The First Baptist Church of Fairmount Heights that Louise Logan, 81, currently attends is much different from the sanctuary at 59th Avenue she said was heated by a wooden stove — and lacked an indoor restroom.
“Those days they didn’t have running water in those places,” the District Heights resident said of the church outhouse.
One street over on 58th Avenue, a two-level church built 32 years ago carries the name of the church that is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding on Nov. 12, 1912. A week of guest speakers will conclude with an anniversary banquet Sunday at La Fontaine Bleu in Lanham, said Pastor Bernard Winchester Jr.
Winchester — the church’s pastor for 10 years — said he thinks the church of 350 members has lasted so long because it has “had great shoulders to stand on” in its previous leaders such as the Rev. Joseph R. Jones, who served from 1921 to 1950; the Rev. Thomas J. Andrews, from 1950 to 1960; and Rev. Joseph C. Mines, who served from 1960 to 1993.
Winchester said he was inspired by stories of congregation members selling hot dogs and cakes after service to help pay the mortgage for the current church.
The church community grew as the town around them began to flourish, said Logan, a 66-year member. As the town’s dirt roads were paved into asphalt and street lights were installed, the church moved into its second building in the 1920s at 810 58th Ave., where it remained until 1980, when the current church at 806 58th Ave. was built, said Naomi Bryant, a church historian.
While the church moved into bigger spaces, it maintained its small-town feel, Bryant said.
Bryant, 64, who joined the church in 1977, said it was the older church women — the deaconesses — who called and visited absent members and still do today. She remembers a deaconess visiting her at a hospital shortly after joining the church in the late 1970s.
“It’s not a mega church where you don’t know anybody,” said Bryant of Washington, D.C. “Everybody knows everybody.”
As a child, Logan said the elders doted on the church youth, giving gifts during holidays and organizing summer beach day trips to Sparrows Point in Baltimore County. The first Sunday of every May was “Children’s Day,” when the children took over the sanctuary of the church where their parents sat, she said.
“Coming up in the church, the adults paid a lot of attention to the children,” Logan said. “If you were disorderly in the church and a member spoke to you, you didn’t sit up and roll your eyes. You obeyed them.”
Today the church hopes to see more youth come after the last group of five graduated high school in 2012 and headed to college, Bryant said. Winchester said he is encouraged by an influx of 15 youth who joined the church in the past two months whose ages range from 7 through 15.
The church is in the middle of a $100,000 fundraising campaign that includes reopening the Baal Perazim Learning Center across the street for an afterschool tutoring program. The center closed to youth after a flood damaged the basement in 2010. The church raised $67,000 so far, Winchester said.
Winchester said he looks forward to visiting pastors, the banquet and to seeing the church family grow.
“It’s not often that you reach 100 years and we’re just thankful to God,” Winchester said. “A lot of churches don’t make it that far but we’re lucky to obtain that goal and reach that goal.”