MIFFLINTOWN - Early church roots in a one-room school house have spread into a wide tree of ministry that now is the First Baptist Church of Juniata County.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the congregation has a variety of activities scheduled throughout the year.
"It is truly amazing to think how God used a handful of people from a home Bible study and then a very small group at a one-room school house in 1962 to start a church," said the Rev. Ron Shupe, senior pastor. "Now it is a church that supports a multitude of missionaries that are reaching hundreds for the Gospel of Jesus Christ all over the world."
Sentinel photo by MICAIAH WISE BILGER
The sanctuary at the First Baptist Church of Juniata County will be the setting for several 50th anniversary celebrations throughout the year. The congregation first began meeting in homes and then a one-room school house before building the church.
The first church meetings began as home Bible studies in 1962 with about 17 people.
On Dec. 2, the group hosted its first Sunday school class at the Mount Pleasant School with the Rev. Cecil Palm.
Two years later, the members held a meeting to organize the church into an official body and adopt a constitution. They chose the name First Baptist Church of Juniata County, and selected Robert Miller as the first pastor.
Miller said he and his family originally planned to become missionaries to Argentina, and they spoke to the young congregation about their work.
When their missions plans fell through, the Millers came back to Juniata County to help with the new church, the pastor said.
Not long after their move, the leader of the young congregation became sick, leaving Miller to take charge.
"The first year or two, (attendance was) in the teens - including five from my own family," Miller remembered. "By the fourth year, we obviously didn't fit in that (school) building anymore."
One reason for the growth was a skinny teenager named Johnny Boxe.
Ray Baker, a long-time member, said he taught Johnny at Juniata High School. One day after class, the nervous young man invited Baker to the church's rally day service.
"We showed up, and it was a one-room school house with no facilities - there was an outhouse," Baker said. "With my wife and daughter and me, there were 17 people."
Yet, the Bakers were impressed by the warm atmosphere of friendship at First Baptist. They have been going there ever since.
"What an impact (Johnny) had on the church," Baker said.
Boxe dedicated his first paycheck to purchase the church's first lawn mower, and he paid for a group of boys to attend church camp, Baker said.
Tragedy struck the church when Boxe, still a teenager, died in a vehicle wreck. His memory lives on through the John Boxe Church Camp Fund, which pays for community youth to attend church camp every year.
In 1966, the congregation took a step forward and purchased ground along state Route 35 near Mifflintown.
At the time, old Route 22 was the most-traveled road in the county, but there were rumors of a new highway, Miller said. Foreseeing the change, Miller said he advocated for the current location along state Route 35, which later proved to be a prominent spot.
In 1967, the congregation built its first church and welcomed its second pastor, the Rev. Robert Westerberg.
In the early 1980s, the congregation had grown so much that it needed more space. The church expanded in 1981, building an office, classrooms and a kitchen.
In 1986, construction began on a new, 300-seat sanctuary. It was dedicated on Nov. 9 under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. David Wriglesworth.
In 2003 with current pastor the Rev. Ron Shupe, the congregation expanded again, this time building a Family Life Center.
During that decade, the church's ministries continued to grow with a monthly soup kitchen, outdoorsmen suppers, Released Time and AWANA.
Not long after beginning a second Sunday morning service, the church hired its first associate pastor. The Rev. Phil Persing currently serves in that role.
"The Lord has been so faithful ... in supplying the people needed and the resources to continue on full steam ahead in doing the Lord's work," Shupe said.
The theme for the 50-year celebrations is "Remember. Rejoice. Reconnect."
This Sunday, the church will welcome former Pastor Robert Miller and his family at the 8 and 10:15 a.m. services.
On July 29, Paul and Donnie Westerberg, sons of a former pastor, will visit and share memories and testimonies at 8, 9:15 and 10:15 a.m.
The church will host its last celebration during the annual fellowship dinner at 6 p.m. Dec. 8 with special guests from throughout the 50 years, special music and former pastor Wriglesworth giving his testimony. He also will preach at the Sunday services at 8 and 10:15 a.m.