By Kierra Pixler, Managing Editor
At 165 years old, First Baptist Church Belton is a historical marker for Belton. Hundreds of residents fill up the halls of the church each week for services. three years ago, as part of their spiritual vision plan, the church began developing their facilities master plan. Working with architects, the church discussed all of their concerns when it came to updating the church, but the time just wasn’t right.
Fast forward three years and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor has proposed a land swap with the church. UMHB will receive the church’s Main St. property while the church will receive almost 36 acres of land at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave and Loop 121, plus $2 million.
Initially, Pastor Andy Davis revealed it to several key leaders, both staff and laity, in the manner Dr. O’Rear had revealed it to him. He invited each of them individually and without any prior collaboration to go for a ride. He drove each of them to the hilltop and, as he pulled onto the property from MLK, stopped and asked if they could see the church from there.
“It was obviously thrilling beyond words,” exclaimed Pearson. “It has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of property in all of Belton. It seemed perfect, the magnificent hilltop at the intersection of two major arteries, only a mile away from our current location and still adjoining the campus UMHB as we do now. I must add, as the ‘numbers guy’ my mind immediately went to how we would pay for this whole new church building. Over time, as I wrestled with it in prayer and we were able to discuss it with our small group who had been to the hilltop, it became obvious that we cannot do it on our own, but God will. This is from the Lord and He will provide the resources. It is a huge step of faith, but He is already showing up.”
Both UMHB and the church will benefit from the land swap. From accessibility to handling growth, the church is excited to see such big changes in the future for them.
“For First Baptist Belton, it gives us over three times the acreage at a location much better suited for future growth and traffic patterns,” Pearson said. “In spite of the church acquiring available property over the decades, our current location has many issues with traffic, no ‘front door’, lack of accessibility for our mobility-challenged members, and an aging plant, the oldest section being built in 1948. It provides us a fresh start on a beautiful piece of ground to solve all these issues and plan for future decades of sharing Jesus and serving our community in a much more welcoming, effective, and efficient plant. I understand this to be a long-term strategic investment to maintain a contiguous campus. Crossing Nolan Creek on MLK would have broken up the ‘walking campus’ whereas this allows the campus to continue to flow south while also taking advantage of the intersection at 6th and Main St./ SH-317.”
On April 22, Pastor Andy Davis announced the proposition to the congregation and Executive Pastor for Administration Craig Pearson stated that the church was ecstatic. This past Sunday, the vote on the land swap was met with a unanimous yes.
“Our information meetings over the last three weeks were well attended and very useful in answering questions form our membership and learning things form them that we needed to consider as we move forward,” Pearson explained. “The church business conference last Sunday night was truly a special time. The excitement was palpable! There were just a few questions and I believe we answered them well. When it came to vote it was overwhelmingly affirmative and led to a spontaneous standing ovation and praise to the Lord for His provision and leadership. I will never forget the Spirit in the worship center that night. I firmly believe He is taking us to The Hilltop.”