By Martha Stromberg
On Sunday, June 26, the First Baptist Church of Erwin will observe Celebrate 200, a bicentennial celebration of the church’s history and heritage.
The church’s origins date back to June 22, 1822, when the Indian Creek Church was admitted to the Holston Baptist Association. That first congregation met in a log building on the west side of the Indian Creek in the area which later became known as Canah Chapel.
In 1892, as Unicoi County and Erwin began to grow, the congregation built and moved into a white frame church building near the courthouse, at the corner of Church and Tucker Streets and became known as the Erwin Baptist Church.
By 1915, the church had outgrown that building and the congregation built a new brick building on the corner of Main and Love Streets. By then, the church was no longer the only missionary Baptist church in the county, so the name was again changed with the church becoming official known as the First Baptist Church.
In 1958, more property was acquired and the larger current sanctuary and education wing were added to the church facility.
Over the years, First Baptist has started missions that have led to the establishment of several other Erwin and Unicoi County churches including Flag Pond in 1841, Shallowford in 1852, Lilydale in 1917 and Pleasant Hill in 1924. Lilydale and Pleasant Hill later united to form Calvary Church.
In 1925 First Baptist members helped to form and provide a building for Ninth Street Church and in 1938 the Hulen Avenue Mission was begun. That mission continued until it became an independent church in 1968.
Other churches have been started by these churches, making First Baptist not only a “mother church,” but a “grandmother” as well.
Members are hoping that the anniversary celebration will also be like a family reunion, celebrating common history with these other local congregations.
The celebration began Sunday morning, June 19, when former Pastor Tony Rutherford, who served from 2002 until 2011, brought a message recognizing the long history of the church. Sherrill Gibson, former director of music and education, honored the congregation through instrumental and vocal offerings. Members and visitors participated in the unveiling of Heritage Hall, which celebrates the church’s history through visual images representing milestones of church history from the past up to the present day. A written history and a slideshow of past events were also unveiled on that day.
The celebration will continue Sunday, June 26, with a service at 10:30 a.m. during which former pastors will speak.
Ray Sorrells, who served from 1991 to 1998 and 2011 and 2012, and interim pastors, Bryan Moore and William Ireland, will speak during the service.
Rev. Tim Ta, who was ordained while serving as youth minister at First Baptist, will also take part in the service.
A meal will be served on the church campus at noon.
The congregation will celebrate the return of other former church staff and members, as well as ministers who began their ministerial service through ordination by this congregation.
There will also be tours of the church, featuring the Chapel in the restored 1915 building, the newly renovated 1958 building, the Main Street Market food pantry and history displays in the Heritage Hall and the Library.
Following the lunch, a Celebration Through Music will be held at 2 p.m. This event will include special instrumental music and hymn singing. All members of the community are welcome to attend either or both services.
Current pastor Koby Strawser and the First Baptist members have adopted the new slogan, “In Christ for Community, In Community for Christ.”
Whether one is a member of another congregation in town or has recently arrived in Erwin and is looking for a place to worship, everyone will be welcome to Celebrate 200 with the congregation at First Baptist Church.