History of the First Baptist Church of Morristown
The church was organized in 1752.
Eleven members of the Piscataqua Baptist Church (now Stelton Baptist) had journeyed from the Morristown area for church attendance. They, along with six newly baptized, formed the Baptist Church in Morristown.
The first pastor, John Gano, was granted leave from the church to visit newly organized Baptist churches in North Carolina. Later, he was probably the most outstanding chaplain during the Revolutionary War.
Hezekiah Smith was Gano's first convert and later became known as the Apostle to New England because of the number of churches he nurtured. He was also a Revolutionary War Chaplain. At the end of the 19th century, Samuel Batten worked with Walter Rauschenbusch in New York City in the early days of the social gospel.
During Walter Greenwood's pastorate, men's and women's Sunday school classes were organized and expanded. There was remodeling of the church basement and open membership was instituted.
Under Russell Barbour in the 1940's, the structure of the church organization was made broader and more reflective of the membership. Under his guidance, two displaced families were brought to the area. There was remodeling of the basement area and sanctuary.
William Webster, in the 1960's and 70's, instituted or enlarged several opportunities for increasing the fellowship of church members that contributed to the "family" feel of the congregation which continues.
Through three generations, the Howell family was highly respected for their counsel with the church and community. They were active in the Sunday school movement, the hospital, YMCA and the Board of Education. They were actively interested in the church and have been our best source for written history.
Dr. George Kelsey was a member of the church and contributed his time and talent to it, Drew University and society at large.
Charles Oehley held most positions in the church from boards and committees to church secretary, Sunday school teacher, youth leader, etc.
The Bonifaces are another family whose third generation continues to contribute to the church in various ways. They have had leadership roles on various boards and organizations as well as caring for the maintenance and appearance of the church.
The mission activities described in the previous section have continued throughout the history of the church. The activities have become more local. In 1977, the congregation cooperated in starting a soup kitchen. In the last 10 years, the church started a food pantry which has been expanded into a community wide organization. Also, a daytime homeless drop-in center was started and has grown into a separate organization which is again housed at the church.
First Baptist Church of Morristown has a long history of community involvement which dates back to its beginning in 1752. We have been at our current location since 1892. First Baptist of Morristown continues to be a worshipping and active church. We have an active adult choir, a small but active Women's Society and various other programs throughout the year. We support the local Soup Kitchen, Food Pantry, and the Baptist Home in Newark. We provide space for "Our Place, Inc.", a drop-in center for the homeless. Church members travel anywhere from a few blocks to 30 miles to attend our church services and other activities. We are governed by a Diaconate which consist of the officers, committee chairpersons and members at large. We support the ABCUSA and ABCNJ and participate in association, state and national programs, whenever possible.
In May 2000, we experienced a devastating fire which destroyed the entire interior of the building. There was difficulty with the builder so that progress was halted for many months. This aggravated the stress in decision making, etc. Being a small congregation, the decision to rebuild or disband was a major turning point with little consideration being given to the latter.
Fortunately, the outer stone structure and tower were not destroyed. For over 3 years, we had worked toward the return to our church building, in which we rested most of the chu ch to its original look. The Building Committee, with the cooperation of the insurance company, did ot skimp on cost because they believed we owed it to the people in the area to maintain the hist ric construction quality. Consequently, the slate roof was replaced with true slate, the stained glass windows were of the closest quality possible to match the originals, etc. We were also able to make s me additions and upgrade the facility.
Anniversaries have made for our major celebrations. The 1S0th, 200th, and 225th years' celebrations stretched over several days. The 100th anniversary of the present church building was also celebrated as the 240th anniversary of the congregation. In 2002 we celebrated our 250th anniversary of the congregation.