Before the official founding of the church, when an electric trolley still ran through the independent township of Oakhurst on its way between Atlanta and Decatur, the community’s Baptists attended interdenominational services in a tent pitched on the corner of Howard and Drexel Avenues. In 1913 the newly organized Oakhurst Baptist Church met in members’ homes, and in 1920 they managed to purchase a tent of their own. Over the years, changes in the nature of the church’s neighborhood and mission were naturally reflected in its properties. Today Oakhurst Baptist Church stewards a facility of approximately 35,000 square feet, dedicated to worship, fellowship, missions and education.
Oakhurst people sometimes refer to the two parts of the main facility as the Old Building and the New Building. The red brick structure where Sunday worship is held was completed in 1937 and renovated in 2001. One floor below the worship space are eight spacious classrooms for children’s education and a room for music ministry, where our choirs rehearse. The relatively new building (its three brown-stucco stories and basement completed in 2000), houses offices, classrooms for adult education, and community areas, including a chapel, parlor, prayer meeting room, and a fellowship hall complete with a commercial kitchen and a fireplace. “Old” and “New” are actually linked via an interior, second-story bridge whose windows overlook the Swint Courtyard, a recessed garden space connecting the two sides and offering a green, quiet respite from the activity on Decatur’s East Lake Drive.
Windows with panes of gold- and purple-hued opalescent glass fill the side walls, north and south.
Baptism obviously plays an indispensable role in Baptist faith and tradition. Oakhurst’s baptistery, a small, sunken room with one glass wall facing the congregation, is literally front and center of the sanctuary (in the east). Natural light filters into the baptistery through a stained glass window that depicts an idealized River Jordan, the site of Jesus’ baptism by John. The window itself has an interesting history, having first hung in the First Baptist Church of Decatur until a fire there led to a construction program requiring more expansive decoration. Members of the younger and smaller Oakhurst church were thrilled by this unexpected donation.
One of the many ministries begun by the church in the 1980s was a night shelter for homeless men, which for some years was housed on the third floor of the now demolished education building. In 1999 the church purchased the home next door at 232 East Lake Drive, had it rezoned and reconfigured with space for ten small bedrooms, to serve as a long-term, therapeutic residence for homeless men with chemical dependencies. The church leases the house for a nominal fee to the widely respected and now-independent Oakhurst Recovery Program.
Changes, Choices, and the “Struggle for Integrity.”
A compelling story about the church’s physical properties could include almost as much information about what the facility isn’t.
With no soaring steeple or marble columns to proclaim itself, the sanctuary building states its purpose with an inconspicuous Georgian-style wooden sign: “Oakhurst Baptist Church Meets Here.” In a patch of ground between the front stairs and ramp, practically invisible to passing traffic, a ten-ton block of granite is planted—our “covenant stone,” which serves as a reminder of God’s presence and of the church’s commitment to continually becoming a fellowship “to embody and to express the Spirit of Christ.”
The 1937 building was actually intended as an auditorium, envisioned—even as the Great Depression dragged on—as a transitional sanctuary that would someday be replaced by a more stately one, steeple and all. To this, a boxy Sunday School annex was attached in 1942 (and demolished in 1985).
At the height of its membership rolls in 1963, the church owned a full seven acres of land and three separate buildings, including an impressive education center and fellowship hall on College Avenue.