100-year-old time capsule showcases Greer church’s history of faith

Individual communion cups were touted as “the sanitary” way to serve the Lord’s Supper. “Training in Stewardship” by Frank H. Leavell was listed as one of the best contemporary books on stewardship. Price? $1.

It was Sept. 28, 1923. First Baptist Church of Greer, S.C., was building a new sanctuary. The miscellaneous tidbits are among memories the congregation sought to preserve in a copper box concealed in the cornerstone’s masonry.

The time capsule included a copy of the Sept. 27, 1923, Baptist Courier, a program from the cornerstone laying ceremony, some coins, a local newspaper from Sept. 28, 1923, and other items.

First Baptist Greer members Mildred Van Patton and Frances Harley, now 102 years old, were toddlers enrolled in Cradle Care and would join the church as they grew.

A hundred years later, First Baptist Greer chipped away the brick and opened the time capsule Sept. 27 in advance of a yearlong celebration of the sanctuary’s centennial that was completed in 1924.

In the 14-by-4-by-4-inch box, Senior Pastor Doug Mize saw the church’s faith of a century ago.

“It was the trust they believed that, in 100 years, this incredible, beautiful sanctuary would still be here preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Mize told Baptist Press. “The confidence that they were thinking about those who were coming after them. I mean, I don’t know of any churches really that have time capsules.

“They put it in a hard place — the cornerstone – and, of course, Ephesians 2:20, ‘Christ is our cornerstone.’ And by the way, that’s on the cornerstone.”

The contents of the time capsule will be displayed for about a month before being supplemented with some 2023 items and placed back in its spot behind the cornerstone.

Contents of the box were weathered, but they are listed in “A Strong Tower,” a history of First Baptist Greer written in 1980 by Joe Dew Kinard:

  • A copy of the Sept. 27, 1923, Baptist Courier, which advertised the communion cups and Leavell’s book.
  • The printed program from the Sept. 28, 1923, cornerstone laying ceremony.
  • A coin from each denomination given at the cornerstone service, including an 1899 silver half-dollar, a standing liberty quarter, a 1917 mercury dime, an 1897 liberty nickel, and a 1919 penny.
  • Printed programs from the May 13, 1923, Mother’s Day service, a 1923 Woman’s Missionary Union annual program booklet, and a printed program of the 1923 Thanksgiving Day program that was upcoming.
  • A copy of the Sept. 28, 1923, edition of The Greer Citizen, the local daily newspaper that charged $2 for an annual subscription.

Photographs were damaged and discolored by moisture.

“They didn’t have Ziploc bags,” Mize chimed in.

Founded in 1880, the church first unearthed the time capsule during its 1979 centennial celebration, added a few more items, sealed the box and replaced it in the cornerstone.

This time around, church members of all ages viewed the contents, appreciating the history of the church that has 502 members on its roll and draws about 300 to Sunday worship. The time capsule’s contents were placed in a display box for viewing.

Church directories spanning the last 60 years — though not in the capsule — were also on display.

“It was fun to see. We’ve got people over 100 years old in our church and a lot of people that come in their early 90s,” Mize said. “And it was fun seeing them look at their pictures from 50, 60 years ago.”

Patton and Harley, whom Mize visited recently, were not up to an interview with Baptist Press.

The church will seal the time capsule in about a month, Mize said, and a building contractor among the congregation will place it in the same spot on the cornerstone, replacing the bricks.

This time around, Mize will add one choice item of his own in anticipation of the church opening it again in 50 years.

“Just a letter on keeping the main thing the main thing,” Mize said. “We’d like to say keep loving people, of course, but keep preaching the good news of the gospel of Christ, keep teaching verse by verse through the Scripture. Keep the mission the focus to reach people with the good news.”

A church staff member had an idea for one additional item: an iPhone with photos of the staff and downtown Greer, along with a charger and the phone passcode.

“And I don’t know if it will work,” Mize said, “but that’s the kind of thing that will be fun. They can open it up and look at pictures of 2023.”

— Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.