george hancock stefanOn October 28, 2018, the members and friends of Central Baptist Church came together to celebrate 125 years of God's faithfulness and the faithfulness of His people. We divided the month-long celebration into four emphases. We celebrated our unity in Christ with our brothers and sisters from St. Paul Baptist Church, had a missionary speak about his family’s global involvement and impact on Missionary Sunday, and heard stories about the impact of Sunday School from the adults and children who learned there. On the last Sunday, we celebrated our Christian and denominational commitment.

When I travel around the world, I am reminded that the followers of Jesus have been around for more than 2,000 years. That longevity does not come from American Christianity, though—whether you start with Catholic monks or the Puritans, we have less than 500 years of Christian faith here. Catholics, Orthodox, and Coptic Christians can claim millennial history, but Protestantism is the young child of historic Christianity and it is still enthused, untried in many ways, and looking positively to the future.

 

In the history of this church, I am the 16th pastor. Some pastors have been here for just a few months and some have been here for a longer time. I have pastored here for one-fifth of this church's history and close to a third of my life. There were many other pastors and missionaries at our anniversary celebration, and some of them have been in the ministry longer than I have and some have just started recently.

I have shaped this church and this church has shaped me, especially as I look to its rich history and hear the stories of the people who worship here. I have met members who were baptized in 1921 and 1924 respectively. They tell stories from their childhood about the ways that things were in this church before the First World War. We have a history wall dedicated to people who fought in several wars and we have a photo of the surviving members of the 29th Regiment of New Jersey Volunteers who held a reunion on September 9, 1896 here at Central Baptist Church. There are families who have been involved in this church for generations, like the Leonards who were foundational at the church’s start. Six generations later, the family still lives nearby.

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I often mention in my prayers that this is a sacred place—it is a sanctuary because God has sanctified it by His presence. It is also a sacred place because it has been sanctified by his people who pray fervently that the name of God will be hallowed (sanctified) and that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. One time I was traveling, and a church member called me to say they had heard that there was a storm around Chicago and they prayed for me. I was their pastor and I was in their prayers as they were in mine.

There is a story that when a church installed their new pastor, one of the deacons prayed, “God, we are so thankful that you have given us a good pastor. And now dear Lord we promise that we will work so that he will become better." I have become a better prayer warrior, a better church administrator, a better Bible teacher, and a better preacher because of my time here at Central Baptist Church. My wife and children made great friends here and they were encouraged by the leaders of the church who loved them, protected them, and worked with them. I have been the pastor of a local church, but this congregation gave me the liberty to be a local, regional, and international pastor. We have grown as a church and we have sharpened one another by pleasing the Lord and enjoying His presence in our individual lives, in our families, and in the assemblies of God's people.