When Island Baptist Church, 170 Adams Ave., was founded on March 30, 1872, it was simply a group of people coming together to start a new church in the community.
Reverend Chad Rafferty, who is the pastor of the church and will celebrate its 10th anniversary there in August, said there was a lot of movement in the church regarding changes in the first 75 years of existence.
“The church has always wanted to be a beacon for the community,” Rafferty said. “(They) have always wanted to be there for everyone…and we are grateful to also serve the city of Island and the surrounding communities.”
On Sunday, March 27, the church held its 150th Anniversary Celebration Service, which included a special video presentation of past and present members who grew up in the church.
“We had a full house,” Raffety said. “It was so encouraging to see everyone…”
Originally named Union Church for a short time, Island Baptist Church purchased land near the existing Island Baptist Cemetery on July 5, 1899 to build a new facility for its patrons.
“I guess that’s where it was for a while, and then the church members wanted to bring the church here where it was easier for the people of the city… to be able to come and see it,” said said Rafferty. “So they decided to move the whole church.”
Fast forward to 1922, it was decided to move the church to its current location along Kentucky Highway 431.
Instead of constructing a new facility, the existing structure was placed on rollers and moved by a contractor before the contractor decided to forfeit their work obligations, leaving church members to complete the task.
“They did it themselves,” Rafferty said. “It says a lot about the will of the people and that determination that they wanted the church to succeed and to be here in the heart of the city and to be able to grow.”
The move was successful, only a small crack in the plaster remained, and construction began on their current two-storey educational wing in 1950.
The church also focused its efforts on expansion when it decided to construct another building in the Buttonsberry community in April 1913 as the Buttonsberry Mission Church, before it burned down.
“The state highway department was burning the right-of-way and had the whole church burnt down because of it,” Rafferty said. “When you re-read the historical documents, the only way to get any kind of refund was to sue the state.”
Rafferty said the church did not want to take legal action with the Commonwealth and decided to leave before rebuilding the church over 13 years later in July 1967.
A year later, the residents of Island Baptist Church decided to demolish the old sanctuary to make way for the current sanctuary which is in place today.
The current shrine was given a dedication date of August 3, 1969, followed by a new rectory on June 3, 1979, and the Fellowship Hall on May 5, 1985.
The last of the church’s major updates came in 1991 when they completed a project to restore the sanctuary’s stained glass windows.
“It was sort of the last of the big projects that happened,” Rafferty said. “We’ve done some work on the steeple and stuff like that, but it’s really minor.”
Being part of a milestone like a church’s 150th year is a first for Rafferty and notes that he enjoyed hearing the stories before his time in the church while reflecting on the changes that have been made to the over the years.
One such change, which has occurred since Rafferty has been with the church, has been the addition of a security team to ensure the safety of church members during Sunday worship.
“It’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen,” Rafferty said. “I never thought we would have this day where we would have this in place and this fear potentially.”
However, Rafferty’s final years with the church proved to have hurdles such as navigating through the coronavirus pandemic, which was something new to many.
“(I had never experienced anything) like this before,” Rafferty said. “It was something that had never been taught in seminary, so we were all on our own at the time. It was very difficult as a church because it was constantly changing; the safety guidelines were changing, terms of reference were changing a bit – so you’re just trying to figure out how to safely pursue the purpose and mission of the church, but be safe with everyone’s physical safety as well…. As a pastor, I am the more concerned with their spiritual well-being, but you also need to ensure that their physical well-being is also monitored and maintained….
Rafferty worked to strike a “happy balance” by first having online services through Facebook in March and April 2020, before deciding to have drive-through service from Easter Sunday, where Rafferty would preach since the stoop outside the trading room until June.
“It provided a good way for everyone to get in and we got a transistor radio and actually broadcast on the radio,” Rafferty said.
When warmer weather arrived, the church began offering a Sunday-only service after several members requested that services resume indoors, while maintaining social distancing and encouraging masks.
“We were able to get through it all safely without widespread outbreaks within the church; just a few isolated cases,” Rafferty said.
Things continued to improve until Rafferty himself caught a mild case of COVID around Thanksgiving 2020 and returned to online services for two weeks.
Since then, Rafferty said they have been able to return to some sort of normality.
“We were able to keep moving forward with all of our worship services and gradually add more as the weather became more secure,” Rafferty said. “It has certainly been difficult.”
The church looks to the future by bringing back its spring revival in May with former pastors Lloyd Johnson (1964-1971), Wayne Dozier (1971-1978), John Galyen (1998-2005) and Jim Nelson (2006-2011) coming. return to preach on fixed dates in May.
“It will be a good time to have that fellowship with them…” Rafferty said. “…We’re just grateful to have this opportunity and I think it’s good because it’s still the same messages, the same sermons that these pastors preached…. What they started, we still continue this work and continue today.
Even with the decline in COVID cases, Rafferty admits there are members who have not returned but several new families are now part of the church.
“It’s been great seeing these new faces come in,” Rafferty said. “…But, I would say that normally we are managing about 80% of what we were doing before COVID. It’s a little daunting, but none of us have been down this path before, so we’re learning as we go.
But the purpose of going to church has been central to those who have returned, and Rafferty hopes people see church in a different light.
“…We’ve been so blessed in America, and we’ve never had anything like it. If you want to go to church, go to church. If you don’t, you don’t,” Rafferty said. “Every time that all of that was taken down during the heat of the pandemic and you couldn’t come, it was an eye opener for a lot of people, I believe. They realized what they had and are now perhaps more serious about whether to come to church and (how) the church can help them and (what it can) mean for their family. I think it has been life changing and hopefully positive for many people to see that we are blessed in America and want to continue that way.
Freddie Bourne, [email protected]