by Robert Earl Houston
This past Sunday, September 21, 2014, the congregation that I am blessed to serve as their senior pastor, First Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky, celebrated another Church Anniversary! 181 years. You read that right – One hundred eighty one years.
Where I come from on the west coast, it is rare to find a church that is over 100 years of age. But here in Kentucky, it is almost commonplace to find congregations that celebrate over 100 years of existence and a rare handful celebrate over 200 years of existence. I’ve had the honor in recent years to preach yearly at the Historic Pleasant Green Baptist Church, the oldest Black Baptist Church west of the Allegheny River, which is some 233 years old.
First Baptist Church is the result of a split from an integrated worship. Originally whites and blacks worshiped together and one Sunday the leadership of the First Baptist Church at the Singing Bridge decided to expel all of the negroes from their congregation. It was 1833.
After doing some research, I found out that Kentucky’s use of slavery dates from the earliest permanent European settlements in the state. 25% of the residents of Kentucky were slaves up to the Civil War, and most of them resided in the Louisville area and the Bluegrass Region (from Louisville eastward) which was rich with tobacco, hemp and horse farms. In 1831, just two years before the founding of this church, the State Legislature passed new restrictions against owners freeing their slaves.
When 1833 rolled around the Civil War had been in effect for two years. And the response of First Baptist Church was to divest themselves of people of color and hence, First Baptist Church was formed by freedmen and slaves. The newly formed Church faced adversities from not only residents but also from the elected officials of that day. At the conclusion of the Civll War, about 75% of the slaves in Kentucky were freed or escaped to Union lines during the war. Remember, First Baptist was organized in 1833 and slavery legally ended in Kentucky on December 18, 1865 when some 65,000 Kentuckians became legally emancipated.
The present structure’s construction was a hot-button issue. The City Council of Frankfort refused to grant a permit to tear down the existing house and build a sanctuary. Matter of fact, the City issued arrest warrants for the Contractor and the Board of Trustees for continuing to build without the authority of the city. The matter wound up in court and the state courts issued a landmark opinion that the opposition to First Baptist Church’s construction was not based upon law, but upon prejudice. The church was allowed to continue construction and in 1908 walked into it’s resplendent sanctuary.
As pointed out by Representative Derrick Graham, First Baptist Church has had a storied past and ties to the Frankfort community. During the Civil Rights era, First Baptist Church hosted and/or supported the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Jesse Jackson, and others in the struggle for equality. It has been led by a plethora of church men – 17 from the early days to the current administration.
My friend, Pastor Emmanuel Young, lent me a book – “1868-1968 Centennial Volume: General Association of Kentucky Baptists” and it identifies the impact that First Baptist Church has had denominationally. Several of my predecessors have gone on to serve as Moderators of the Association, Editors of the American Baptist Newspaper (of which I now serve as Chairman of the Board), State Mission Workers, and was one of the first congregations to join the Progressive National Baptist Convention, of which my immediate predecessor, Dr. K.L. Moore, Jr., served as Recording Secretary and Chair of New Pastors.
It’s been a storied rise. But not without its share of heartaches and heartbreaks. No institution stands without some pain on the menu. There have been growth, fall outs, joys, sorrows, growing pains and membership fluctuation. As I remind our church from time to time: Members come and go; Pastors come and go; But God’s Church still stands!
Today, we stand 181 years only a few blocks from where our forefathers and foremothers were told that they were no longer welcome. Today the pastor and I from FBC Singing Bridge are friends, our members work with each other in the workplace and from time to time we worship together in different venues. Today there are several predominately African-American churches in our area of all denominations. Our sister church, the Historic St. John A.M.E. Church stands just a block away and we have a tremendous fellowship throughout the years. Green Hill Baptist Church, First Corinthian Baptist Church (which is the result of a split from First Baptist) and Macedonia Baptist Church in the Millville area, still stand today, serving alongside as we preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to this community. Not to mention newer congregations that have come on the scene. First Baptist Church still stands.
Today we are a church that embraces both the past and the present while looking forward to the future. My vision for the church is the construction of an Educational Building that will house administrative offices, provide classrooms for generations to come, and will be topped with a gymnasium that will meet the needs of this community. I am believing God that this will come to pass. We love our stately sanctuary and facility and have poured resources into restoring the sanctuary, remodeling restrooms and kitchen, beautifying the fellowship hall, and installing modern fixtures. God is good!
Today we are a church that embraces people. We believe in the redemption of people through the blood of Jesus Christ. We believe in the efficacy of God’s Word. We believe that Preaching and Teaching go hand-in-hand. We believe that worship should be worshipful. We believe that Christian Education is necessary. We believe that our job is not just to be keepers of the legacy but also to create some milestones along the way in this generation.
Happy 181+ years First Baptist Church. Can’t wait to see what the future holds.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.