The First Baptist Church of Havre is a small church. When you get 75 people in, it’s crowded.
But it celebrates its 100th anniversary this weekend, and many longtime members are looking back at what the church means to them and how it has changed their lives.
“It’s a dear place,” said Joyce Shortell, who has been a member for 62 years and had three children baptized and two daughters married at First Baptist. “When I go into the church, it’s like going back to when I was with my children.”
“To me, it is still a sweet place,” she said.
The church will celebrate Saturday at Pepin Park with a series of events.
Joyce will join with other members of the church to celebrate a century of service to God and community.
The church was built as the First Presbyterian Church in 1906, probably somewhere near the present Helmbrecht Studio on 4th Street. But when the Presbyterians built their present church, they sold the old building to the newly formed Baptist church. The congregation moved the building to its present location.
The building survived the move, but some things were changed on it, including the location of the distinctive steeple.
Longtime members say the church has changed a lot over the last century, but one thing has remained the same — there is a sense of family among the congregation.
“It’s a family, and that gives honor to God,” said Pastor John Chapman, who has been the pastor for 14 years.
In the early days, church records indicate people came from as far away as Hingham, said Kim Bowker. Today, the membership is almost exclusively Havreites.
“Today everybody can get to church in five minutes,” she said. “Can you imagine what it took in the old days?”
The first pastor is listed as F.O. Hess, who preached for the first time 99 years ago Sunday.
Joyce said she is looking forward to talking to previous pastors who are returning for the celebration.
Paul Reeder, who was pastor during the 50th anniversary celebration, now lives in Billings and will return, Chapman said. Samuel Simpkins, who served during the 1970s, and Jim Rogers, from the 1990s, will also take part in the ceremonies. The three pastors will reflect on their service during the special Sunday service.
Over the years, there have been a number of pastors and a number of arrangements for preaching at Sunday services, they said.
For 18 months before Chapman arrived in 1998, Ken Greene was the supply pastor at the Presbyterian, Baptist and Episcopalian churches.
And Joyce said that when the church was in between pastors, church activities would go on without a beat.
“Lay people would preach on Sunday,” she said.
Because the church is so small, Joyce said, everybody has a role to play.
She taught Sunday school for many years, and helped with a group of people who would clean the church because they couldn’t afford a janitor. Others would volunteer to do clerical work.
She recalled raising money to buy the first organ.
“After a few years, it wore out and we had to get another one,” she said.
Her voice becomes more somber as she recalls people who have died.
“A lot of good people are no longer with us,” she said. When she first joined the church in 1950, she talked about the early days with one of the founders, one of whom told her of the days before the church was built when Baptist services were held in a building, long gone, across 1st Street from the Park Hotel.
Like most churches, the number of people attending services weekly has declined somewhat.
But Bowker is optimistic about the future.
The congregation remains close-knit, and it is active in the greater Havre community.
The church tithes its donations — meaning that 10 percent of the money collected each Sunday goes to a community project. Money goes to groups ranging from the Havre Food Bank to Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen, KXEI Christian Radio, Branded By Fire Ministries, the Hi-Line Pregnancy Resource Center and numerous other groups.
Twice a year, the church has a chili feed and a spaghetti feed for other projects, such as Space for Grace, the effort to build a chapel at Northern Montana Care Center.
Here is a list of activities planned for this weekend for the people of the First Baptist Church and friends:
• 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.: There will be a Pepin Park picnic for members, family and friends. There will be barbecue pork sandwiches, hot dogs, salads and cake. A band will be playing live music for the first hour and a special presentation will follow.
• 4 to 5:30 p.m.: Tours of First Baptist Church. There will also be some memorabilia set out to look at.
• 6:30 to 8 p.m.: There will be an open house with cookies at the parsonage for anyone to take the tour of the house, as well as hang out and listen and tell stories or just fellowship together.
• 10 a.m.: There will be a brunch at the church.
• 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: A special 100-year church service with previous pastors and a presentation of a 100th anniversary plaque from the American Baptist state representative.
• Immediately following church, a picture will be taken out front of the church on the steps as has been done for the past years, 75th and 50th celebrations.
• Following the picture, there will be cake downstairs and anniversary mementos given out.