Home Church community Fort Wayne First Baptist Church Celebrates Bicentennial Year

Fort Wayne First Baptist Church Celebrates Bicentennial Year

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) – Since 1950, Fort Wayne’s First Baptist Church has stood faithful, near the intersection of Fairfield and Pierce Avenues. But its history is long before this place. In fact, the congregation is planning a bicentennial celebration, marking 200 years of service to the city.

Nancy Noak attended church for a quarter of her life. “My husband and I have been here since 1973 so damn near fifty years!” she told us. “People at this church are openly friendly. They take you under their wing, they want you to know more about God and Christ, and they are ready to help you with whatever comes up in your life.

18-year-old Colin Haines started attending First Baptist Church when his grandparents brought him weekly. “I’ve been going here for as long as I can remember…before I can remember,” he said. But you won’t see him on the benches – he’s in charge of audio and technology while on duty and sometimes plays music up front. “We are very small, but we just have a good sense of community and unity. It’s like a family when I’m here.

Reverend Peter Janzen currently leads the church, as acting pastor. Although it has only been three months since he began helping the congregation begin the transition to finding a permanent preacher, he has filled and spoken to the church several times. “First Baptist was a place of education, of growth in their spiritual life,” he described. “There’s this feeling of camaraderie and the joy of being together.”

A monument attached to the back entrance of the First Baptist Church by the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society reads: The first assembly of any faith or creed in the Fort Wayne area, hosted by the Reverend Isaac McCoy, missionary to the Indians. The church was officially organized with eleven charter members on August 3, 1822, then was reorganized on March 4, 1837. The congregation moved to this fourth site on January 8, 1950.

Meeting at the fort, McCoy led the first congregation, which included Europeans, African Americans, and Native Americans. Two of Chief Little Turtle’s granddaughters have been baptized, along with a freed slave. But because the Reverend was a missionary, he left Fort Wayne and traveled to other states to continue his work. When the First Baptist Church was re-established in 1837, congregants had their own building to meet in, and they have continued ever since.

From a small framed structure to grand downtown buildings, the First Baptist Church has changed dramatically over the centuries. The current building at 2323 Fairfield was built 72 years ago, and an extension was added in 1967. As the congregation grew, so did their outreach. Former members have founded area churches including: South Wayne Baptist Church, Memorial Baptist Church, Liberty Hills Baptist Church, Immanuel Church, and Faith Baptist Church.

In 2009, when South Wayne Baptist Church closed, it merged with First Baptist Church, and South Wayne’s senior pastor led the two during the transition. To be more welcoming to both congregations, First Baptist Church changed its name to Fort Wayne Baptist Church. This year, the congregation revered that decision, reverting to First Baptist Church of Fort Wayne, to celebrate its bicentennial.

And like its earliest roots, the church has been intertwined with other cultures. McCoy’s earliest influences were missionaries who shared their faith with those in Burma. Today the First Baptist Church shares its building with the Burmese Christian Fellowship. Even if the congregation is small, it remains generous. Since 2019, they have also been a place where the Fort Wayne Boys and Girls club can operate some of its programming. Pastor Janzen says dozens of their members are generating hundreds of donations through Operation Christmas Child.

Still about two centuries after first meeting McCoy, Janzen realizes that no church is safe from permanently closing its doors, though he still holds out hope for the future. “Every church has a cycle of life – there’s a beginning, and that’s what we celebrate, there’s a middle, and then there’s an end,” he explained. “If you look at the New Testament, there are all kinds of churches that received letters from Paul. Only one of these churches is alive today.

“I hope this 200 year anniversary will be a clear marker of what the mission and purpose for the future is,” Janzen added. “The story has been about the mission, and it continues to be about the mission.”

“This church has stood the test of time,” Noak shared. “And with the help of a dedicated congregation, we will continue to be part of this community.”

Several special events are planned for this year, including:

  • 200th Anniversary Celebration (August 3 at 4 p.m. — 2323 Fairfield Ave.)
  • Religious service at the historic Old Fort (September 25 at 10 a.m. — 1201 Spy Run Ave.)
  • International Connection Celebration / Combined Church Service with the Burmese Christian Community (October 16 at 11:45 a.m. – 2323 Fairfield Ave.)

You can find more information about First Baptist Church of Fort Wayne, upcoming events, and its history here.

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