First Baptist ‘Give Hope’ Campaign Gets a Boost

The Hope Center by the Numbers
7,500–square footage of existing activity building
6,900–square footage to be added to activity building for kitchen to train students in Culinary Academy
18,000–square footage of existing structure to be converted to GLO Daycare facility
4,200–square footage that can be converted into after-school program
14,400–square footage for future development


The Give Hope Campaign at First Baptist Church got a big dose of hope itself Monday with a $100,000 gift from United Supermarkets.

The gift will “jump start” Phase 2 of an $8.8 million campaign, said Callie Harris, co-chair of the Give Hope Campaign at First Baptist. Originally, the goal was set at $6 million, which has been donated or pledged. But due to COVID, the cost of building materials has gone up, and the goal now is to raise an additional $2.8 million, for a total of $8.8 million. The jump start will get Phase 2 off to a good start.

“We are so thankful for United,” said John Moore, pastor for missions at First Baptist who oversees the church’s City Light Community Ministries programs. 

Money raised through the Give Hope Campaign will be used to renovate and expand the former First Christian Church complex, which First Baptist purchased in 2019. The former First Christian property now is known as The Hope Center. The center will house three of the existing ministries at First Baptist: God’s Little Ones (GLO) Daycare, Ministry of Counseling, and City Light Community Ministries. 

Larry Smith, chair of the building committee, shows drawings of The Hope Center. Photo by Loretta Fulton

A handout distributed at Monday’s announcement gave details of the planned renovation and its purpose.
“The vision for The Hope Center is that no person be left behind and that they are included in developing our community,” the handout stated. The Hope Center will reach out to the ones who are marginalized as an act of saying, ‘You matter in our city as well.’”

Monday also was the first day for Phil Christopher to serve the church as pastor emeritus. Christopher was senior pastor for 26 years. On Sunday, he preached his last sermon as senior pastor but was present for Monday’s announcement in his new role.

“No responsibilities and no pay” was the way he described his role as pastor emeritus. But, he said he was delighted to be part of the gifting ceremony “for free.”

“You don’t have to pay me to talk about this,” he said.

Sidney Hopper, president of United Supermarkets, told about Christopher meeting in Lubbock three years ago with United executives to discuss how the supermarket chain could make a huge impact on Abilene by supporting the future Hope Center. Christopher told them that through City Light Community Ministries, which will move into The Hope Center, unemployed people could get job training and other assistance for a better life. The United executives were sold, Hopper said. On Monday, he introduced the managers of the Abilene stores as part of his presentation.

“We’re excited to be here,” Hopper said.

United Supermarkets has long supported City Light Community Ministries, which provides crises and long term care and educational endeavors such as a Culinary Academy.

“One of the best things we do at City Light is serve meals,” Moore said. 

“Give Hope” is the name of a campaign at First Baptist Church to create The Hope Center from the former First Christian Church property that FBC bought in 2019. Photo by Loretta Fulton

Guests at Monday’s announcement of the $100,000 donation were treated to samples of what the students are learning in the Culinary Academy. Tasty and attractive finger sandwiches, wraps, fruit and cheese plates, and a “life changing” cobbler, as Moore described it, were served. 

Detailed plans were presented of what the future Hope Center will look like when finished. The old gym will be expanded, with much of the space devoted to the Culinary Academy. The former sanctuary and education building will be renovated for GLO Daycare, doubling the number of children who can be cared for, from 100 to 200. 

The church’s counseling ministry already has expanded into the building that houses Breakfast on Beech Street, a ministry of several churches. BOBS will continue on the first floor of the three-story building. Additional counselors have offices on the second floor, and the third floor will be left vacant for future expansion. For now, there are no plans for the building that currently houses City Light Community Ministries.

Sidney Hopper, president of United Supermarkets, with “Give Hope” quilt. Photo by Loretta Fulton

“We’re just going to see how things develop downtown,” Moore said.

Larry Smith, chairman of the building committee at First Baptist, said construction is scheduled to begin during the first quarter of 2022 and is expected to take 16 to 18 months to complete. 

Kayleen Mills, better known as “Chef Kay,” said that since May 2019, when the first class entered the Culinary Academy, 13 students have graduated and 21 have earned food handler certifications. Five classes have been started, but one was suspended due to COVID. 

At the end of the presentation, Christopher added a few words–with a warning. 

“It’s a bit dangerous,” he said, “to give an ex-pastor the last word.”

Phil Christopher with drawing of The Hope Center. Photo by Loretta Fulton

The Hope Center is for all of Abilene, he said, and will continue the trend of development in the city. The center also will be further testament to First Baptist’s history of serving the community,  a trait that is in the church’s DNA. 

First Baptist was organized on Dec. 17, 1881, with 17 members, just nine months after the city was founded on March 15, 1881. It was founded under the leadership of O.C. Pope, a Baptist minister and church planter. He also served as the third president of Simmons College in 1898, before the school became Hardin-Simmons University. Christopher noted that as Pope rode away from the founding site, he wondered aloud what would happen in the future.

“I wonder if anything will ever come of this,” Pope said.

If only he could have been present for Monday’s announcement. He would  be amazed at what has transpired at First Baptist since Dec. 17, 1881. The addition of The Hope Center is further evidence of the church’s mission in the city.  

On Sunday, Phil and Mary Christopher were treated to a grand farewell, complete with a mayoral proclamation, a specially commissioned musical composition, and a three-hour reception at a private home after the Sunday worship. That was all beautiful and appreciated, Christopher said, but Monday’s festivities reflect the impact of First Baptist Church.

“Today is really the day we celebrate,” he said. 

Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene

Loretta Fulton

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