SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — First Baptist Church of South Orange celebrated its 120th anniversary at the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel on Nov. 28 with special guest CeCe Winans, the 10-time Grammy Award winner of Gospel and R&B fame. The event emcee was Liz Black, the host of radio station WBLS Sunday morning Gospel hour show and the voice of Gospel 360.
The First Baptist Church of South Orange, built in 1895 on the cornerstone of serving the needs of the community is rooted in a lineage of progressive activism and is the first church to open its doors to the black community.
The 120th anniversary celebration was created as a part of a capital campaign to raise funds for a much-needed expansion of the church building. Delighted to have Winans at the black-tie affair, Senior Pastor Terry Richardson said, “We were all very excited to have CeCe as our featured psalmist as we celebrate such a significant turning point in our church history. The crowd was moved by her songs of praise and love plus it was a lot of fun!”
Indeed, it was a fun time and there was a joyful noise of song and praise that infiltrated the room. On the heels of Thanksgiving, with Winans singing “Alabaster Box” and “Waging War” and inspirational words spoken by the guest speakers and the evening’s emcee, Liz Black, the occasion was made even more festive with selected performances by the choirs of the church.
Honoring the church’s legacy, Richardson, who is a disciple of the Rev. Leon Sullivan, the dynamic Civil Rights activist and former pastor of First Baptist, has increased and mobilized a spirited congregation, according to a release. Richardson was able to envision how the church needed to be invested in the community after he returned from a pilgrimage to South Africa with Sullivan.
“Sullivan invited me to visit Ghana, to his fourth African summit to learn how nations, organizations, communities and the church work together to improve lives,” Richardson said in the press release. “That was a pivotal point for me as a pastor here in South Orange.”
With an increasing congregation, outreach at the First Baptist Church of South Orange means involving people in their own destinies, solving problems together and collectively creating solutions to meet the community’s needs. The church has responded to the needs of its members by organizing a growing number of ministries that focus on providing specific services to various groups, such as the Women’s, Men’s and Youth ministries, and the Circle of Faith Ministry, which includes Seton Hall students.
“Our goal is not to maintain. On the contrary, our goal is to build upon the accomplishments of the shoulders we stand on,” Richardson, who has been pastor at the church for 18 years, said. “Our biggest accomplishment will be the number of lives saved, touched, empowered and transformed by our obedience in sharing and demonstrating the saving grace of God in Christ. We look forward remaining spiritually and socially relevant in our impact for Christ.”