News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 21, 2013

North Baptist Church celebrates centennial

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Its roots began in 1913 as a Sunday school on Park Avenue in North Terre Haute. Five years later, the foundation for what would become the original sanctuary of First Baptist Church of North Terre Haute began with a patchwork of autographs, sewn together as a quilt.

“It was a fundraiser from the Ladies Missionary Society, at that time, to raise money to start digging a foundation. They charged 10 cents for each name that went on there and they had 253 names that went on the quilt,” said Lou Johnson, a 65-year member of the church and an unofficial church historian.

“That raised $25.30 and then they auctioned it off. The pastor at that time (D. M. Adams) bought the quilt for $25, so that $50.30 is what they started with to dig the basement,” said Johnson, 82.

The church, originally at 3448 E. Park Ave, is now located adjacent to Otter Creek Middle School off of Lafayette Avenue.

The original 1918/1919 quilt is on display at the church, on loan from the Vigo County Historical Society, and is part of the church’s 100th Celebration during a special service at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Normally, the church has two services, a Foundation service and a Lift! service, but the two will be combined for the celebration, followed by a fellowship lunch, said Mark Tobey, pastor at the church.

“There will be lots of music, which has always been a keystone here,” Tobey said.

A 1926 photo at the church is a testimony to that, as younger members hold drums, saxophones, clarinets and a trumpet. The photo shows the foundation of the church with a roof. The top of the church was completed in 1940.

Reaching out to young adults and students remains a leading ministry at the church, Tobey said, and will be part of the church’s next century of ministry.

“One of the things the Lord has done here is given us favor with young adults in this community. Lot of that has to do with that we have a young staff, who are vibrant, very gifted and passionate,” Tobey said.

Tobey, who has been pastor for eight years, recruited Adam Conner for student ministries and Travis Beckner, who oversees its middle school parishioners. Both Conner and Beckner grew up attending the church.

The special service will feature J.R. Wilson, a bi-vocational pastor at Family Worship Church in Terre Haute. Wilson is the oldest son of Genevieve Wilson, a 58-year member of the church.

The present-day church began in 1955 when land was purchased. A parsonage was first completed in 1957, then building on the first section of the church was finished in 1958. Another section on the church was completed in 1961, which served as a children’s wing. The two-story wing remains used for classrooms for children’s ministry.

The front section, which contains the sanctuary, was completed in 1971. The entire church has a basement under each section, used as a fellowship hall, classrooms and other activities. In addition, a former church “bus barn” has been converted to a student ministry center.

“When we moved into the front part and when Easter Sunday came around, this church had 1,000 people in it for that service,” Johnson said.

To help mark the celebration, a bell near the church’s front door will be rang 100 times. The bell was at the congregation’s Park Avenue site from 1942 to 1958. In addition, Johnson is now heading up a project to make another quilt for the 100 celebration. However, inflation has hit, joked long-time church member, Joe Claretto, as it will be $10 per family for names on the quilt.

“Our mission is still to serve the Lord,” Claretto said. “That is what we are trying to do to the best of our ability, with His help. How we accomplish that has changed because of the times.

“People have so many other activities that they have forgotten about their church obligations. In this day and age, if you have children you have soccer or baseball games or other things, so church, unfortunately gets pushed to the background,” Claretto, 80, said.

Tobey said for a congregation to reach 100 years “is quite a milestone for ministries now.”

“I think we give the Lord thanks for that. It is the faithfulness of God’s people. They have remained firm in their commitment to the ministry to the word of God. It has always been central in this church. It has attracted and ministered to families for that long,” Tobey said.

“It is also a loving, compassionate commitment to reaching out to the community. Those two things have kept this ministry viable and vibrant in a very busy, distracting culture,” Tobey said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or