The Early Years, Dr. Walter Johnson, Pastor

Having prayed for weeks, a faith-filled group of believers met at the home of Miss Maxine Chism on February 18, 1953, to seek the Lord’s will in establishing a new church body.  Each individual knew that such a move would take courage and sacrifice as they would be leaving a large, long-established church to start from nothing.

On March 15, 1953, University Baptist Church was formally organized. There were 178 charter members. The church first met in a rented building at 108 N. West Street. Dr. Walter Johnson, who had resigned his position at First Baptist, was called to be the first pastor. He served from March 1953 to January 1965.

Local architect Paul Young drafted plans for the original church building, a 50’ x 100’ two-story building to include a worship area with baptistry, a kitchen, office space, Pastor’s study and Sunday School rooms. The ground-breaking ceremony was held on Sunday, July 26, 1953. Exactly four months later, on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1953, the congregation was able to move into the new building and use it while the work was being completed. They celebrated with a joyful meal of thanksgiving to God. That building is now known as Heritage Center.

By 1962, a larger place of worship was needed. The church again engaged architect Paul Young to design a contemporary Worship Center. The building featured a vaulted ceiling, supported by large wooden arches, and provided 107’ x 52’ of space. At the top of the baptistry wall, a carving of a dove was hand-carved by chairman of the building committee and charter member, Dale Bradford, who also created its sunburst base. The new sanctuary was opened in 1963.

In 1964, Dr. Johnson resigned to take a position as Professor of Religion at Bluefield College in Bluefield, Kentucky. He later retired to Bryan, Texas, and went to be with Christ in 1980.