$3 million expansion boosted by gift to 178-year-old Wake Forest Baptist.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST – There was a time when the seminary and the Baptist church on the corner of its campus were at odds with each other.
In a move that one observer described as “very generous,” Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has promised Wake Forest Baptist Church enough extra land for a $3 million expansion they hope to undertake in 2014.
The news provoked “a huge celebration for our church and far beyond anything we were expecting,” said Wake Forest Baptist Church Pastor Dr. Bill Slater.
Slater heaped praise upon seminary officials for the generous gift, which will allow the 178-year-old congregation to construct a new educational wing and fellowship hall and renovate the existing fellowship hall into a youth area on 1.8 acres of land immediately adjacent to the church.
“Our church has grown significantly in the past number of years,” said Slater. “We’ve put together a long-range plan. One of the critical elements of it was our need for more space. We’ve outgrown our facilities.”
“Our church is landlocked on the campus. There’s just nowhere really to build,” he added, which is what led him to approach the seminary. “This allows us the vehicle to continue to grow and minister to the community. We’re hugely grateful to the seminary.”
Slater cited a significant number of new members, increased missions locally and globally, expansion of the music program and substantial growth in the youth program as reasons driving the expansion.
“Our church is over 175 years old. Over the past few years it’s experienced significant growth, beyond anything those facilities were ever expected to occupy,” Slater said.
Originally a long-term lease was considered, but after discussion, the seminary board of trustees agreed to sell the property outright to the church for $1 in April, with the transaction taking place at the onset of construction.
Some 70 to 80 youth attending Sunday school classes and activities have been using the chapel basement and Appleby Hall buildings on the seminary campus.
After construction, the tables will be turned and some seminary classes will be held in the new seminar-styled conference rooms. The church will also grant access to their fellowship hall space for seminary programs, when time and space allow.
“We’re excited about the project,” said Ryan Hutchinson, executive vice president for operations at the seminary. “They’ve been a good neighbor to us. We have a good relationship. For events, they’ve used our gym, and we’ve used their worship center for smaller conferences. It’s been a good relationship. We see this as a good fit to continue that relationship.”
This year, for the first time, the seminary student body exceeded 3,000. As it grows, the seminary, too, will need to expand.
Hutchinson said the seminary’s future needs lie on the other side of campus west of Wingate Street, where a future student center is planned and two other as-yet-undetermined L-shaped
school buildings will be constructed. The Ledford Center will be converted into more of a recreational facility, he added.
There were no plans to build immediately next to the church, regardless.
“On our master plan we don’t have that space identified as needed,” said Hutchinson.
The church is using the same architect, Jim Sherrer of Design Development Architects, that the seminary employed for its master plan.
With that in play, seminary officials realize that the new church buildings will enhance the limited view on that side of campus. A view through the historic arch on Front Street actually presents a view of the rear of the campus and the parking lot and playground of the church.
“It will enhance that side of campus,” said Hutchinson. “It’s not a very welcoming view. This way you’ll have a little bit more of a picturesque view.”
The educational building will have 14 classrooms and conference rooms. The new fellowship hall will seat about 250, with a full-service kitchen.
The youth area will have a stage, projector with video, flatscreen TVs, and a place to eat.
The fellowship hall will be available for large meetings and any kind of meals.
“We hope these will be vehicles for connecting with the community,” Slater said, pointing to the Interfaith Food Shuttle the church participates in as an example. On food shuttle disbursement days, the fellowship hall fills with the needy.
“Buildings are just to facilitate ministry, that’s the bottom line,” he added.
Church officials plan to begin a capital campaign this fall, with the goal of raising enough of the funds to start construction on the buildings in January 2014, according to Slater. Construction should take about a year, he added.
The church intends to sell four acres of land on the south side of Durham Road close to the Waffle House to defray some of that cost, but generous contributions from the community will be needed to fund the lion’s share of the campaign.
Founded alongside the original campus for Wake Forest College in 1835, when the school was a manual labor institute and seminary for boys, church and college officials remained close over the years.
After changes in the Southern Baptist Convention led to a purge of less orthodox voices on the seminary campus in the 1990s, that relationship became strained.
At one point then-seminary President Dr. Paige Patterson was refused membership to Wake Forest Baptist, so he spearheaded construction of a new church, Richland Creek Community, on Burlington Mills Road.
Those divisions left a strained feeling between Wake Forest Baptist Church members and seminary officials.
The Baptist church is not part of the convention. And Wake Forest Baptist has often taken moderate stands on issues such as women’s leadership and civil rights, church officials said.
But the members of both entities are dedicated to serving God — in one way or another — and have buried the hatchet, for good, seemingly. Slater credits current seminary president, Dr. Danny Akin, as well as Hutchinson, for the new feeling of goodwill.
“My relationship with Dr. Akin has been very positive and that’s allowed us — despite some differences we have — to have a strong, trusting relationship.”
“Danny Akin and Ryan Hutchinson have been key players in the relationship with us,” said Slater. The announcement of the land donation “was a real spiritual moment for me and for our church, for our relationship to be such that we could have that possibility.”