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First Baptist celebrates 125 years

March 05, 2007|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN - When Jimmy Carter showed up one Sunday at Hagerstown's First Baptist Church during his presidency, Scott Johnston said he was determined he was going to shake the chief executive's hand.

"I actually got in line several times to shake the president's hand that day," Johnston said.

A youth at the time of Carter's visit, Johnston, 46, is a member at Maugansville Baptist Church.

Many such memories will be shared over the next few weeks as the church at 15 High St. celebrates its 125th anniversary, said Thom Smith, the pastor of First Baptist.

Smith, who has been serving the church as senior pastor since 2002, said Carter was one of two presidents who popped in on First Baptist for Sunday services when they were at Camp David over a weekend.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was the other who worshipped at the church.

"For one, there was advance notice but the other was unexpected," Smith said of the presidential visits.

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Through the years, the congregation has moved several times and grown in size as well as influence within the community. First Baptist started Paramount Baptist Church, Virginia Avenue Baptist Church and West End Baptist Church, Smith said.

On Saturday, there was an anniversary banquet at the church that featured special music and a speaker. The Rev. Dan Taylor, who served the church from 1969 to 1982, spoke at Sunday's service.

On March 11, the Rev. David Burt, director of missions for the Blue Ridge Baptist Association, will be in the pulpit.

Former Pastor Eddie Blackman, who served two years in the 1990s, is the speaker for the March 18 service.

Smith will be the speaker March 25. At 6 p.m. that Sunday, the Wilson family from Front Royal, Va., will be in concert.

"We are also having services every Wednesday in March," Smith said. That includes a March 7 concert featuring Karen Knight at 7 p.m.

The church's history began March 1, 1882, when a group of local worshippers decided to form a Baptist church in Hagerstown. The first meeting was at Lyceum Hall on West Washington Street.

For 10 years, the church had no permanent home. Services were in private homes and the old post office on Franklin Street.

There was a brief stay in an old Methodist church on Jonathan Street after which the members returned to the post office.

In the late 1880s, a corner lot on Washington and High streets was purchased. A few years later, several homes on Washington Street were bought to expand the church.

The first Moller pipe organ was installed in 1940 as the church continued to expand, both in size and number of members.

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