By Bill Webb
ALBANY — More than 200 members, former members and friends packed the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Albany for sesquicentennial services on Oct. 5.
The 150th anniversary celebration taxed the downtown corner brick church building and had members thinking about their nearly completed home on the outskirts of the northwestern Missouri community.
“One thing hasn’t changed in 150th years,” pastor Leland May told the congregation. “That is the message of Jesus Christ. The world may change and change and change, but the message of our church will always be the same.”
Special music set the stage for memories, featuring a quartet singing “Something Good Is Going to Happen” and the choir adding a spirited rendition of “When We All Get to Heaven.”
The pastor and Jani York utilized a PowerPoint presentation with a sesquicentennial timeline comparing what was happening in the country to what was happing in the church since 1858, weaving in historical photos and recollections from members. Laura Stevens prepared the PowerPoint.
Presentations of certificates were made by the State of Missouri and the Partee Center for Baptist Historical Studies.
After lunch in the fellowship hall, guests and members took afternoon tours of the new church building, a sprawling brick structure that the congregation hopes to occupy later this year.
Children and youth activities were provided on the grounds of the new facility, followed by the planting of a sesquicentennial tree and an evening service under the portico of the new structure.
The evening service featured a youth skit, a sharing of memories and a concert by the Gospel Aires.
Originally called the Baptist Church of Albany, the congregation received its start in 1858 on what is today the Maurice Guess farm.
Because most of the members lived within or near the city limits, the congregation erected a frame building in the 1870s on a lot now occupied by Albany High School. A tornado destroyed the building in 1883. It was rebuilt within the next few months and sold to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church to satisfy debt.
“With a new breath of life from the Holy Spirit, membership climbed to a reported 77 people in about 1885,” according to a church history. Another lot was purchased, and another church building was erected.
In 1891, the church was formally organized and constituted as First Baptist Church of Albany. It was officially incorporated about seven years later.
In early 1920, the congregation purchased the downtown Methodist Episcopal Church for $7,500 with the first services on Mother’s Day. Countless renovations later, the building remains the home of First Baptist Church.
The history references a period of short pastoral tenures and turmoil within the congregation, particularly in the mid-1920s and years leading up to the Great Depression.
“In spite of these years of internal and external conflict — and, no doubt, many more spread throughout First Baptist’s tenure — God has used His people to overcome, resulting in survival and growth of His church,” the history states. “With His guidance and patience and love, great things have and continue to happen.
The congregation purchased a parsonage in 1942, built a new one in 1956 and constructed still another one in 1978.
The congregation built an educational annex in 1950, and a new educational building was completed in 1967, complete with six classrooms, pastor’s study, church office, dining room and kitchen.
The church studied the possibility of erecting a new church facility off and on over the years, but they backed away because adequate funds were not pledged to move forward.
In the 1990s the congregation began to see its building fund grow and with it the dream of a new church facility with more than adequate space for parking on several acres.
The church adopted a building plan on June 6, 1999, and approved entering into a three-year financial campaign called Building in God’s Hands.
In 2003, the congregation approved a Building Committee recommendation to purchase an 8.2-acre tract of land, followed by extensive site preparation. In 2006, the church entered into an agreement for construction of the building exterior. A year later, the church decided to act as its own contractor for the interior phase of the construction.
Today, the new facility awaits final electrical work and other finishing touches.
The church plans to hold its Thanksgiving dinner in the spacious new fellowship hall, and still hopes to move into the finished church building by Christmas.
Photo: Pastor Leland May and his wife, Linda, pose with 82-year-old identical twins Doris (second from left) and Doloris Lee, the longest-tenured members of First Baptist Church of Albany.