Objects of the past

Centerville Community Baptist Church began a celebration Friday commemorating the 150th anniversary of the church’s founding. On display at the church building were many artifacts from the congregation’s history, including a replica of the original church building.

Though the roots of a tree may spread far and wide, they all connect back to the same spot. This statement is one that rings true for the members of Centerville Community Baptist Church, which began a three-day celebration on Friday to commemorate the congregation’s 150th anniversary with a picnic.

The anniversary has brought people from across the country to recognize the event. According to Linda Alexander, who helped organize the anniversary, people from Colorado, Georgia, New York, Michigan and more gathered for the celebration.

The theme for the festivities is “Rooted in Faith,” based off of a passage from Colossians, of the Bible.

“Let your roots go down into Christ, and let your lives be built in him,” the passage reads. “Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”

In keeping with the theme of roots, the church has set up many activities based upon trees. Rather than a traditional guest book, participants in the anniversary are able to leave a thumbprint with green paint on a drawn tree, with the prints meant to look like a leaf. They then sign their names next to their “leaf,” causing the tree to become fuller as more people take part.

Kate Preston, who chaired the anniversary committee, said the congregation also decorated a tree with 150 lights and 15 votive candles, the latter each standing for a decade. At the base of the tree are seven jars, symbolizing the seven founders of Centerville Community Baptist Church.

However, Preston said the anniversary goes beyond celebrating just the church itself, but the effect it has had on others.

“It needed to be a celebration, I think, to honor the work the lord has done in this community for 150 years,” she said.

In recognition of that, the church has pictures of past church members who have gone on to act as pastors in other congregations. Among them is Rev. Terry Bidwell, who pastored Titusville First Assembly Church of God from 1999 until his death in 2018.

Preston herself, who has been attending the church since before 1958 in her estimation, was inspired by Centerville Community Baptist Church to get involved with the refugee ministry, traveling to Thailand in 2009 to assist refugees traveling from Burma. So involved is she with the church that when it came time to organize the anniversary, the other members of the congregation practically pushed her into being the chair.

“They decided they wanted to celebrate the occasion and they said ‘You need to chair it,’” she said.

It took a lot of work, especially when it came to tracking down the addresses of former church members who had moved out of state, but Preston felt the effort was worth it to get as many people attending as possible.

One of those who came back to the church for the celebration is Ruth Walker-Warren, who has lived in Florida since 1981. Walker-Warren grew up attending the church and even attended seminary courses there in 1978. The skills she gained from the seminary would lead her to become a chaplain in the United States Air Force later in life.

“It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a while,” Walker-Warren said of coming back to visit the church. “No time like the present.”

Walker-Warren identified with the theme of the celebration, seeing the church as the origin for a major part of her life.

“It’s where my roots are,” she said. “They’re kind of stretched and spread out. I’d say the roots of my faith begin here.”

While many found themselves returning to Centerville Community Baptist Church for the anniversary, several of those celebrating have been there all along. Alexander’s grandfather, Rev. Charles Fuller, was the pastor of the church from 1926 to 1960. Alexander met her husband at the church, and even had the honor of having the last wedding Fuller ever pastored in the original church building.

“I don’t know anything different,” Alexander said. “It’s been a very important part of my life.”

Although the members of the church may be spread out across the country, Alexander said many of them have kept in contact “through this ugly thing, Facebook.” In fact, she said many of the church goers are related in some way or another.

“It’s one big family,” Alexander said. “If you go back far enough, we’re all connected somehow.”

While the schedule for the full celebration began lighthearted with an informal tent picnic and a campfire on Friday, things are aiming to become more solemn through the weekend. Today, at 6 p.m., the congregation will have a catered dinner in the church’s newly renovated gymnasium where Dr. David Skinner, who served as pastor from 1961 to 1971, will speak. Preston said that part of today’s events will focus on remembering the last 50 years of the church, including the many church members who died in that time frame.

The celebration wraps up on Sunday, beginning with an extended worship service at 10:30 a.m. Rev. Dr. Frank Fischkorn, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware, will speak on the future of the baptist ministry. Special music will be played during the service, and the church’s bell will be rung.

Later on Sunday, at 5 p.m., festivities will end with the church’s annual ice cream social and a silent auction, the proceeds of which will benefit American Baptist Women’s Missionaries.

Church history

For 15 weeks leading up to the anniversary celebration, pieces of Centerville Baptist Church’s history were read during services.

The church was founded on April 10, 1869, by seven people. These founders consisted of Rev. Cyrus Shreve, Rev. Bradford and his wife, Franklin Wetherbee and his wife, DAvid Wetherbee and his wife and Laura Penoyer. The seven met in a school house in Rome Township and began their plans to organize the church.

On June 30, 1869, a council of the Oil Creek Association confirmed the founding and welcomed the church to the community. Membership in the congregation grew from seven to 13, and Rev. Bradford became the first pastor.

The church finally built its own building in 1874, thanks to a land donation by Franklin Wetherbee. A total of 33 church members gathered at the dedication of the church, which was then valued at $1,575.

The first location would serve the congregation for 50 years, standing firm as membership grew and pastor after pastor served as the church’s leader.

In 1924, seeking a more centralized location in the community, the church purchased a six acre lot with a 100-year-old house on it for $1,100. Volunteers worked to move the church building to its new foundation, finally placing it on Nov. 15.

A gymnasium was added to the church’s grounds in 1928. More additions were added over the years, including a kitchen in the early 1920s, and classrooms and an auditorium converted from the basement in 1955.

During the tenure of Rev. Skinner, the church helped found Centerville Little League, providing a field for the team to play on.

The construction of the current church building began in Nov. 17, 1977, under the leadership of Rev. Chauncey E. Depew. The building was completed in around a year, with a dedication held on Nov. 19, 1978.

The most recent pastor of the church is Rev. Larry Hellein, who began his services on Feb. 26, 2017.

Ray can be reached, by email, at sray@titusvilleherald.com.

(1) comment



Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.