First Baptist Church to celebrate 185th anniversary

Thursday, October 30, 2008 | 8:13 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia's oldest church is celebrating its 185th anniversary this month. First Baptist Church will hold parties and special services, but first the church is giving back to the community and helping dedicate the Annie Fisher Food Pantry.

"It was really, really important to make sure that the key component of the anniversary celebration is service to the community," said Nancy Campbell, the church's youth ministry coordinator. "In Thailand, it is custom for a person celebrating a birthday to give gifts to others, and in celebration of our birthday, we wanted to do the same."

Church members are planning a day of service on Saturday in the area around J. W. Blind Boone Community Center, 301 N. Providence Road.

The church plans to plant more than 600 daffodil bulbs, spread mulch and engage in other landscaping activities in the area.

"We hope that the daffodil bulbs we plant will bring a cheerful environment for this spring and future springs," said Verna Rhodes, a church member and co-chair of the event.

Church members will provide storytelling, music, interactive activities, games and crafts for kids. They will also run blood pressure screenings and provide information about lung and breast cancers.

First Baptist is also inviting all of its members, as well as members of its "sister" churches — Little Bonne Femme Baptist, Memorial Baptist and Second Baptist churches — to participate.

"This is the first time that I know of that all four churches will be, in a purposeful way, providing service together," Campbell said.

The activities, which will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., will pause at 12:30 p.m. for the dedication of the Annie Fisher Food Pantry. Following the dedication, church members will serve lunch to members of the community.

The pantry's namesake, Annie Fisher, was a black woman who owned and operated a highly successful catering business in Columbia in the early twentieth century, according to previous Missourian reports. She grew the business to have the capacity in silver, china and linens to serve more than 1,000 guests. Her beaten biscuits won a first-place award in the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.

As a part of the dedication, Verna Harris-LaBoy will dress up as Annie Fisher, as she has done before for presentations to schoolchildren. LaBoy has spent years gathering information on Fisher by interviewing those who knew her.

"Others suggested that we name the food pantry Blind Boone because it is located next to the Blind Boone Community Center, but I thought we should name it for someone that more dealt more with food or hunger issues," said Ron Schmidt, director of resident services at Columbia Housing Authority.

The pantry reopened in August after making changes in its operations. It now has standardized hours. On Tuesdays, it is open from noon to 3 p.m., and it is open Thursdays 3 to 6 p.m. It also began weekly, instead of monthly, pickups from the Central Missouri Food Bank.

It is the only food pantry that operates in the public housing area downtown.

Schmidt said he is hoping for eight churches and other community organizations to adopt one three-hour time slot per month at the food pantry. He is also recruiting organizations to adopt weeks of the year to hold food drives to supplement the supplies the food pantry receives from the Central Missouri Food Bank.

"Things at the food pantry have been wonderful. We are cranking people through like crazy," Schmidt said. He said that having more volunteers would help to move people through the pantry more quickly and reduce waiting time, especially as those waiting must remain outside in the increasingly cold weather.

The pantry began in the early 2000s and operates out of a converted one-bedroom public housing unit close to the community center.

"As numbers grow, we might have to move to a bigger unit. Needing more space is a good problem to have," Schmidt said.

First Baptist has historically had ties with the food pantry through involvements such as getting members involved with Granny's House, a nonprofit organization that offers after-school activities for children living in public housing units.

On Nov. 22, 1823, 11 members organized the church at the home of Charles Hardin, the father of Missouri's twenty-second governor.  It was the first church of any denomination in Columbia, though members of Little Bonne Femme Baptist, which was founded south of town four years before, helped start First Baptist.

The church is planning other anniversary festivities Nov. 21 through 23. Events include a birthday party at the Stoney Creek Inn on Friday and a special joint traditional and contemporary service followed by a luncheon at Columbia College on Sunday. Both Friday's party and Sunday's luncheon require reservations.

The Rev. Jerry Cain, president of Judson University outside Chicago, will be the featured speaker for the worship service on Sunday.

The pastors of First Baptist's sister churches as well as Stephens College President Dr. Wendy Libby will also speak during the service. First Baptist members were instrumental in founding Stephens, and for several decades, each of the college's presidents were also members of First Baptist.

The church is inviting past members to attend as a sort of homecoming event. The church's former pastor, Dan Day, will speak during the luncheon.  

The anniversary celebration at First Baptist will be part service to the community, part homecoming, part worship service and all celebration.

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