GREENVILLE — In 1963, a local group of 30 or so stepped out on faith, first meeting in a house basement and then later at the Union Hall on Charles Street.
The group, consisting mostly of eight families, formed Faith Baptist Church, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Sunday with a special service “From Generation to Generation: Celebrating 50 Years of God’s Faithfulness.”
Beginning at 9:30 a.m., the service will focus on God’s faithfulness over the years and will include music from the past as well as more contemporary songs with selections by current members and guest musician Anna Hansen Townsend on the violin.
“We will have three of our former pastors sharing in the morning service,” said Kourtney Ringelberg, one of four people on the 50th anniversary celebration planning committee. “It will not be a typical service, but instead one big service where we are inviting anyone, especially former members and attenders, to join us.”
The featured speakers are Pastor Jim Lacy, who served from 1978-1989; Pastor Jerry Troyer, who served from 1983-1996; and Pastor Don Denyes, who served from 1990-1995.
Of the original founders, nearly half are still living and may attend the anniversary celebration. The day of celebration will conclude with a dinner at noon in the church fellowship hall.
The founding families first met at Union Hall for Sunday morning and evening services, and Wednesday night Bible study — events that still stand today. In June 1964, they opted to buy a triangular piece of land at 1015 E. Washington for $2,400 and begin the process of constructing their own building.
The Rev. Ernest Fredricks was called as the first pastor in May 1966 and the congregation held its first service in its own church in June of that same year.
“The first two pastors served in the initial years of the church,” said Pastor Bob Winter, who has served as the senior pastor for the past 17 years. “Jim, Don and I have covered the last 35, from 1987 to present. There are several key factors that have helped Faith maintain a consistent ministry over the last 50 years. First and most importantly, there has been a consistency in both our foundational doctrinal beliefs and our basic ministry philosophy.”
Programs for youth began in 1967 with Youth Crusade and Awana Club in 1969 for the elementary age students. In 1970, an addition of an all-purpose building and seven additional classrooms were voted on and accepted. By 1975, 45 families were attending Faith Baptist Church.
Fredericks accepted a pastorate in Marlette, Mich., in 1977 and a farewell service was held. Lacy was contacted to serve as an interim pastor for one year. In 1978, he was called by unanimous ballot to become the full-time pastor.
The church congregation continued to flourish. A ground-breaking ceremony was held Oct. 4, 1981, for a second addition to the building, adding a larger auditorium, new entrances, remodeled balcony for additional Sunday school classrooms, baptismal and a larger nursery. The first services in the new addition were held on Easter Sunday in 1982.
Troyer was hired as associate pastor in 1982 and Pastor Tom Clothier joined the staff as youth pastor in 1986. A full-time secretarial position was also added. Attendance hovered around the mid-200 range each Sunday morning, reaching more than 280 by 1987.
Lacy accepted a call to minister in Racine, Wis., and a farewell service was held in August 1989. Denyes started his ministry at Faith in June 1990.
By 1992, discussion began about buying additional land for further growth. Denyes accepted a call to lead a congregation at South Baptist Church in Lansing, and a farewell fellowship was held in February 1995. Clothier, in 1996, also accepted a new position and the congregation said goodbye to the Clothier family. Winter began as senior pastor in November 1996.
“Because of continued growth of the congregation and the inability to purchase adjacent property at 1015 E. Washington, the congregation voted (in 1996) to purchase property on Greenville West Drive,” said Winter.
Pastor Randy Williams was hired in March 1997 to be the pastor of youth and Christian Education.
A boost to the building project came in December 2000, when an anonymous gift of $100,000 was dropped into the offering bags one Sunday. The new building project began in September 2001 and was completed by March 2002.
“Certainly over the years there has never been a change in the object of our worship. The Lord Jesus Christ has always been the one we worship,” said Winter. “Over 50 years, areas of personal preference have changed and the church has been sensitive to preferences without changing our core convictions. Very few men wear a coat and tie and very few women wear dresses to our services. The attire today is very casual because people want to feel comfortable when they worship.”
Technology over the years has also changed many aspects of worship.
“Instead of carrying Bibles that have a cover and pages, many people can be seen using Bible applications on their phones or tablets,” Winter said.
The typical church service has also changed with words of songs seen on screens and main points of the sermon posted as visuals.
“What has changed over the years is how the truth in God’s Word is taught,” said Williams, now serving as associate pastor. “There are now better tools developed to help the teacher teach God’s Word in a more engaging fashion. In most cases, gone are the flannel graphs and lecture based teaching styles. They have been replaced with video clips, PowerPoint presentations and discussion based teaching. The student in the 2013 classroom looks, behaves, and in most cases, learns nothing like the student in the 1963 classroom.”
Correspondent Lori Hansen is a Greenville-area resident.