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Thursday, May 5, 2016

First Baptist Church celebrates 190 years in Greencastle

Friday, May 4, 2012

A flyer likely from the 1910s invites visitors to "the warm welcome of home at the First Baptist Church." To modern readers, the document is slightly misleading, as it contains the Anderson Street address of the parsonage, but no address for the church, only "opposite the High School Building."
The year was 1822. Conflicting reports say Greencastle may or may not have been a community. Its official incorporation was still 27 years away. DePauw University was not to be founded for another 15 years (as Indiana Asbury University).

Yet 13 Baptists came together in the wilderness that was Putnam County to begin meeting on the first Sunday of May 1822.

Today, that little band of Baptists is still here as Greencastle's First Baptist Church, having gone through three locations and more than 50 ministers in its 190 years.

First Baptist will celebrate its milestone this weekend, with celebrations on Saturday and Sunday at the church at 404 Judson Dr.

Activities will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday with dinner on the grounds catered by Treasures on the Square, followed by an old-fashioned tent meeting with singing, special music and a few words of encouragement from Pastor Randy McNeeley.

The tent meeting will be true to the church's distant history, as in its earliest days members were without a permanent meeting place.

One modern touch to the Saturday and Sunday celebrations will be a bounce house for children.

Saturday's festivities will conclude by 8 p.m.

The events resume at 9:30 a.m. Sunday with a celebration service in the sanctuary. The service will include communion, special music and a message from Rev. Dr. J. Jeff Woods, associate general secretary for regional ministries of American Baptist Churches USA.

After a congregational picture in front of the church, members and guests will again break bread together in the tent with a meal catered by Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Sunday's lunch will conclude with a 190th birthday cake.

Following lunch, guests and members may stay and visit as long as they like. As families leave, each one will receive a bag of items, including a printed history of the church, a new church cookbook and a commemorative coffee mug.

To help celebrate First Baptist's history former ministers Rev. Stanley Nicol, Rev. Paul Bowen and Rev. Stephen Hall will be back in town for the celebration.

The Baptist Church of Christ of Big Walnut, as it was then called, found its first home in 1839 in this structure at the corner of Franklin and Madison streets in Greencastle. However, the structure was unsatisfactory to many in the congregation, who commonly called it "the old pig pen."
A current minister plus four former ministers at one event is a far cry from the situation of the early church. Records at the time of the church's 1922 centennial celebration that for most of the first 100 years, "the Greencastle flock was without a shepherd."

"The fact that the church could carry on under such adverse circumstances is a tribute to our Baptist forefathers in this place," Rev. U.M. McGuire wrote at the time.

The young Baptist congregation did, however, find a home as time passed. In 1839 the Baptist Church of Christ of Big Walnut, as it was then known, took up residence in a brick structure at the corner of Franklin and Madison streets, just west of what is now the Moose Lodge.

Church history, however, indicates this building did not suit the entire congregation, as some referred to it as "the old pig pen."

The pig pen and the church's name were soon in the past, though, as the congregation adopted the name of its young town, and church trustees acquired a piece of land at Poplar and Water (now Spring) streets in 1855.

Two different buildings occupied this location over the years, as records indicate the first building was destroyed by a windstorm in 1867 or 1868.

While the destruction of the first building was a tragedy for the church, Rev. McGuire's history indicates it settled a heated debate among the congregants. While one faction insisted a newly-acquired organ was the "instrument of the devil," others felt incorporating an organ was a positive sign of progress.

When the big wind had passed on, the opponents of the organ rubbed their hands in satisfaction and declared that this destruction was the judgment of God on the sins of His people. Those favoring the organ kept still until the debris was removed. Lo and behold, there was the organ standing in the midst of the ruins, apparently without a scratch on it. It was a great day for those who loved organ music. The opposition accepted defeat graciously and harmony on this point was restored.

Greencastle First Baptist Church has occupied its current location on Judson Drive since 1969.
A new church building was soon built that served the congregation for nearly a century.

During the 95 years in this building, Sunday school was added, as was full-time ministry. DePauw students were also admitted to the church as affiliate members for the first time at some point in the 1910s. No reason for their prior exclusion is given.

The church moved into its current home on Judson Drive in 1969, following several years of meeting in the Greencastle Junior High School -- the old church having been sold to raise funds to build the new building.

Forty-three years at its current location have seen multiple expansions of the modern facility, as well as church membership swelling to between 400 and 500. Church administrative assistant Janet Staley reports weekly attendance to average 175 to 180 people, but more are welcome this and every weekend.

"We want the community to join us for any part of the weekend if they would like," she said.

Rev. U.M. McGuire was the First Baptist minister in 1922 and compiled much of the church history for its centennial celebration.
Guests should find the accommodations welcoming, as no one mistakes the church's current location for an old pig pen and the tent constructed for the event promises to hold more than 13 brave pioneers.

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