(Posted Nov. 19, 2020)
By Theresa Hennis, Staff Writer
In May, First Baptist Church West Jefferson, also known as FirstChurch, was poised to celebrate its 200th anniversary.
The celebration’s title, “Ringing in Hope for 200 Years,” is a nod to the church’s 150-year old bell which hung in the bell tower at one of the church’s former locations in downtown West Jefferson. The bell continues to ring from the church’s current location at 686 West Jefferson Kiousville Road SE.
The COVID-19 pandemic derailed the celebration plans, but Pastor Darrel Schick believes the celebration is secondary to the church’s mission—to dispense hope, even in dark times.
Inside the church is a wall hanging that reads, “Hope Resides Here.”
Schick said, “People come to church for two reasons: hope or help. If we can’t be hope dispensers, we’re not doing our job.”
The church has been offering hope since May 1820.
First Regular Baptist Church of West Jefferson was its original name, and its first meeting location was a log cabin at the New Hampton Cemetery.
The second church location was on North Center Street, then First Baptist Church was built in 1886 on Route 40 in downtown West Jefferson.
In 1971, Jefferson Savings bought the Route 40 building and tore it down. The parking lot of First Merit Bank is where the building once stood. The current church building, FirstChurch, was built in 1972.
For its 200th anniversary, FirstChurch had planned a weekend of festivities. They set aside a Saturday in May to present music, activities and food in a carnival atmosphere, all open to the public. On Sunday, the program was to have included a display of church pictures, tours of the newly remodeled sections of the church, a dinner, and speeches from former pastors and members.
Among those set to speak was Thomas Jones, the great-great-great grandson of Isaac Jones, the founder of West Jefferson and the pastor and founder of the historic church.
In 1999, Jones and his wife were driving through Ohio when they caught sight of the sign outside of West Jefferson that indicated the town had been founded by Isaac Jones. Jones’s wife, who is into genealogy, knew her husband was the great-great-great grandson of Isaac.
The couple went to the town hall and spoke with a woman there. When the woman found out Jones’s relationship to Isaac Jones, she called former mayor and history buff, Charlie Miller,
“As the 200-year anniversary approached, Charlie asked if I would be willing to come to the ceremony,” Jones said. “I said I was all in and would love to. Unfortunately, (because of COVID) that did not happen. We hope it will happen in 2021. I would love to celebrate something a family member got started.”
When the pandemic stole the opportunity to celebrate, Pastor Schick experienced a temporary feeling of hopelessness.
“I was talking to one of the guys at church about some of the terrible things that were going on,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Man, the world is going to hell in a hand basket.’ I really felt the Lord say to me, ‘The world is dark. Don’t curse the darkness because the darkness is just doing what the darkness does. The only way to defeat darkness is to be a better light.’”
Celebration or not, FirstChurch will continue to shine the light of hope in West Jefferson.