Sunday, May 20, 2007

Old #7

(Sabbath Blog #18)

I serve as the pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia. The church building is located in a part of town known as both The Hill (thus the name of the church) and Summerville. It is an old and historic part of town.

Right across the street from the church building is one of Augusta’s historic structures— a fire station now known as Old Engine Company #7. Constructed in 1913, it is a beautiful white Spanish-style stucco building; it once had a terra cotta roof that has been replaced with a shingle roof. On the inside it has gorgeous hardwood floors, twin fire truck bays, and two fire poles. The firefighters would sleep on the second floor and slide down the poles to get to the trucks.

When I moved to Augusta in January 2003 there was no “Old” on the front of the Engine Company’s name because it was still a functioning fire station. The members of our church and the firefighters who have been stationed at the building across the street since the church was founded in 1930 have had a good and close relationship. The firefighters would eat meals at the church, church members would lead Bible study classes at the station, and church members would just hang out with the firemen. I heard a story just yesterday about how, when a Boy Scout troop was sponsored by the church, the firemen would block off the street between the station and the church so the boys could skateboard on the street.

Things change, of course, and not long after I moved to Augusta a new Engine Company #7 was build south of town and the old station was deactivated. Firefighters, the Summerville community, and other folks in Augusta immediately began to wonder what would happen to what began to be referred to as Old Engine Company #7. Members of our church were among the curious.

Discussions among interested members of The Hill Baptist Church led to meetings with the administration of the Augusta Fire Department and officials of the City of Augusta. A few months ago, both the County Commissioners and the membership of the church agreed to the formation of a public/private partnership for the purpose of renovating and developing programming at the fire station. Subsequently, a non-profit corporation was established called the Old #7 Community Center of Augusta, Inc. The goal of the corporation is to renovate the fire station, taking it back as closely as possible to its original condition (including replacing that terra cotta roof), in order to make it a home for a Fire Museum and a Community Center. The Community Center would house such activities as tutoring and other after-school programs, senior adult programs, health screening, life skills classes, concerts, and civic meetings. The Board of Directors of the Old #7 Community Center, which is comprised of members of the church and of the community at large, will work to raise the funding to renovate the building and to support the programs that will take place there.

Yesterday, Saturday, May 19, 2007, saw a vital first step. The Board, of which I am a member, hosted a Community Day at Old #7. We served hot dogs, chips, soft drinks, and ice cream. We had an inflatable slide for children. People could walk through the building. We sold Old #7 t-shirts and gave out written information about the project. Various groups and volunteers helped to staff the event. Lots of people from the community came to learn about what we hope to accomplish through the Old #7 Community Center. It was very exciting to listen to people affirm the project and to voice their support for it. It was great to see our diverse community come together in common cause.

Here at On the Jericho Road I will periodically post updates on the progress of the project. I believe that it is a good thing that Old Engine Company #7’s tradition of serving the community will be continued through the Old #7 Community Center. Making it happen will take a lot of hard work but it looks like a lot of people are very interested. It just might turn out to be a very good thing for the people of Augusta.

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