Senior Pastor Allan Lovelace informed the congregation Sunday morning the Tennessee Department of Transportation had paid for the condemned sanctuary, and the church now has until Dec. 11 to vacate. The last service will be Oct. 30.
Lee University bought the First Baptist Church property before that church moved to its new facilities on Stuart Road. The university offered to Waterville Baptist the downtown property as a place to hold Sunday worship services the next two years. The first service on Church Street will be Nov. 7. Wednesday services will continue in the Family Life Center.
“We are very grateful for Lee University and the opportunity Dr. Paul Conn has given us to have a place to worship,” he said. “It’s setup as a church with classrooms and sanctuary ready to go. We’ll be there about two years.”
Meanwhile, the church will begin preparing to build new facilities a mile south on the left on Dalton Pike to replace the spaces built in 1951, 1953 and 1979. The church will keep the Family Life Center built in 1996 and addition added in 2003.
“We know that to our members this is a special place, but we also know theologically and spiritually speaking, we know the church that is Waterville Baptist, is much larger than any building could contain,” he said. “It is not the building, it’s the people. You are Waterville Baptist Church, so happy anniversary.”
Lovelace said God knew 60 years ago when Waterville Baptist Church began with 38 members as a missionary outreach of Big Springs Baptist Church in south Cleveland. They met in Waterville Elementary School until the first church building was dedicated in 1955 and had three pastors during that time: James L. Bennett, 1950-51; H. L. Lewis, 1951-54; and Paul Watson, 1955-59.
By 1960, the church had grown to 339 members and was shepherded by pastors Percy Maples, 1960-66, and Clyde Crook Jr., 1967-72.
Cook was followed by Vester Blanton, who served the church as pastor until 1975. Roger Hobbs shepherded the church from 1975 until 1997. Membership in the 1970s grew 586. Under Hobbs, church membership continued to increase from 615 in 1980 to 797 by 1989. The 1990s also saw increased membership to 951, with an average of 450 attending Sunday School.
Lovelace began his tenure as pastor in 2000. The church saw its membership grow above 1,000 in the new millennium.
In 2009, the church purchased 100 acres south of its current location where the long-term plan to build new facilities would have unfolded over the next 10 to 15 years. The plan was abruptly changed when what appeared to be a sinkhole developed on the southern edge of the parking lot. The sinkhole, as it turned out, was the septic tank everyone thought was located under the parking lot 75 yards closer to the sanctuary. The discovery of the septic tank on the edge of the Dalton Pike right-of-way placed the field lines under the roadway. Instead of purchasing damaged property, the highway department was forced to buy the property and condemn it.
Former music minister Charles Towler and The Gospel Heritage Quartet performed special music. Former Pastor Roger Hobbs was the guest speaker for Sunday’s homecoming service.