21Country: First Baptist Church of Fort Wayne celebrates bicentennial year

Earliest worship service organized by Rev. Isaac McCoy Aug. 3, 1822
Updated: Aug. 2, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - Since 1950, First Baptist Church of Fort Wayne has sat steadfast, near the intersection of Fairfield and Pierce Avenues. But its history long pre-dates that location. In fact, the congregation is preparing a bicentennial celebration, marking 200 years of service in the city.

Nancy Noak has attended the church for a quarter of its existence. “My husband and I have been here since 1973 so, pretty darn near fifty years!” she told us. “The people of this church are overtly friendly. They take you under their wing, they want you to know more about God and Christ, and they’re willing to help you with anything that’s come into your life.”

18-year-old Colin Haines began attending First Baptist Church when his grandparents brought him weekly. “I’ve been going here as long as I can remember… before I can remember,” he said. But you won’t see him in the pews — he’s responsible for audio and tech during the service, and occasionally plays music up front. “We’re very small but, we just have a good sense of community and togetherness. It feels like a family when I’m here.”

Rev. Peter Janzen currently leads the church, as an interim pastor. Though it has only been three months since he began helping the congregation begin to transition to finding a permanent preacher, he’s filled in, and spoken numerous times at the church. “First Baptist has been a place of nurture, of growth in their spiritual life,” he described. “There’s that sense of camaraderie and a joy of being together.”

A monument attached to the rear entrance of First Baptist Church by the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society reads: The first assembly of any faith or creed in the Fort Wayne area, organized by Rev. Isaac McCoy, missionary to the Indians. The church was formally organized with eleven charter members on August 3, 1822, then was reorganized March 4, 1837. The congregation located at this fourth site on January 8, 1950.

Meeting at the fort, McCoy led the first congregation, which included Europeans, African-Americans, and Native Americans. Two granddaughters of Chief Little Turtle were baptized, as well as a freed slave. But because the reverend was a missionary, he left Fort Wayne and traveled to other states continuing his work. When First Baptist Church was revived in 1837, worshippers had their own building to meet in, and they’ve continued ever since.

From a small framed structure, to large buildings downtown, First Baptist Church has changed drastically over the centuries. The current building on 2323 Fairfield was built 72 years ago, and an expansion was added in 1967. As the congregation grew, so did their outreach. Former members founded area churches which include: South Wayne Baptist Church, Memorial Baptist Church, Liberty Hills Baptist Church, Immanuel Church, and Faith Baptist Church.

In 2009, when South Wayne Baptist Church closed, it merged with First Baptist Church, and South Wayne’s head pastor would lead both through the transition. To be more welcoming to both congregations, First Baptist Church changed its name to Fort Wayne Baptist Church. This year, the congregation revered that decision, becoming First Baptist Church of Fort Wayne once again, to celebrate its bicentennial year.

And like its early roots, the church has been intertwined with other cultures. McCoy’s earliest influences were missionaries who shared their faith to those in Burma. Today, First Baptist Church shares it’s building with the Burmese Christian Fellowship. Thought the congregation is small, it remains generous. Since 2019, they’ve also been a place for the Fort Wayne Boys and Girls club to operate some of their programming out of. Pastor Janzen says dozens of their members produce hundreds of donations through Operation Christmas Child.

Still around two centuries after McCoy’s first meeting, Janzen realizes no churches are immune to closing their doors for good, though he’s always hopeful for the future. “Every church has a life cycle — there’s a beginning, and that’s what we’re celebrating, there’s middle, and then there’s an end,” he explained. “If you look at the New Testament, there’s all kinds of churches that got letters from Paul. There’s only one of those churches that’s alive today.”

“I hope that this 200-year anniversary will be a clear marker of what the mission and purpose is for the future,” Janzen added. “The history has been about mission, and it continues to be about mission.”

“This church has stood the test of time,” Noak shared. “And with the help of a dedicated congregation we will continue to be a part of this community.”

Several special events are planned this year, including:

  • 200th Year Celebration (Aug. 3 at 4 p.m. — 2323 Fairfield Ave.)
  • Church Service at the Historic Old Fort (Sept. 25 at 10 a.m. — 1201 Spy Run Ave.)
  • International Connection Celebration/Combined Church Service with Burmese Christian Fellowship (Oct. 16 at 11:45 a.m. — 2323 Fairfield Ave.)

You can find more information about First Baptist Church of Fort Wayne, upcoming events, and its history here.

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