Sandston Baptist turns 85

Sandston was prospering.

The little village – located a mere 40 minutes from Richmond by electric trolley car – was fast growing into a bustling suburb during the post-World-War-I decade.

High time, said community members, that Sandston had a new place of worship. And on September 26, 1926, forty-one of those community members gathered to adopt and sign a covenant for Sandston Baptist Church.

For the first few years, the new congregation worshipped in the old Sandston Elementary School. Two lots on Pickett Avenue were purchased for $200 from the Richmond-Fairfield Railway Company, and the basement of a building was completed in 1931. But with the country entering the Great Depression, and church members owing $2000 on the basement, they could build no further.

By the time the congregation paid off the debt and began planning an addition to the basement, World War II was underway, and progress remained at a standstill. The basement would serve as sanctuary, dining hall and Sunday school classrooms for almost two decades.

Thelma Moore remembers those basement services well.

Having married “Sandston boy” Bernard Moore in 1947, she attended her first Sunday worship soon after. Coming from a much larger church in Richmond (Grace Baptist, then located at Boulevard and Grove), she was taken aback by the relatively tiny congregation and the cramped quarters.

“There were less than 100 people, but we were crowded in that basement,” she recalls. During Sunday School, the classrooms were separated by noisy roll-up doors; when the classes ended, a bell would ring. “Then we pushed up the doors,” says Moore, “and turned our chairs around [to face the pulpit for worship].

“It was a big adjustment for me.”

No reading allowed
Having worked in the “beginner department” (pre-kindergarten Sunday school) at Grace, Moore was quickly recruited to do the same at Sandston. She remembers teaching up to a dozen children in classrooms she described as “teeny”; the kitchen doubled as a nursery, and the floors were concrete.

After she became pregnant with twins, Moore says, her Sunday school lessons lapsed for awhile. “I was so large and so sick, I didn’t come much.”

But she was back in the classroom not long after the birth of her daughters, and eventually took over Training Union, a youth education program. “There was no paid staff,” she says. “Just four of us ladies working together in Training Union.”

At nine and ten years of age, the children in Training Union learned to take charge of church programs -- even becoming pastors for a week and handling other adult duties.

“A lot of them learned their first public speaking there [in Training Union],” says Moore. “They preached -- and believe you me they didn’t read it! Old Lady Moore made them learn it,” she says with a laugh.

At least three alumni of SBC’s Training Union went on to become ministers, Moore says. She is also proud to claim Jo Lynne DeMary, former state superintendent of public instruction, as a past pupil.

“She was one of my girls,” Moore says fondly of DeMary. “It was a joy to see them grow.”

A storied history
After 1949, when the roof was removed from the basement to add a sanctuary, SBC grew by leaps and bounds. Sunday school classes became so crowded in the 1950s that additional nearby lots and houses were purchased and a new education building was constructed. By the 1970s, the congregation needed a multi-purpose building, and Moore served on the building committee for what became the Bosher-Gray building. BG, as it is called, was named for teen members Robbie Bosher and Bruce Gray, who were killed in an automobile accident the year the building opened.

Since then, the church has expanded into a spacious new sanctuary (built in 1995) and two Sunday services. And Moore -- her twins long since grown and gone – has been involved with almost every aspect and committee along the way. “I’ve scrubbed floors and cut shrubbery . . . cooked meals for 200 people when Bosher-Gray opened. I got my husband to plant those trees around the building when they were just saplings,” says Moore, indicating several large, mature trees that surround the church today.

In her 63 years at the church, Moore has also come to think of it as a second home.

“When I came to Sandston Baptist Church,” she says, “I was ‘Bernard Moore’s wife.’ Then I was ‘the twins’ mom.’ And when they went off to college I got to be Thelma Moore!”

As the church prepares to celebrate its 85th birthday Sept. 18, Moore -- who is the same age as the church -- concedes that she has had to cut back on involvement as mobility becomes more difficult.

But she is still active on the flower committee, and passionate about supporting such programs as the Woman’s Missionary Union and Camp Alkulana.

Over the years, SBC and associated churches have redeemed enough soup labels to provide the camp, which serves inner city youth, with everything from computers and a PA system to sports equipment. Moore’s role? Collecting, cutting and counting the thousands of labels donated by church members.

“Just last Saturday we mailed off 8000 UPC’s [universal product codes],” says Moore. “It’s something elderly people can do; we can’t get up and run out to meetings at night [any more].”

Asked to name some favorite memories of her 63 years at the church, Moore reminisces about holiday events and decorations, from the hanging of greens at Christmastime to a memorable Easter pageant starring deacons as the disciples and featuring a foot-washing.

But her fondest memories of all, Moore says, are the fellowship dinners.

She chuckles as she describes a recent get-together at which church members pored over piles of photos to select a few for an anniversary slide show. It was hard not to notice, she says, that most of the pictures were taken at fellowship dinners.

“Thirty-five hundred pictures,” exclaims Moore. “And in 3,000 of them we were eating!”

Appropriately, the 85th anniversary celebration will feature ample food and fellowship, beginning with a coffee and donuts social and concluding with a covered dish luncheon. Moore wouldn’t dream of missing it, and looks forward to breaking bread with new friends as well as reuniting with old.

“I love the people [at Sandston Baptist]. I’ve really loved [being involved],” says Moore.

“I just hope that in some way I’ve helped the church grow. That’s my biggest wish.”

Sandston Baptist Church will celebrate its 85th anniversary Sept. 18 with a single service at 10:30 a.m., which will include a time of prayer, music by the praise team and choir, a presentation by the MajeSticks (Youth Department), a children’s sermon, a church history review, and recognition of previous staff members.  The message will be delivered by Pastor Karl Heilman.

To allow for a time of fellowship in the hallway between the sanctuary and educational building from 9:30 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., there will be no Sunday school classes. Coffee and donuts will be available during that time. The service will be followed by a covered dish luncheon, for which the church will provide meat, dessert, and drinks. For details, visit sandstonbaptistchurch.com.
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