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June 21, 2014

ENDURING FAITH: First Baptist Church celebrates 175 years in Jeffersonville

JEFFERSONVILLE — What’s kept First Baptist Church alive for so many years is more than brick and mortar — it’s the people who have gathered and worshipped within.

“You’ve got people who have been there through thick and thin,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Jerry Smart.

First Baptist is celebrating its 175th anniversary Sunday with a 10:30 a.m. service followed by a luncheon and a display of historical items at 1 p.m.

The church was founded in 1839 with its first building on the corner of Pearl and Market streets. By 1893, First Baptist had 258 members. Its current location is at 2402 E. 10th Street in Jeffersonville.

Allie Reed, who has been a member of the church since 1958, said she has seen First Baptist go through many changes. One of the most significant changes was an expansion of the building in 2004 that included a new sanctuary, prayer room and multipurpose room.

“The best [change] to me is that our minister came 25 years ago and is still here,” Reed said of Smart. “We all just love him. He was very young when he came ... To me, he’s the best thing that’s happened to our church.”

Smart said he has been blessed to be a part of one congregation, which numbers 508, for so long.

“Somewhere between the seventh and 10th years, for me it stopped being a job and it became part of my family,” the pastor said. “Now when I do weddings, I really celebrate, and when I do funerals, I really do grieve.”

A sense of family has remained at First Baptist amidst its changes throughout the years, Reed said.

“I think [the members are] always friendly,” she said. “I don’t think that will ever change because we love each other.”

Smart said that he hopes the church will always remain inclusive to people from different backgrounds.

“We hope it will always be a source for all people,” he said.

In his 25 years, the pastor has learned that the success of a church doesn’t always have a numerical value attached to it.

“Something else I’ve learned is endurance,” Smart said. “You just don’t give up. You learn to measure success by different tools.”

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Amy Harpenau is the new director of theater arts at New Albany High School. Harpenau is a 2007 graduate of Floyd Central High School, has appeared on stage at both high schools and worked in theaters since she graduated college.

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