The theme of Sunday’s service at First Baptist Church was “Faith, Family and Foundation.”
It was an appropriate choice, given the church was celebrating its 175th anniversary.
The church started with 13 members who met in each other’s homes, or at the Hyatt House Hotel, the Rock County Courthouse or the Lappin Hayes building. From those locations, they moved throughout the city until the congregation built a church on the corner of Jackson and Court streets. That was in the mid-1860s, and the church had 350 members.
From 1868-84, that church became the congregation’s home. After it burned down, the church moved to different locations before the congregation decided to build a new building.
Again, the congregation chose the corner of Jackson and Court streets. By 1908, the church had 710 members.
In 1974, the congregation moved into a new building on Woodhall Drive on the city’s east side. It now has more than 100 members, with about 70 attending every Sunday, First Baptist pastor the Rev. Tom DeWitt said.
It’s difficult to capture 175 years of history and faith. Dewitt, said it was important to celebrate the anniversary because of the service and faithfulness of its members.
In his sermon Sunday, he preached from Acts II, which is about the foundation of the Christian church. In Acts, the Holy Spirit comes to Christ’s followers, and the Apostle Peter preaches his first sermon to a crowd of recent converts.
The end of Acts II is “a kind of summary of what they were doing and what they were committed to,” DeWitt said.
“They were devoted to the apostles’ teachings, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer,” DeWitt said. “Those were the four main points of my sermon.”
Part of celebrating the past involves looking to the community’s future.
“We’d like to see continued commitment—a recommitment, really—to the Gospel and what that means,” Dewitt said. “The mandate of going out and sharing the Gospel with those who are in our community.”
In 2020, DeWitt plans to emphasize prayer. The congregation will be considering the power of prayer, what prayer means and how prayer brings a community together.
First Baptist isn’t the only Janesville church celebrating its history in 2019. Trinity Episcopal Church celebrated its 175th anniversary in September, and in 2020, First Congregational Church also will celebrate 175 years.