Homecoming in climax of week-long celebration at First Baptist of Ironton

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2003

Members of the First Baptist Church in Ironton will celebrate the church's annual homecoming the week of July 13 with a series of special events.

In so doing, they will also be celebrating a heritage that goes back two centuries, before Ohio was a state. They will be celebrating a faith that has reached across the miles to touch the lives of others far away from Lawrence County.

Church historian Virginia Bryant said the history of the Baptist faith in Lawrence County is literally older than the state itself. Baptists settled in the area in the late 1700s.

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"It happened that the first pioneers in what is now Lawrence County were Baptists," Bryant explained. "What is now First Baptist Church was established in 1814 in an area that is West Ironton, now. I'm told there were 35 charter members then."

The congregation moved to downtown Ironton in 1849 when city founders offered each church a corner lot on which to build.

It stayed on that corner of Fifth and Vernon streets until the present-day building was constructed on an opposite corner of Vernon Street in 1959. Since then, the church has grown to more than 300 active members.

Bryant said congregation members wanted to do something special for homecoming this year in honor of the state's bicentennial.

The church's heritage will be on permanent display when the members officially dedicate the new history room on homecoming Sunday, July 20. The room will have cabinets showcasing historic items, historic photographs and pieces of old church furniture. First Baptist Church pastor, the Rev. Dennis Strawn said the focus on the past is an essential part of understanding the present.

"History can tell you what you are and who you are," Strawn said.

The church's dedication to spreading the gospel will also be a focal point during the week's events.

Several people who have been instrumental in or who have been touched by the church's work in the mission field will speak or sing at special services throughout the week.

One of them is Jairo Arvizu. A native of Nicaragua, Arvizu became acquainted with the Ironton congregation through missionary work in his native country. He emigrated to The United States in 1980, and attended church there while a student at Ohio University Southern and Marshall University.

Mission work may have led Arvizu to the United States, but it was First Baptist that led him to the altar. He met his wife there. He and the former Lisa Wentz, a descendant of the church's first pastor, were married

in 1986 and they have four sons. They now live in Peoria, Ill.

Ruth Fox, another former First Baptist Church member, is now a missionary to Thailand. She will speak at a mission dinner at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 16 and at a ladies' mission meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 17 as well. The ladies' meeting is, in itself, an act of missionary work: the women at the Ironton congregation collect and send craft items to a church in Kodiak, Alaska. Proceeds help fund that church's youth programs.

Strawn said mission work will be a key theme at the homecoming service on July 20.

"We have flags from the different countries where our church has supported missions, and the youth will carry in the flags of those countries during the service," Strawn said.

"We also have 1,000 red, white and blue helium balloons, and the children have put a Bible verse inside each of them. We're going to take them outside and let them go," Mays said.

The church will also unveil its new library homecoming Sunday.

The church's music talent will also be on display during the week. On Sunday, July 13, the southern gospel group "Crucified With Christ" will open the week with a special concert. On Saturday, July 19, a concert will feature Crossing Jordan, a contemporary music quartet, church members Michael Reeves and Melissa Allen and Arvizu. Both concerts will be at 7 p.m.

Strawn said the week long celebration is meant to strengthen the ties that bind believers to each other and to the church that has been a part of the community for more than 200 years.

"We want to encourage active members and we want those who have been inactive, who haven't been to church in a while to come back," Strawn said.