ABOUT US : Our History
First Baptist Church of Washington, Pennsylvania was regularly constituted October 14, 1814, with eleven charter members, after having been in existence as a Mission since 1811. All of the members were from Amity, Pa.—seven from North Ten Mile Baptist Church, and the other four from Mt. Hermon Independent Baptist Church, both in existence since the late 1700s.
Rev. Charles Wheeler, the first pastor of First Baptist, supported himself chiefly by teaching school in the "Brick Academy," which was a building located at the rear of Lot 77 on West Wheeling Street. The first meeting house of the congregation, a large log cabin structure, was built a few years later on the front of the lot. Rev. Wheeler's wife assisted him in teaching at the Academy because as a pastor, he was conscientiously opposed to accepting a stated salary for his services.
He was an Andover Theological Seminary classmate of fellow Baptist Adoniram Judson, Sr., who was one of the first ever missionaries to travel overseas from North America. Rev. Wheeler was a man of unusual ability, who brought much religious and cultural development to Washington area. His pastorate of twenty-four years was, by far, the longest of any minister called to serve First Baptist’s congregation.
The church grew by leaps and bounds in the first part of the 19th century, assisted by the transition of Washington from a pioneer town to a settled farming community. In 1841, a “Great Revival” was held with “Brother” Collins of Hamilton, New York, resulting in 109 new members through baptism and by letter. In 1858, the church joined the Pittsburgh Baptist Association (PBA), a membership which, to date, has lasted over 150 years. In October 2005, the PBA merged successfully with the American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware, a modern creation of the Pennsylvania Baptist Convention.
The national American Baptist organization, formed in 1814 as the Triennial Baptist Convention, split in 1845 after Northern members decided they could no longer appoint candidates for service if they owned slaves. Southerners disagreed and began the Southern Baptist Convention. First Baptist remained locally organized, but by the end of the Civil War, the church, like the nation, also was foundering. A decade-long pastorless period had depleted its numbers until, in 1871, when a new minister was finally called, there were only 11 members — the same amount which had founded the church 57 years before.
The few members that had held on through that war-torn time found themselves growing stronger in both faith and fellow believers as the end of the century arrived. In the 1890s, the church was reorganized and incorporated with 75 members, and a second church building on East Wheeling was dedicated. By the turn of the century, a “West End Mission” was begun, and in 1902 it was formally constituted as Broad Street Baptist Church. Fifty-six members were dismissed to form this new congregation. In 1955, Broad Street Baptist formed the Calvary Baptist Church branch, now an independent Baptist congregation in North Franklin Township.First Baptist also dismissed 23 members to form the Allison Avenue Baptist Church, which recently became Abundant Life Baptist Church and currently resides in South Strabane Township. Broad Street Baptist Church and First Baptist remain closely connected to this day. In 1907, the various Northern Baptist associations and societies, the Pittsburgh Baptist Association among them, joined together formally to form the Northern Baptist Convention, of which First Baptist became a member.
The 20th century brought great changes and prosperity to both the country and First Baptist Church. In 1914, a Centennial Celebration was held, with First Baptist and its two sister churches reporting a whopping total of 1,122 members. By the late 1910s, the congregation of First Baptist, which was now over 400 members, was outgrowing its church building. They found space for a new one at the corner of College and Wheeling Streets. First Baptist’s third and current church building was dedicated June 14, 1931. The ten-year project, which included everything from the purchase of the lot down to the furnishings, cost the congregation $176,980.64. During the Great Depression, the ladies of the church served luncheons to help with the mortgage payments.
After WWII, First Baptist Church became known for both its social events and missions work. In 1964, the church observed its 150th anniversary with a massive pageant attended by over 1,200 people and presented by Trinity High School. The 1976 bicentennial celebration and 162nd anniversary of the church’s formation was an opportunity to hold a special “old-style” church service led by Dr. Chester J. Jump, Jr., from American Baptist Churches, USA, formerly named the Northern Baptist Convention. In 1977, a member of the church established the now-worldwide American Baptist program, the Retired Ministers and Missionaries Offering, seeing a need to help, in their old age, those whose lives had been dedicated to serving others. The the Pittsburgh Baptist Association's annual meeting was hosted in the church with a banquet for 550 people in 1981.
The 1990s were a time of social conscience and change. A special "Desert Storm Prayer Service" for the U.S. Army Reserve 650th Transportation Company and their families was held in 1991, with community members and local news stations filling the church to capacity. A “Witness for America IX” service, that followed fellow American Baptist Martin’s Luther King, Jr.’s appeal for racial equality, was held in 1997. A vibrant American Baptist Girls group began, culminating in the annual regional "House Party" being held at First Baptist that same year.
Today, First Baptist Church continues to be a powerful center of mission work in Western Pennsylvania. The church's congregation gives of both its time and energy to serve and spread the Word of God outside its walls, while maintaining a sacred space of worship and a loving community of faith within.