First Baptist celebrates bicentennial

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 26, 2004

AHOSKIE – One simple sentence of one simple prayer aptly conveyed the feelings of a multitude here Sunday.

During Dr. Bill Leonard’s closing prayer at the 200-year celebration of the founding of First Baptist Church of Ahoskie, he offered those in attendance some very sound advice by saying, &uot;On the way to the future, remind us of how we got here.&uot;

With that, a two-hour special service capped the end of an equally special year for this Ahoskie church, one very carefully orchestrated and carried out through several events.

Sunday’s service was marked by the involvement of the church parishioners, both young and old, and punctuated by the heavenly voices of the church choir. One song – &uot;From Everlasting to Everlasting&uot;, performed by a vocal ensemble of the choir – was specifically energizing in regards to a religious overtone. Another special song – &uot;The Bicentennial Anthem&uot; performed by the entire choir – set the stage for Dr. Leonard’s remarks.

Leonard, Dean and Professor of Church History at Wake Forest University Divinity School, served as the guest speaker. His topic was &uot;Passing the Scroll.&uot; He began telling his audience of when he, as a member of the Junior Boys Class in Sunday School at a Texas church, was first handed a Bible and advised on the proper road to take in his life.

&uot;Who handed you the scroll and sent you on the road to salvation,&uot; quizzed Dr. Leonard. &uot;Who was that saint? And now, here on your 200th anniversary, how will you pass the scroll?&uot;

He continued, &uot;What identity do you want the younger members of this church to carry into the middle part of this century? Can you be as creative as the 1804 congregation of this church? Their faith in this church and its future was unwavering. Faith comes through tradition just as much as it comes from the text of the Bible.

&uot;For 200 years, the dynamics of the text of God’s holy word has spread throughout this church and this community. What’s next? Will it continue? The answer is yes if you pass the scroll.&uot;

Sunday’s service celebrated three distinct portions of the church’s history – remembering its past, praying for the present and looking towards the future.

Mary Frances Johnson, a First Baptist Deacon and church member since 1953, and Alvin Newsome, who joined the church in 1942, highlighted the remembrance to the past. Johnson gave an Old Testament lesson (from Psalm 77) while Newsome delivered words of recollection.

In addition, the church saluted its past by paying tribute to its oldest living member – Bertha Bowen – as well as Dr. J.B. Brown, the oldest active male member. The families of former pastors Oscar Creech and Isaac Terrell were also recognized.

Deacon Oliver Fleming (a church member since 1967) delivered a Prayer of Thanksgiving, saying, &uot;This church has been a conduit for God’s love to flow and continue to flow.&uot;

In praying for its present, Justin Freeman, a church member since 1997 and a high school senior, read from Colossians 3: 12-17. Rev. Anita Thompson, Minister of Family Enrichment at Ahoskie First Baptist, stressed that this church survived the Civil War, the Great Depression and World Wars I and II, and offered that, &uot;this church can strive in the 21st century.&uot;

Showing its pride in the present and looking towards the future, organizers of the Bicentennial celebration chose Elizabeth Joyner, a 4th grade student, to deliver the offertory prayer.

The Bicentennial Anthem, a gospel lesson (Luke 4: 16-22) delivered by Kristi Swain (a church member since 1983 and a young adult in the church choir) and Dr. Leonard’s remarks highlighted the conclusion of the service, one that looked towards the future of the church.

&uot;This was a fitting conclusion to 10 months of our bicentennial celebration,&uot; said Rev. Dr. Jesse Croom, Senior Minister at First Baptist of Ahoskie. &uot;We had a wonderful response with former members, staff members, family and friends joining with us to celebrate 200 years of ministry to Ahoskie and the surrounding communities.&uot;

Dr. Croom authored a book that looks back on the first 200 years. That book – &uot;Faithful and Free&uot; – contains a center spread of color photos and features an update on the church’s history as documented by renowned former pastor Oscar Creech, who wrote the church’s first history.

In addition to doing a chronological history, Croom’s book offers a retrospective look at church discipline and other believer practices in the late 19th century, an evaluation of denominational relationships, music and worship styles, missions, and educational and social ministries as well as an epilogue that examines the cultural and economic conditions of the area.

For more information about &uot;Faithful and Free,&uot; contact the church office at 332-4003. Books are $35 per copy.