On March 28, 1893, a group of 34 people held a worship service in a chapel on Abelmarle Street, near the corner of Front Street, in north St Paul. This was the first service in the history of what was to become Central Baptist Church. At its founding, the church was named the Second Swedish Baptist Church, and by 1899 the church had outgrown the little chapel on Abelmarle Street and moved to a new building at the corner of Rice and Fuller, where the church worshipped for the next 14 years. Having outgrown that building, and sensing the need to move west, a new building was constructed at the corner of Shields and Roy (at the cost of $28,000!!!). This building was dedicated on December 7th, 1913, and the church was renamed the Central Swedish Baptist Church, a name that was amended a few years later to Central Baptist Church when services, which had been in Swedish, were changed to English.
2018 marks the 125th anniversary of Central Baptist Church. God has been good to Central, and Central has been a faithful witness to God’s goodness. Over the years Central has gone through many changes and transitions, through seasons of growth and challenge, of heartbreak and sorrow, of joy and celebration. We have gathered to celebrate weddings, have rejoiced at the birth of babies, and have mourned the loss of loved ones who have passed away. We have gathered to pray, to laugh, to fellowship together, to have youth group overnighters and 55 Alive potlucks and choir practice and Dorcas group and Wednesday night dinners. We have supported missionaries serving all over the globe, and have sent teams to visit and work with numerous missionaries. The history of Central is a history of a community of faithful presence, a church body that has lived out the Gospel in word and deed.
To mark the 125th Anniversary of Central, we will be gathering on the weekend of April 27-29, a weekend that will include times of worship, celebration, and prayer as we give thanks to God for the past 125 years, and ask Him for His guidance as we pursue the future of Central. I want to invite each one of you to join us for this celebration, whether you are a current attender or have a past connection to Central. You will be receiving an invitation with the schedule of events a bit closer to the time, but be sure to mark this weekend on your calendar and plan on being part of this celebration, as we look back to God’s past faithfulness so that we might look forward to what He has for us in the future.
We sit at an important juncture in our life as a church. The Midway is undergoing tremendous change. The soccer stadium is bringing a great deal of attention, energy, and investment to our area. People who want to live near the Green Line and the new development taking place are moving into the area as new housing is built. Property developers are exploring the possibilities of redevelopment, not just on the site of the stadium, but all around the Midway, including our side of Snelling. We have great possibilities and challenges ahead. What does the future hold for Central? What is next for this 125-year-old congregation? Will we thrive in the future? Will we take advantage of the opportunities that the changes in the Midway put before us?
Think about those 34 people who gathered in 1893. What was in their hearts as they met on that day? What was their vision for this new church community they were founding? What challenges were they facing? What opportunities were they hoping to seize? What risks were they taking in establishing a church? And could they have had any idea that 125 years later, in a very different time, with very different opportunities and challenges, in a very different St Paul than the one they inhabited, that their church would still be gathering to worship? What would they want for us? How would they encourage us in our time?
I imagine that if we could sit with them and seek their wisdom, they would encourage us toward two fundamental things: First, they would call us to remain faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to proclaim and live out God’s Word by loving one another and loving our neighbor, by serving the poor and needy, and by calling all people into a deepening love for Jesus that overflows in a love for our neighbor. Second, they would call us to seize the opportunities before us by having big faith, by taking risks like they did, by praying with faith for God’s wisdom and guidance, and by believing that, amid a time of great change and the challenge that change brings, the God who has guided this church for 125 years will continue to be with us and guide us as we dedicate ourselves to follow Him. Amen.