in Old Town Alexandria.
Faith by accepting the challenge to acquire the property, rent or borrow furnishings, and maintain the Lord’s primary instruction to make disciples in Old Town Alexandria.
Baptist Beginnings in Alexandria, Virginia
The “Great Awakening” resulted from the evangelistic ministry of George Whitfield, which began a great growth in Baptist practice and theology in the 18th century. In 1739 when the Whitfield revival began there were two Baptist churches in Virginia, and by 1790 the number had grown to 204. In 1803, twelve members of the Back Lick Baptist Church petitioned to start a Baptist church in the town of Alexandria. That church would later be known as First Baptist Church. First Baptist Church flourished despite disputes over missionary activity between the pro-mission and anti-mission factions. Its explosive growth over the next 150 years encouraged leadership to relocate to a larger suburban campus. However, a small group of members decided to stay in Old Town Alexandria to maintain a Baptist testimony at a historic location.
DBC Members and their Accomplishments
In 1954 a small group of Baptists dedicated to keeping the Baptist faith formed Downtown Baptist Church at the historic site. The first several services were held in members’ homes, the Odd Fellows Lodge, or the YWCA on Cameron Street. Navy Chaplain Captain James W. Kelly served as interim pastor. On the church’s organization date in June 1954, sixty-one charter members adopted the New Hampshire Confession of Faith of 1833. The list of visionaries continued to grow to an amazing 125 charter members before the list was formally “closed.”
The members purchased the sanctuary building in August 1954 from the Simpson Company for $76,500. Soon after, the membership called Reverend Eslie Phillips as pastor and first services were held at 212 South Washington Street in September 1954. The DBC members began to lease the adjacent education building in December 1955, purchasing that education building for $125,000 in December 1957. The members worked to improve, develop, and nurture its community presence and outreach throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In June 1973, DBC members celebrated a debt-free existence by fully paying for the building mortgages and held a “note burning” ceremony. In September 1981 the membership purchased the adjacent building, known as 10 Norton Court, for $245,000, fully paying off the balance in 1985.
The first permanent pastor was Reverend Eslie Phillips who pastored from 1955 through 1961. Pastor Phillips’ ministry developed DBC’s growth and respectability in Alexandria. A 1960 newspaper article reported that after visiting a morning worship service that the church was “friendliness incarnate.”
Pastor Phillips was succeeded by Reverend Jack Coffey who served as pastor from 1961 until 1967. The church and congregation continued to grow through dedicated members, committees, and a focus on Baptist faith and missions. By DBC’s tenth anniversary in 1964, the church’s membership had grown to 800, a remarkable figure for a downtown ministry in a day when most churches were moving from urban settings into the suburbs.
In 1967 the congregation called Reverend Donald Bowen. Reverend Bowen began his 30-year tenure by accepting the call. Reverend Bowen came with one goal: “To create a warm evangelical witness for the Lord in downtown Alexandria where the emphasis is on Bible-centered preaching/teaching and evangelism.” A 1979 interview quoted Pastor Bowen saying “Downtown Baptist Church as a unique opportunity for ‘being’ and ‘doing.’ I am convinced that the brightest days are ahead of us… it will take vision on the part of the people and a commitment to follow through with it. That’s my desire… and prayer.”
Reverend Dale Seley served the church from 1997-2008. Pastor Seley continued the commitment to the location and Baptist message by offering his special brand of pastoring and unique inclusive care, encouraging members to maintain their talents and hard work to Christ’s purpose and goals. He was instrumental in developing and garnering the several church mottos (CONNECT the DOTS and Caring Hand… Close at Heart), along with a reminder of Christ’s pivotal directions to “Love God and Love Others.”
In 2011 Reverend Daniel Carlton came to DBC with a re-dedication and focus on mission. His goals and vision encouraged a focus on missions, community outreach, and member participation. During 2014, Pastor Carlton received a prompting to seek other challenges and answered a call from another church leading him to move on to those challenges.
DBC called Reverend Phillip Faig in June of 2015. Pastor Faig is now in his fourth year at DBC and is leading the congregation to serve others in the name of Christ in Old Town and beyond.