175th ANNIVERSARY

Pittsboro Baptist Church celebrating past while living in present, planning for future

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PITTSBORO — While there’s some uncertainty to the exact date Pittsboro Baptist Church came to be, there’s no doubt that now there’s a big celebration going on to commemorate its anniversary.

An inscription on the cornerstone taken from the first meeting house, built in 1847, reads “Baptist Church Organized in 1817,” but no record of location, members or building can be found for that church. So when members today speak of a church birth date, they mean 1847 when that meeting house was completed in November at a cost of $1,200. The building was the dream of a handful of people who posted construction bond after resolving in 1845-1846 to organize a church.

That means this year marks 175 years of ministry and missions. Members have already been celebrating that milestone and will continue through the middle of October.

But prior to celebrating, such a major event has to be planned by numerous people over a long haul.

“As we saw 2022 approaching,” Kathy Shaffer, chairperson of the church’s Heritage Committee, said, “we started nagging people. And I’m good at that. We were aware of the two dates, but thought it best to go with the records we had so that makes 175 years this year.”

It was around 2015 when the work on this year’s plans began, Shaffer said.

“Tripp Harmon, our pastor at the time, and our deacons signed on to the project, and we put a group together to start research and to make plans.”

A Heritage Committee — consisting of Shaffer, Judy Beaver, Diane Braswell, Cindy Hayes, Susan Griffin, the late Barbara Jones, Laura Outz and Marilyn Tyndall — began meeting and working. They pullied information from every source they could find during meetings at the church, located on West Salisbury Street. During that time, Harmon left as pastor to take on another ministry role and the church and committee eventually welcomed the Rev. Allen Blume as an intentional interim.

“The transition team we had in place at that time was a good one,” Shaffer said. “But then we got behind — as did many churches — when COVID came along. Eventually, we were able to gear up again in the spring of 2020 with lots of prayer and various committees working and reporting on what we wanted for the celebration.”

As the months went by, more people got involved and the committee adopted a motto for the event — “Building Our Future on History of Faith.” At the first Heritage Committee meeting, Blume pointed out to the group that Pittsboro Baptist Church is “shaped by its past,” and the group’s purpose was to gather up as much history as possible without evaluating it. Coincidentally, the work of the Heritage Committee and that of the pastor search committee went almost hand-in-glove as the Heritage Committee, as Shaffer said, “brainstormed the information we felt was important to someone interested in becoming our pastor.”

As those topics grew, more and more sources of information came to light, including church conference minutes, Sunday School classes, Women’s Missionary Society activities, church newsletters and bulletins and directories, church histories and archives from The Biblical Recorder. While some areas had gaps in their information, others had almost overwhelming amounts that convinced the committee their research was done and it was time to use that information to plan for the celebration.

From all the work there came such a plan, a schedule of events that does its best to cover such an undertaking. On Aug. 28, a Christmas ornament and painting done by church member Jeff Christian, an artist, were unveiled as mementos and are available for purchase. On Sept.17, church members and friends celebrated with a “kick off” day at church property on N.C. Hwy. 902 with a cookout, games, a puppet and magic show and Bluegrass music by the Wood Family Tradition.

As the celebration moved along, morning worship services featured bulletin covers from the past, a variety of songs and hymns by the choir, led by Marilyn Tyndall and Paul Larusso, and a “history parade” of former members and pastors who made their marks in Christian service. Among them are William A. Lineberry, the first pastor; Pearl Johnson, a missionary to China from 1915 until 1949; Julia Bland, who served as organist for 50 years; George Griffin, a son of the church who taught at Wake Forest College for 33 years and was chairperson of the Department of Religion there from 1962 until 1969, and Joanna Foushee, an early member of the church who sold her jewelry in the 1880s to purchase a silver communion set the church used at the Oct. 2 worship service.

Before Foushee personally could donate the items to the church, she became ill and bedridden and unable to attend worship services. Undeterred, shortly before her death, the church family came to her home to celebrate the Lord’s Supper using that set. Shortly afterward, she died at age 38.

The culmination of the birthday celebration will be this Sunday, Oct. 9, at the annual homecoming service when the guest speaker will be the Rev. Todd Unzicker, secretary-treasurer of the N.C. Baptist State Convention. Former pastors and staff will be recognized, a 175th-anniversary video will be shown, remembrance candles will be lit, and there will be a Noon covered dish lunch. After lunch, a time capsule to be opened in 2047 on the occasion of the church’s 200th anniversary.

“Putting this together has involved a lot of people and a lot of work,” Diane Braswell, who served on the Heritage Committee, said in a classic understatement. “But it’s been good. We’re excited about our past but are looking forward to the future.”

The Rev. Peter McDonald, who became church pastor last November, sees the celebration as a blessing. In a recent issue of the church newsletter, The Spiral, he wrote, “Our opportunities are growing at Pittsboro Baptist Church and we need your help in being a part … We’re on mission together to reach the lost, disciple the church and love others in the way of Christs that they may know Him and follow Him.”

The 175th-anniversary celebration, he said, is a way to celebrate the history while moving into the future. “We’re excited,” he said, “and welcome people to be a part.”

A word in the 150th birthday celebration program perhaps sums up the church’s vision. It says, in part, “The journey for Pittsboro Baptist Church that the brave men and women in 1847 first envisioned for our church has been an interesting and eventful one. Along the way we have dreamed and fumbled, built and rebuilt, but always there has been a love for each other and for our Savior Jesus Christ that gave us the victory … It is that faith that must and will keep us moving o our next landmark birthday.”

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