Belfast Baptist maintains country witness
BELFAST—It’s been faith, fellowship, and family for 120 years, and Belfast Baptist Church has just begun.
Belfast Baptist recently celebrated its 120th anniversary with a service filled with the things the church was founded on—faith, fellowship, and family. The quaint rocked building stands in the middle of Belfast, a small rural community just west of Neosho. The area is predominately country homes and farms, and once boasted a school for the children in the area. The church has deep roots in the community, and has worked hard to bring the Gospel of Christ to the area through actions and words.
Belfast Baptist Church was started on May 29, 1887. Seven members from neighboring First Baptist Church, Neosho, met in the Belfast schoolhouse with the intention of beginning a church in the area. The spirited group of church planters elected the first pastor, held a service, and the little church was born. Five months later, the congregation welcomed Sister Wade, the first person to be saved and baptized by the fellowship. By the end of the first year there were 29 members recorded in the ledger.
The church members busied themselves with worship services and community projects, and by 1892, the congregation was established enough to build their own building. One acre was deeded to the church for as long as the land was used for church purposes. A wooden building was erected on the plot, the same place where the building stands today. Shortly after moving into the building, the church was officially named Belfast Baptist.
The church has been through several periods of growth, which is mirrored in the transformation of the building. The main sanctuary was rocked in 1941, additional classrooms were built in 1957, and a new wing that included at large fellowship hall was completed just a few years ago.
Fred Shellenberger, Belfast’s pastor for the last 25 years, reflected on the church’s expansion.
“We started to see the church grow about three years after we came,” he said. “There were only nine of us when we started…and there are only four of us that are left out of the original group. There have been many new members and others have gone on to be with Jesus.” Today the church has 78 members on the roll.
Joan Sullivan, who has been on the membership rolls the longest, thinks that even though the building has changed, the values of the church remain consistent.
“The fellowship of the church has remained strong throughout the years,” she said. “Lovingkindness is evident in each member and we believe in helping people that need help.”
On May 20, Belfast Baptist held its anniversary celebration on the premises. Shellenberger gave a sermon and Shoal Creek Baptist Association Director of Missions Tommy Blair reflected on the history of the church. Refuge, a local gospel group, held a concert also. More than 100 people were in attendance, including members of the community and families of past church members. The church looks forward to continuing the mission started by its founding members.
Through celebrating the stepping stones in the church’s history, there is an anticipation of bringing even more people to the Lord. Shellenberger reflected on the excitement of the congregation after the baptistery was installed.
“One of my favorite memories of the last 25 years has been when we got the first baptistery put in and we had the first baptism four or five years ago,” he said.
The church keeps reminders of its past as an encouragement to look to the future.
“There is a chandelier that was hung in the sanctuary in 1894 that is still hanging today,” Sullivan said. “There are also three original lamps we keep as reminders of our history and mission.”
And with those lamps serving as a reminder, Belfast Baptist Church presses on to keep the light of Christ burning in the Belfast community—for another 120 years.