By Sharon Mager
SAVAGE, Md.—One hundred years ago, the world was in chaos. America entered World War I and Vladimir Lenin led the Bolshevik Revolution. Yet in the midst of the pain, day in and day out, life went on and folks in the United States were saddened at the death of “Buffalo Bill,” and they laughed with Charlie Chaplin, and were amazed by Houdini. And God was at work in His world, including the little cotton mill town of Savage, Md., with its dirt roads, livery stables, and horse and buggies. God was moving in the hearts of Baptist families with such names as Redmond, Kuhn, Stephens and Bradford who were led to start a church in their community.
One hundred years later, those founders’ children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors, and others whom God added, had their centennial celebration on Sept. 24. Over 200 people filled the sanctuary at First Baptist Church, Savage, to reflect on their rich heritage, and to look ahead to the future. They had a special worship service, with guest speaker Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Executive Director Kevin Smith, who shared a message titled, “Our identity is in Christ, our firm foundation,” based on 1 Cor. 3:1-11. Afterwards, members and guests headed to a big white tent behind the church for a catered barbecue lunch and celebratory cake. They recognized past ministers and some special senior saints. The church ended the celebration holding hands and singing, “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds.”
The church history relates how the original families came from a Baptist tradition, but since there were no Baptist churches in the area, they were worshiping with local Methodists. As time went on, they felt led to start a church more consistent with their Baptist beliefs. They visited Dr. Charles Parker, then pastor of Laurel Baptist Church, who agreed to help. He began traveling six miles every other Sunday afternoon to preach for them. The small core group also rented space at Kingsbury Hall and organized a weekly Sunday school. Their first revival service was held in the late spring of 1917. They officially organized with 50 charter members on Sept. 16, 1917. It was the only Baptist church in Howard County and remained so for the next 25 years.
Twenty-three men have preceded current Pastor Alan Latham. The church honored several of those pastors and their families during the celebration.
Johnny Neimiller was recognized on behalf of his father, John Neimiller, who served the church for almost three decades, from 1949 to 1978. Johnny was a baby when the family arrived. Under his father’s leadership, the church expanded, adding a two-story building on the west side, the first floor being used for Sunday school and the second as the parsonage. The new building was dedicated in 1954. At least 75 people were baptized during that 29-year period. The church also started a mission church in Maryland City, a housing development between Laurel and Ft. Meade. Maryland City Church was constituted in 1967. At least 75 people were baptized there during that 29-year period.
Johnny said his father, above all, would want to honor the Lord Jesus and what he has accomplished. “He believed the Bible was sufficient to save men’s souls,” Johnny said.
Dana Collett followed Neimiller’s pastorate, serving from 1978 to 1982. Dana Collett was just 24, a recent graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and is remembered as dynamic. His preaching drew many from long distances. Under Dana Collett’s leadership, the church started a mission church in South Columbia, now South Columbia Baptist Church. They also purchased the property at the intersection of Washington and Woodward Streets, where First Baptist Church of Savage is located. Collett’s widow, Karen, sent greetings to the church.
Hugh Townsend, who served the church from 1983 to 1986 was also present at the celebration with his wife, Linda. Under Townsend’s leadership, the church began a strong mission emphasis, participating in local parades, filling rice bowl banks for world hunger, and serving community Thanksgiving dinners. Townsend resigned in 1986 to become the Howard County Baptist Association Director of Missions.
“Our remembrances are relationships,” Hugh Townsend said. Townsend said though there are changes, the church still has a great choir, and lives are still being transformed.
Paul Viswasam became pastor in 1995 and served a decade. Viswasam led the church in expanding their missions internationally, and under his leadership the church remodeled, expanded, and began a “Capture the Vision” program to raise funds for a new “Family Life Center.” He and his wife, Chelly, also participated in the centennial celebration.
Viswassam said the church must continue to remember why it exists. He shared a story about a man who came to church for the first time, accepted Christ, wanted to be baptized, and in a short time, died. We exist to save lives through Jesus, he emphasized.
The church also recognized several senior saints. Ralph G. Lee, affectionately known as “Mr. Lee,” was saved and baptized at the church in 1934 and has served since that time. At the age of 97, he still teaches Sunday school.
Jean Ganoe, age 93, began attending in 1953 and she was one of Lee’s Sunday school students and has been faithfully serving in various capacities over the years.
The church has continued to reach out to their community and beyond, hosting community block parties and fall festivals. They also have annual Vacation Bible School and at Christmas they present a “Live Nativity,” an outdoor realistic nativity program. They’ve ministered nationally and internationally with outreaches to West Virginia, Mississippi, Vancouver, and the Grand Cayman Islands and have supported ministries to Pakistan and India. They are also very active with Operation Christmas Child.
One of their long-term ministries has been a food pantry. In a joint partnership with several other local churches, FBC Savage began “Bread of Life,” over 20 years ago. Sterlind Burke, who sang with “The Burke Family” during the worship service, has been a strong supporter of that program. As principal at Patuxent Valley Middle School when the food pantry began, Burke led the school in canned food drives and later when he moved to Hammond High School. He and his family would also have a concert each year as a finale to the food drive.
In his closing remarks, Alan Latham told the standing group that the celebration was to honor God. Reiterating a written welcome in the 100th anniversary booklet, Latham told the crowd in closing, “…[L]et us not marvel at how long this church has existed, but marvel at the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who has sustained us through it all.”
Latham quoted John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Latham encouraged members to continue abiding in Jesus.