2018-07-27 / Front Page

Columbia First Baptist pastor retires after 32 years

By Anita Baker

Dr. Wendell Estep Dr. Wendell Estep First Baptist Church of Columbia has been celebrating its pastor, Dr. Wendell Estep, as he and his wife, Lynda, begin a new stage in their life’s journey and commitment to serve the Lord as Southern Baptist ministers. Dr. Estep spent the first part of his professional career in television broadcasting. He was raised in the church, yet did not feel the call to the ministry until later in his adult life. Then he was called to First Baptist Church of Columbia after serving in several churches in Oklahoma.

Dr. Estep, serving as pastor in Bethany, Oklahoma, had been praying about following a possible call to another church when he received the call from the pastor search committee at First Baptist of Columbia. He felt strongly this was what he was waiting for and moved his young family in August 1986.

First Baptist Church is one of the oldest churches in Columbia. Its James Petigru Boyce Chapel served as the convention during which South Carolina delegates voted unanimously to secede from the Union, leading up to the Civil War.

Dr. Estep’s particular impact on the history of First Baptist Church was the enormous leap of faith he led the congregation to take in the early 1990s. He had a vision to build a sanctuary that was beyond anything the current congregation would fill. Estep challenged his congregation evangelize within the city and beyond to fill a sanctuary many times larger than the original First Baptist Church chapel. Over the years, Estep has continued to lead the church expansion with the purchase of the Richland County Library space and an entire city block, with the purchase of the YMCA.

Dr. Estep’s legacy is ties back to his original career in television broadcasting. The Television Broadcast Ministry at First Baptist Church of Columbia began in September, 1955. Estep believed in harnessing the power of television as a means to spread the message of the gospel from his own church’s ministry and has led the church through a continued expansion of the program over the years.

Dr. Estep is known most of all for his warm and jovial personality and his affection and love for his congregation. He is a consistent, unwavering teacher of the Bible and believes it is the inerrant word of God. He has an evangelist heart for his congregation, continuing to lead them to seek church growth, plant new churches, and to reach out to the downtown community.

Senator Lindsey Graham spoke at the Appreciation Service for the Esteps Sunday, July 22, sharing his gratitude that First Baptist Church is “a church that is serving the community seven days a week, not just on Sundays.”

Graham also said through outreach programs to the downtown business community, the opening of the Dr. Wendell Estep Family Life Center, and services for the homeless, First Baptist Church has a consistent presence in downtown

Columbia and does not shut its doors during the week. Senator Graham commended Dr. Estep for his ministry to the people of Israel through teaching and mission trips.

Several other dignitaries were present and spoke at the appreciation service held for the Esteps, including Governor Henry McMaster, Congressman Joe Wilson, and Senator Tim Scott.

Dr. Charles Jackson of Brookland Baptist Church shared words of praise and gratitude to the Esteps as they have had a friendship and official partnership between their two churches since 1996.

Governor McMaster recognized Estep as a leader in the local community and throughout the state through his ministry at First Baptist Church of Columbia, an important landmark in South Carolina history.

Congressman Joe Wilson expressed his love and appreciation for the Esteps and shared remembrances of participating in the annual Celebration of Liberty programs and the First Baptist Church Christmas pageant.

Senator Tim Scott shared “the one word that best describes Dr. Wendell Estep is encouragement.”

After Senator Scott was elected to national office in 2010, he began texting Dr. Estep. The two leaders shared Bible verses, words of inspiration, and encouragement through their regular communication and developed a close friendship.

The Esteps will not be moving far from First Baptist Church of Columbia. They consider South Carolina home. The Esteps will join their son, Erik Estep, pastor of Village Church, a church plant by First Baptist Church of Columbia in Blythewood, S.C.

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