By Bill Webb
NEVADA — Memories and 150 years of history flowed during an afternoon sesquicentennial celebration at First Baptist Church of Nevada.
But this is hardly a congregation that is focusing on the past, according to longtime pastor Bill Cox.
Long known as a stable downtown congregation, the church moved to a new, modern facility on the edge of the western Missouri community in 1997.
Cox believes townspeople may have begun to look at the church differently, probably due in part to “the fact that we moved and did something different.”
The congregation has seen an infusion of a lot of new people, due in part to the start of a contemporary worship service three or fours years ago and a more recent ministry called Operation Recovery to help free people from addictive, compulsive and dysfunctional behaviors.
Today, the average Sunday morning attendance exceeds 600.
The church also is in the middle of a $2.5 million campaign to remodel preschool areas and build additions for children and youth.
During the sesquicentennial celebration, a skit illustrated how it all began as charter members negotiated the original name of the fledgling congregation, which constituted on June 19, 1858, as the Regular Baptist Church of Jesus Christ of Nevada City.
The little town grew with the church, which met in a schoolhouse until about 100 members began construction on a church facility in 1871 for what by then was called Nevada City Baptist Church.
A quarter of a century passed, and the congregation outgrew its space. Another site just off the town square was secured in 1899, and the congregation dedicated its new building in 1900. The superstructure was finished at a cost of $6,696.40.
Early on, the congregation committed itself to developing a strong Sunday School and — just after the turn of the century — Baptist Training Union. The church hosted state convention functions and in 1953 sponsored a new mission at Stockton (today First Baptist Church).
The congregation added a gymnasium, basement and classrooms through the years. A parsonage was purchased in 1947, and a new youth building in 1955.
The church remained nearly a century in its downtown location before moving to its present home.
Young people participated in the celebration, with three performing a rap on video recounting the burning of the town by Federalists from across the Kansas border during the Civil War and the subsequent rebuilding in 1871.
Another skit recounted the discussion preceding the construction and move in 1900.
Cox interviewed longtime member Marvin Davison, who referenced accounts of the centennial celebration in 1958 and recalled many of the congregation’s stalwart leaders.
Videos showed the construction and move in 1997 and the projected plans for the children and youth facilities.
Music director Wes Morton led the Praise and Glory choirs in an arrangement of “How Firm a Foundation” that the church commissioned noted arranger Greg Gilpin to prepare.
Midway through the presentation, members of the audience spontaneously rose to their feet, concluding with enthusiastic applause.
Before closing the service of celebration, Cox said that in the future, any group that sings the arrangement will see that it was arranged especially for First Baptist.
The congregation received resolutions and certificates from the Missouri Baptist Convention, Partee Center for Baptist Historical Studies, Southwest Baptist University, Missouri House of Representatives and others.