Mission: What we do, who we are

First Baptist Church has been an active part of the community of Seymour for more than 180 years.

The church was established in 1839 with 10 members. The first physical structure of the church was completed in 1840, and the church has been housed in four buildings in the subsequent years, including buildings behind the current location of Peace Lutheran Church, another on the corner of Tipton and Walnut (the current location of Schneck Medical Center) and our current location at 505 Community Drive.

Over the years, the word church has become synonymous with the structures that house them. This is a travesty and a tragedy. While having a place to gather is an amazing privilege and a great benefit to the people of the church, a building should not be the definitive feature of the church. A church should be defined by what they believe and the actions those beliefs inspire.

Throughout the New Testament, the church is described as the body of Christ. St. Teresa of Ávila caught the essence of this truth when she wrote the following poem. She wrote, “Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

As the body of Christ, what we believe impacts what we do because our faith fundamentally changes who we are.

When I agreed to come serve as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church, it wasn’t the building that brought me here. What drew me to this church and this people in this community was the rich legacy of missional activity in the name of Jesus for the good of the community that permeates the almost 180-year history of the church. Three events in particular stand out.

In 1937, the Ohio River flooded, utterly devastating Jeffersonville and the surrounding area. According to one article, 90% of the city was under up to 10 feet of water. Tens of thousands of people were displaced by the disaster.

In response, FBC opened its facility to be used as a makeshift hospital and shelter for two months in the middle of winter to care for those displaced by the flooding. Members of the church served side by side with members of the Red Cross to care for others in their time of great need.

The church, once again, opened its doors to the community from 1941 to 1946 to serve as a hospitality center for servicemen who were stationed at Freeman Field. The church furnished spaces with home furniture and opened a “canteen.” The facility was open to all servicemen seven days a week in the afternoon and evening, including African Americans, which is noteworthy given the history of Freeman Field.

It gave the servicemen and their families and friends a place to gather, play games, eat food and seek spiritual counsel and care. The hospitality center was staffed by church members who volunteered their time and money to serve others.

More recently, from 1988 to 1990, the church housed Emerson Elementary School free of charge while the school was being remodeled. To make this possible, members would rearrange every classroom in the church following services on Sunday morning to accommodate the children and school personnel. The church also made some changes to the building itself to fit the needs of the school during that time.

The same missional ethos that defined FBC through the last 180 years is still present today. We currently host The Alley, serving hot meals to dozens in our community, providing a place for people to come and rest and be fed, both physically and spiritually. We host Celebrate Recovery programs on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. A Grief Share group meets at FBC on Tuesday mornings.

We continue to partner with the Red Cross to host blood drives. Several community agencies host board meetings in our classrooms. We host Emerson Elementary’s annual Veterans Day program. This is all in addition to our weekly worship services, Sunday school and other programing for our membership. Mission is not just what we do at First Baptist. It’s who we are.

The Bible tells us that “God so loved the world” that his son, Jesus, gave his life to provide for our salvation. But if we look at the life of Jesus, his acts of service started long before he hung on the cross. His life was defined by compassionate service to the communities in which he found himself.

The same should be true of those of us who call ourselves by his name today. Those who call themselves Christians should be known by their compassionate care for others and the way they give of themselves to meet the needs of others.

The church isn’t just a building. Sure, it is a building where the church is educated and equipped, but the church is really a people that does the work of Jesus. We are the body of Christ. It’s not just what we do. It’s who we are.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected]