By SARA ARTHURS
BLUFFTON — Riley Creek Baptist Church will mark 150 years at a March 24 celebration.
The church was founded by families attending the First Baptist Church in Ada, who found that “the distance of seven miles and often impassable roads” required a need to create a house of worship closer to home, according to a written history of the church.
A log house on Hancock County 12, three-quarters of a mile from the current location, served as the first meeting place from 1869 to 1871. The church then built a 30-by-45-foot brick structure in 1871, then another building in 1909, which was used until it was demolished in May 2004 to construct a new sanctuary.
A 40-by-72-foot steel-framed structure, “affectionately called the ‘Annex,'” was dedicated in October 1962. Originally built as an educational unit, the structure is now used primarily as the church fellowship hall. The present educational wing was completed and dedicated in 1992.
The present sanctuary was dedicated on July 17, 2005.
Realizing the need for a home for their pastor, the congregation “purchased a ready-cut house from Lewis Lumber Company, Bay City, Michigan, and erected it as a parsonage with volunteer labor.” The parsonage was dedicated Nov. 20, 1947.
That parsonage is now inhabited by the Rev. Dave Lanquist, who at 17 years of service is First Baptist’s longest-serving pastor.
Located at 4950 Orange Township 27, at the corner of Hancock County 12, the church has a Bluffton mailing address and a Jenera phone number. Lanquist said most parishioners come from Bluffton or Jenera, but there are people who come to the church from Ada, and from as far as McComb or Findlay.
The church has about 80 or so people attending. It’s “a good mix” of ages, from families with young children up to seniors, although there are “not a lot of teens, unfortunately.” The church has a nursery for toddlers under 2 years old and a “junior church” for older children.
“There’s a sense of community” and “close fellowship” in the congregation, Lanquist said.
Lanquist said the church is special because of “a closeness among the fellowship here” and a sense of family — but it is not closed to outsiders. When newcomers show up, they say they “feel welcomed,” he said.
And, he said, the congregation is generous. When the church was rebuilt, it was funded by its membership, and they were able to pay off the mortgage two years ago. It was “a big commitment,” but the building needed to be replaced, he said.
Lanquist said the church’s emphasis is on “preaching the Bible, not deviating from Scripture,” and that the message will be “faithful to the word.” The church is affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, or GARBC.
Lanquist’s own presence there was an experience of “God opening doors.”
He was living in Massachusetts, was out of the ministry, and was looking for a new place to serve. He taught a Sunday school program, and a pastor who lived in Michigan happened to be there visiting family. The pastor took Lanquist’s resume and, about a year later, “out of the blue,” Riley Creek called, having learned of Lanquist from the GARBC office in Michigan.
“God works in his time,” Lanquist said.
The pastor’s wife is a native of Michigan, and moving to Ohio brought the couple closer to her family. He was also attracted to the idea of a rural community as a place to bring up their children, who were in second, third and ninth grades when the family moved.
Lanquist grew up in a city the size of Findlay and had never lived in the country before. He said there was some culture shock when he moved to the country church, but “it intrigued me.” There are things he misses about city life, but he’s glad to be where he is.
As the longest-serving pastor in the church’s history, what’s kept him here all this time?
“I love the church,” he said. “I love the area. I’ve come to love the people.”
Lanquist said the congregation has taken good care of him and his family, including his now-adult children.
The anniversary celebration will be held March 24, beginning with Sunday school at 9:30 a.m.
Teens and adults are usually separated, but will be combined for a hymn sing, Scripture reading and music “just to give praise and thanks for all God has done.”
Chuck Pausley, state representative for GARBC, will speak at the 10:30 a.m. service. A dinner will follow, open to the public. Pausley will also speak at an afternoon service at 2 p.m.
For the next 150 years, Lanquist expects the church to “continue faithfully preaching God’s word.”
He hopes to see the church grow, too, and perhaps some more people going out as missionaries. But mostly the goal is to “just continue to be faithful.”
If you come to the church for the first time, “You will hear the word of God preached here” and “applied to your heart,” Lanquist said. You will “feel welcomed and loved here. … It’s just a good fellowship.”
Sunday school is held at 9:30 a.m. every Sunday, with worship at 10:30. Sunday evening service is at 6 p.m. A Bible study and prayer is held at 7 p.m. every Wednesday.