This year, First Baptist Church is rejoicing in its 200th year of ministry in Trumansburg. The theme of the anniversary is “Shining the Light of Christ, 200 Years and Beyond.”
The church celebrated its anniversary on the weekend of Sept. 21 and 22 with an open house for the community at the Ulysses Historical Society on Saturday afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. with a short program at 3 p.m.
On Saturday evening, the church celebrated with a meal for the congregation and invited friends, followed by a Gaither Homecoming style celebration of music in the sanctuary at 7 p.m. The community was invited. On Sunday morning, the congregation and friends worshiped the Lord with praise and thanksgiving for the many years of ministry He has given the church.
Pastor Dennis Christiansen, pastor of the church for 10 years, said the weekend went perfectly. “I don’t think we could have asked for it to be better,” he said. “I think they were very special worship services—just to be at the Historical Society and surrounded by the atmosphere and history and feeling like our church was celebrating our activity in the community for 200 years.”
Rordan Hart, Trumansburg Village Mayor, agreed.
“It was nice having it at the Historical Society because it really fits how much history there is,” said Hart, who spoke at the anniversary celebration.
“The world is always changing; things always change around us, so anytime an institution can remain in a community as long as they have, it’s worthy of a celebration,” Hart said Sept. 27.
The church hosted several American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) denominational dignitaries for the weekend, including the NYS Executive Minister Reverend Jim Kelsey, President of ABCUSA Karen Podsiadly, and the ABCUSA acting General Secretary Reverend Jeff. Woods.
Woods delivered the message during Sunday morning worship.
First Baptist Church was organized by 26 people in August of 1819 as a result of revival meetings held by Dr. Oliver Comstock, a Trumansburg physician and US Congressman who became the church’s first pastor. This is well before the Village was incorporated, Hart pointed out.
The congregation has built four buildings for worship over 200 years, the first in 1824 and a second, larger building in 1844, which burned four years later. The third is now the present Trumansburg Conservatory of Fine Arts. All were built on the same property, donated by John McLallen, who was a charter member of the church.
In 1982, the congregation began worshiping in its present building on East Seneca Road. Much of it was built by congregation members on weeknights and weekends.
Over the years the church has withstood its share of hardships. “It has gone through a number of trials and difficulties,” said Christiansen, “and risen like a phoenix out of the ashes time and time again.”
The burning of the second meeting house was followed by a pastor dying while serving the church, “which is always traumatic,” said Christiansen, as well as death of two pastors’ wives. The church was split in the early 1900s over the issue of sharing services with other churches in town. The congregation voted to continue that practice, said Christiansen, but 27 member left and started another church in Trumansburg.
“You can imagine the turmoil,” Christiansen said, adding that in the 1990s they were nearly financially insolvent but came back from that, too. “They dug themselves out of that hole they had gotten into, so God seems to have given them the power to rise up out of the ashes of their disasters and go on spreading His message.”
Looking toward the future, the church plans to increase its reach in the community. Even though they do a lot of mission work abroad, Christiansen said he would like to see the church be of more service at the local level. “We like the idea of partnering with the neighborhood,” he said. “We need to flesh that idea out and figure out how that will work, but we just want to become more neighborhood-oriented and to be connected with the people who live out here and around us."