A commitment of Florida Baptist forefathers to preserve evidence of God’s faithfulness sparked a sense of wonder from members of the Florida Baptist Historical Society during their April 28 meeting in Graceville with the opening of a time capsule that had been entombed for nearly 60 years.
“It was a truly unique moment replete with thoughts and overflowing with spiritual energy,” said Board member David Hecht of Panama City. “There was excitement as we anticipated the items in the capsule; there was honor and respect as we remember the rich history of Florida Baptists; and there was celebration knowing that together we were fulfilling the Great Commission in our generation.”
The revealing of the historical contents “spoke of the commitment of past generations to preserve Florida Baptist history,” added Judith Jolly of Dade City, who serves as the Board’s chair. “And it serves as an example to present-day Florida Baptists of the importance of continuing this work.”
The record of God’s faithfulness across the decades began Dec. 9, 1959, when members of the Florida Baptist Convention’s State Board of Missions gathered around a five-story red-brick building located at 1230 Hendricks Ave. in Jacksonville to dedicate the newly constructed Baptist Building.
As was custom of the day, the Board placed a time capsule and cornerstone in the southeast corner of the new building, having filled the container with historically significant items destined to tell the story of Florida Baptists for future generations. The large, marbled cornerstone served to mark the origin of the building and protect the historical capsule.
The 60,000 square-foot Baptist Building housed the offices of the Florida Baptist Convention staff for 58 years. During portions of that time, the building also served as the site of the Baptist Bookstore, Florida Baptist Foundation, now the Florida Baptist Financial Services, the Florida Baptist Witness and the Florida Baptist Credit Union. For nearly six decades the Convention property, which now encompasses a full city block, served as the hub for Florida Baptists across the state.
However, in recent years the area surrounding the Baptist Building became prime for the development of condos and businesses. Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, led an effort to sell the antiquated building, promising that 51 percent of the proceeds would be sent to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program. A $6.125 million contract to purchase the property received in 2016 is expected to be finalized in early June.
This spring, the Convention purchased and relocated its Jacksonville-based staff to a more contemporary building in a tree-lined office park on Jacksonville’s Southside.
In April, the cornerstone and time capsule were removed from the vacant downtown building and taken to the Historical Society’s meeting. As members opened the capsule’s copper box that had been welded shut to safeguard its historical contents, they found its contents still in pristine condition after nearly 60 years behind the cornerstone.
Among the 15 items in the container were a bound edition of the 1958 Florida Baptist Annual, a 1958-59 Book of Reports and the program from the 1959 Florida Baptist State Convention meeting held in Tallahassee. Other items included a recent issue of the Florida Baptist Witness, agendas of previous board meetings, a Moffat translation of the Bible and a 1914 letter from S. B. Rogers, who had served as the Florida Baptist Convention’s third executive secretary treasurer from 1909-1926. Also enclosed were copies of two histories written about Florida Baptists—the book, “History of Florida Baptists,” written by John L. Rosser; and a booklet “A History of Florida Baptists, 1825-1925, written by Rogers.
“The contents reflected those items most valued by Florida Baptists in 1959,” said Jolly. “Preeminent was God’s Word, our foundation. Next were the 1925 and 1949 histories which recorded the story of God’s faithfulness and blessing to our state. Indeed, I was privileged to witness history as I saw the capsule opened and the contents presented.”
Hecht believed the time capsule is significant because “it demonstrated our long and rich history of serving together, united in Christ, to fulfill the Great Commission.”
Citing Hab. 2:2, Hecht added, “The Lord said to Habakkuk, ‘Record the vision, and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run.’ Whether from Scripture or from our Florida Baptist records, our mission is to unite and take the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people in all lands.”