On April 14, 1946, River Road Church was formally constituted with sixty-six charter members. A religious survey or census of the growing area on the perimeter of the University of Richmond revealed that there was no Baptist church and yet one-fourth of the residents were inclined toward Baptist principles.
Dr. Oscar Hite, Wilton Thomas, and Dr. Donald Daniel initially formulated the dream for this church and with a handful of laymen from area Baptist congregations, began having informal discussions recognizing the need for a church that would serve the whole neighborhood…all denominations. They negotiated the purchase of four acres of property at the corner of River and Ridge Roads for a price of $10,000.
The small group approached the Richmond Baptist Council also understanding the need eventually for an established channel through which they could direct their mission work. With the blessing of the Council, they then sought a church to sponsor them as a mission. First Baptist Church, realizing the perseverance, dedication, and determination of this pioneering group agreed to sponsor them with the designation of a mission to be called “University Chapel.”
The first meetings for worship were vesper services held in the Greek Theater at the University of Richmond. Later the group was granted permission by the university to worship in Cannon Memorial Chapel on the campus. They were chartered as River Road Church but quickly realized that the simple name might cause confusion. They were not resisting their Baptist connection, but when the sign erected on the corner property went up, the word “Baptist” was added following a comma after “Church” to distinguish themselves from other churches being built along the River Road corridor.
One of the first tasks of the small congregation was to have the property at River and Ridge Roads cleared of undergrowth and debris and to remove a number of trees. Once done the space could be used for picnic gatherings and a playground area. The first structure built on their new property was a brick fireplace around which the group could worship and socialize. Real estate taxes on the property no longer had to be paid for now that it was being used for religious purposes.
This was the beginning of the fulfillment of the dream. The small congregation discussed plans for their church complex and contracted an architect. The overall design would be three buildings with the chapel being the first built. As the congregation grew this plan would allow them to expand and build the other two buildings: Fellowship Hall and the Sanctuary Building.
The architecture and worship style of River Road Church, Baptist is magnificent and exudes a mystery and grandeur amidst its Christian symbolism, but it is the strength of the people, not only the ministers but the lay leaders, those with a vision and commitment to that vision over the years and into the future which makes us who we are. We are proud to celebrate 73 years of the founding of River Road Church, Baptist.
Written by Tuckie Paxton, History Committee
Originally published in the April 2019 Explorer