Panama Baptist Church Celebrates Bicentennial Anniversary As Congregation

Members of the Panama Baptist Church’s congregation celebrate its bicentennial anniversary as an assembly. P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb

PANAMA– In a year that coined the phrase “Era of Good Feelings,” a period that reflected a sense of national purpose and unity among Americans, a congregation formed in Panama out of a sense of purpose and unity in the Baptist faith.

That year was 1817, and this year marks its bicentennial anniversary.

On Sunday, members of the Panama Baptist Church met for a special service to celebrate the occasion and reaffirm its message of “loving God, loving Others.”

Features of the service included: a slideshow outlining the history of the church, videos of past and current missionary work, messages from a former pastor as well as current, pastor Rodney Sprowls, recognition of distinguished members and special guests and several quartet songs.

With regard to distinguished members, the congregation’s list of the esteemed is anything but lacking.

“Our church has a rich history,” David Williams, church member and organizer, said. “We have some members that have been here (all their lives).”

Three such members with extraordinary tenure in the PBC congregation are: Edna Brautigan, Harold Weise and David Lindberg. Brautigan, 96, is the oldest member of the congregation and has worshipped with the church for 68 years. Weise, the longest consecutively tenured member, has presided in the congregation for 71 years. Additionally, Lindberg, 87, has been a member of the PBC congregation for 80 of his years.

And while those three individuals have shown incredible individual devotion to the church, there are several families that can trace their participation back for generations.

“The Weise family has been involved for many, many generations,” Williams said. “Currently, there are four generations of his family that attend (PBC).”

Close behind the Weise family are the Blakeslee family and the Schults family, each with three generations of members in the church’s congregation.

Tenure, however, is not the only attribute that constitutes a distinguished member of the church. Several members of the church’s congregation have gone on to have illustrious careers proclaiming their faith in other parts of the country and the world.

One such member is David Jeremiah, son of former PBC pastor James Jeremiah (1936-1939). He is an author, speaker and well-known radio preacher. He is best known for his radio program, “Turning Point,” which has won several awards, including the 2006 National Religious Broadcaster’s award for best radio teaching program. The program can be heard worldwide on over 2,000 stations, and is available to over 480 million listeners.

Through his success, however, he has remembered where his roots are. To congratulate the congregation on its anniversary, Jeremiah created a personal video for the church, which was played during the morning’s service.

Jeremiah is not the only member of the congregation that has gone on to be an author. Dr. Charles Colton, former PBC pastor, successfully published his book, “A History of the Panama Baptists.”

“His book has been a great reference for us in the planning of (this celebration),” Dawn Williams, church member and organizer, said. “He is very busy as a college professor, but we’re hoping we can schedule a weekend this summer where he can come and speak.”

The church has an expansive history of missionary work, as well. Andy Cook, former PBC minister of over 20 years, and his family, have been working as missionaries in Portugal for the previous six years. The church still works closely with Cook, and has sent over two missionary teams in the previous year and will send another in July. David Williams served as a member of one of those teams.

“It was awesome,” Williams said. “The ministry in Portugal is a small ministry. They were able to purchase a small building that they are renovating as a small community center. They really want to minister to the community, and through this building they have much to offer: English classes, a lending library and an activity center. We helped with the renovation, and it was an incredible experience … to help those people know Christ.”

Jim and Lori Spoto of Jamestown, as well as their son, Jonathan, serve as missionaries in Italy, but are currently on furlough. The family created a video for Sunday’s celebration, and will speak about their work at the church’s service on May 28. The service is open to the public.

And though the bicentennial anniversary was a celebration of the congregation’s past, it was also an affirmation of the church’s place in the community and a promise to continue its work into the future.

“We are always striving to find new ways to become involved with the community,” Williams said. “There are so many needs out there in this world– it’s a tough place. We desire to be something that the community admires, where it is clear what we stand for: the truth of God’s word. But we need to make that mean something to the community, as well.”

The church, in cooperation with the Panama Methodist Church, will work toward this goal with an event at Panama Central School on the final Saturday in August. There, they will hold an outreach event with activities, food and games, and will distribute backpacks and school supplies to students and families in the community.

“The vision is the great commission that is expressed in scripture that we are to go out and make disciples for Christ,” Dawn Williams said.

Both Dawn and David Williams concluded by expressing their utmost appreciation for the church’s congregation and its hard-work and dedication to its faith. More information on the church and its bicentennial anniversary can be found at www.panamabaptist.org.

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