By Vicki Brown
CALIFORNIA — “Will you be a dead rock or a living stone?” Derald Harris challenged members and guests at a celebration on Sept. 6 marking the 175th anniversary of First Baptist Church, California.
The director of communications for the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home spent his childhood and teen years as part of the First Baptist congregation, joining with his family in the mid-1950s.
The stories of people as church and community members, not the chronology of facility growth or the parade of pastors and staff, reflect a congregation’s history, he emphasized.
Noting that First Baptist is a strong Cooperative Program supporter, Harris noted, “This is a very significant day…in the life of this church…. You have a ministry to the community, to the association, to the state, to the country and all over the world…. For 175 years you have been impacting the world.”
He reminded listeners that God wants his people to remember. God directed the Israelites to pick up 12 stones as they crossed the Jordan River at the end of their sojourn in the wilderness and to erect a monument of remembrance.
“The purpose of…remembering today…isn’t just for us…for our children and our children’s children,” Harris said. “It is a reminder of God’s faithfulness…power…forgiveness…a reminder that anything is possible with God.”
Harris became a Christian and was baptized at First Baptist. He sang his first public solo and played piano in public for the first time, and was licensed and ordained to the ministry there. Funerals for his father and grandparents were held there, and Harris officiated at his sister’s wedding in First Baptist’s sanctuary.
While members can be proud of the building as a memorial to what God has already done through them, remembering is “not good enough,” he added. “The Bible tells us that God has called us to a journey.
“God is thrilled by the building…but, the Bible says…that God builds His church out of living stones. Each of us has a place in the family, in the church…. God shapes each of us so that each stone fits into His construction.
“While the vast majority of my spiritual experience took place here…, it was not the building that my faith was built on but on those living stones,” he said, recalling stories of members who had touched his life.
“The history you are creating is built on those who have come before… and you are influencing those coming after you.”
The ministry of those who started the church remains alive today through church members who followed, he said.
“I believe that every time the gospel is shared…by this church, the founding members get another star in their crowns …because their ministry continues in our lives,” Harris said.
The milestone celebration attracted local and foreign dignitaries, including Eduardo Soto Padin, pastor of Evangelical Church of the Word in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, First Baptist’s partner church.
California mayor Norris Gerhart and Moniteau County presiding commissioner Kenny Kunze presented plaques.
Presenting a proclamation on behalf of the Missouri House, Rep. Kenny Jones called First Baptist a leader that helps its entire community.
“This church reminds me of three words — faith, family and country,” State Sen. Carl Vogel said when presenting a proclamation from that body.
In addition, the church received a proclamation from Gov. Matt Blunt and a commemorative from the Partee Center for Baptist Historical Studies. Interim executive director David Tolliver presented a plaque on behalf of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Members of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, north of Clarksburg, founded Mount Gilead United Baptist Church on Aug. 16, 1833, with Snelling Johnson as the first pastor. The name was changed to California Baptist Church in 1858.
The church disbanded for a time during the Civil War, with only scant church information recorded between 1861 and 1864.
The congregation adopted the First Baptist name and constructed a building at its current location in 1922.
Top, left: Derald Harris, who grew up in First Baptist Church of California, brings the message during the congregation’s 175th anniversary celebration Sept. 6. At right, pastor Greg Morrow (right) poses with Eduardo Soto Padin, pastor of Evangelical Church of the Word in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, First Baptist’s partner church.