First Baptist Church of Sumter has served the community for the past 200 years.
"We come out of a goodly heritage," said Sue Pitts, co-chairwoman of the Bicentennial Committee.
The second co-chairwoman is Sandra Wallace.
The festivities took two years to plan. Now the committee is ready to invite others to join in the celebration. The theme is "Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past." "All was not wonderful sweetness and light, but through God's grace, we survived it all," Pitts said.
The church has been celebrating all year, starting with a heritage tea for women in the church in the spring, a tour of the mother church — the Baptist Church of the High Hills of Santee — and a children's musical program.
Another tour of High Hills is scheduled for Sept. 22, and events will take place throughout October, culminating in Celebration Sunday on Oct. 20. That event will include guided tours of the new history and archives room as well as the collection of items for a time capsule to be opened in 2063, and a luncheon. Documents on display will include items such as articles of incorporation, handwritten minutes, bills for the coal that was once used to heat the church and communications between the pastor and supplier. All displays have been laminated and framed, Pitts said.
"We are very fortunate that the people before us had an eye to save and knew how valuable history is," she said. "We are also fortunate so many have been willing to give freely of their wealth and talent."
Copies of the church's history from 1813 to 1938 will be available at no charge, and the Bicentennial Cookbook will be on sale for $10.
"This is our third cook book," Pitts said. "It includes 700 recipes, even those from members who have passed on and conferred these to us."
In 1813, a group of Sumterville citizens left the High Hills church to form their own worship congregation that would become First Baptist of Sumter.
"They sent a blessing in their letter of emancipation," Pitts said.
In 1818, construction on the congregation's first building was started on the site off East Liberty, the same place all four meeting houses have been located, Pitts said. The most recent building completed was the Family Life Center in 2004.
"A church is a living organism," she said. "We have to adapt to the changing times."
Pitts came to First Baptist in 1979, when her family moved to Sumter. The church members' friendliness is what drew her in, she said.
"Kirk Smith was pastor at the time, and I particularly liked the Sunday school program," she said.
Vicki Singleton, who is handling publicity for the Bicentennial Committee, said her family started attending almost nine years ago.
"We visited several churches, and we liked this one's worship style," she said. "Ryan Pack was the pastor then. This was the only church nursery our then 3-year-old did not cry in. That sealed the deal."
Both still love it and invite others to visit, especially during the bicentennial celebrations. "We have a lot of young couples and military families here," Singleton said. "When you are six hours from family, your church family becomes your family. They are with you in the good and bad. They celebrate and cry with you." They also would really like to see members of the nine "sister churches" that formed out of First Baptist.
"They are part of the family," Pitts said. "We welcome them to come back. We'll gladly put out chairs."
1813 A group of Sumterville townsfolk attending the Baptist Church of the High Hills of Santee broke off to form their own worship group that would become First Baptist of Sumter. 1818 Work began on a simple wooden meeting house that served this group as well as area Presbyterians and Methodists until they built their own home. 1854 A clapboard structure was completed and replaced the dismantled meeting house. 1901 Third church building to occupy same site on East Liberty Street was built. It would become known as Brown Chapel after Pastor C.C. Brown who served the church family for 40 years between 1874 and 1914. 1928 Dr. W.G. Moore became the minister at First Baptist. He led the congregation through the Great Depression, World War I and World War II. The Moore Educational Building was named for him and has been in continuous use since 1929 with renovations taking place in 1980. 1952 Children's building dedicated. 1974 The current sanctuary was first used. 1989 Brown Chapel had fallen into disrepair, and Hurricane Hugo wiped it out. God's provision would become evident, however, as the insurance proceeds from the damage allowed the church to demolish the remaining structure and initiate a capital campaign to pay off the remaining debt for the sanctuary as well as construct a new building in its place. 1994 Center building of the church campus is completed. Housing the fellowship hall, kitchen, library and additional education space, it is named Faith Building for its symbolism of God's protection and provision. 2004 Family Life Center completed. Source: First Baptist Church's Bicentennial Cookbook
Bicentennial Celebration Calendar of Events
The church is located at 107 E. Liberty St., Sumter. For more information or for tickets where applicable, call the church office at (803) 773-3732. Sept. 22 — Tour of the High Hills mother church Oct. 7 — Joy luncheon, noon in the fellowship hall. It will feature a special yet-to-be-announced guest speaker Oct. 8 — The Singing Churchmen concert will take place in the evening and features music directors from throughout the state Oct. 17 — Men's supper, gather at 6:30 p.m.; supper at 7 p.m. The featured speaker will be Dr. Roy Talbert, professor of history at Coastal Carolina, with "300 Years of Baptist History in South Carolina." Oct. 20 – Celebration Sunday; 9:30-10:15 a.m. gathering in activities building; 10:30 a.m. service; 12:30 p.m. lunch in the fellowship hall; tickets will be sold in advance at $2 a person or a maximum of $10 for a family