After 61 years, churches reunify

Published 10:23 am Friday, July 11, 2014

After 61 years apart, two Austin churches have reunified. Grace Baptist and First Baptist combined their congregations once again on Dec. 31, 2013, to form Grace Baptist.

“We had the realization that we had a common DNA and that we work better together,” Pastor Brett Williams said.

First Baptist was established in 1858, and Williams believes it was one of oldest churches in Austin. In 1953, the membership at the church was growing at a rapid pace, and the sudden split came after what Williams calls “some unfortunate circumstances.”

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The majority of members wanted to sell the old church and move out to farm land. However, about 100 members still wanted to stay downtown.

“Some members didn’t want to leave the beautiful downtown building,” Williams said.

So the two churches separated and Grace Baptist was established in 1953.

Over the years, tensions varied between the two churches.

“There were decades of the churches getting along, along with other, unfortunate decades,” Williams said.

It wasn’t until a year ago that the idea came up to reunify the churches.

“The timing seemed right,” church member Koryn Smith said.

Prior to the reunification, Williams was head pastor at Grace Baptist, and he thinks it was the right move for the church.

According to Williams, both congregations voted and over 90 percent wanted to reunify.

“This is something the churches wanted, and the congregations did too,” Williams said.

Smith, a former member of First Baptist, is thrilled with the reunification as well.

“It’s been a very positive change,” Smith said.

Smith was a member of First Baptist for 27 years before joining Grace Baptist this winter.

“Before the reunification, we just coexisted,” Smith said. “We have all gotten to be better friends and now have a united purpose.”

Grace Baptist still owns both buildings and now refers to them as its west and east campus. The church has about 160 members.

“It just seemed like the best thing we can do to further the word of the Gospel in Austin,” Williams said.