Our History

Our History

A history of The First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, PA

First Baptist Church was organized in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on April 6, 1869.  Services of the new church were first held at a private home and then for some time in a hall above the smith-shop of the Rices.  This shop was located on the west side of New Street between Walnut and Broad Streets.  The Cherrywood Lounge was on the site of the smith-shop.  The entire area was razed in the mid 70′s to make room for the First Valley Bank/Bethlehem Plaza which later became Bank of America/Bethlehem Plaza.

1876 – 1909

A lot was purchased on October 2, 1871 at Lehigh and New Street which was at the end of the New Street bridge and was accessible to both Bethlehem and South Bethlehem which at that time were separate boroughs.  It was also thought that it would attract students from Lehigh University.  Work on the foundation of the church commenced in October 1873, but the financial panic of that year caused a long delay in completing the building.  The cornerstone was laid October 15, 1874, the building progressed slowly and the church was completed and dedicated February 3, 1884. This building was later used as a hotel, a boy’s cub and a furniture store before being torn down in 1965 when the Bethlehem Civic Center was constructed.

1909 – 1918

On March 10, 1909, a lot was purchased for the new church located in South Bethlehem at 544 Broadway and the lot and the church building constructed on it now belongs to the Second Baptist Church and later the Portuguese Evangelical church.

1917,  The first Annual Corn Roast was held at Bests Grove and years later moved to the church camp.

1920 – 1972 

On September 15, 1922,  the cornerstone was laid for the new church building located at at 510 West Broad Street.
May 8,1955, First Spanish language service held.
June 17, 1956, the Church Camp and swimming pond were dedicated.  The Camp was named Ichthus, the Greek word for fish.  The camp was the result of a group of hard working young people, members of the Baptist Youth Fellowship who gave much of their time and and dedication in raising the original funds.  The camp is located in the Pocono Mountains near Palmerton, Pa.

1972

The current church was built in 1972.  On Memorial Day, 109 persons helped move all of the furniture, including the pews, from the Broad Street to Linden Street church.  The first worship service was held June 4 and the dedication of the property was held during the week of September 24 to October 1.  In 1973, Mr. Anthony Cambanes, not a member of First Baptist, wished to give First Baptist Church sufficient funds to build a fellowship hall as a memorial to his brother James.   Cambanes hall was dedicated June 23, 1974.  In 1982 construction was completed for the gym, kitchen, music room and classrooms.  In 1989 the Henry D. Funk Educational Wing was completed.  A significant amount of the funds for this construction were realized from the sale of the Funk Property in Springtown which had been bequeathed to the Church in 1969.

September, 1979

the  Cooperative Nursery School was founded.

1982

marked the beginning of Wednesday evening Family Night dinners.

In 1990

the 8:15 AM Worship Service was inaugurated because the 11:00 AM service was reaching a practical limit in terms of numbers of worshiper.

1991

This was an important year in the life of First Baptist Church.  Prior to this time all persons joining the Church could be received into membership only after Believer’s Baptism by immersion.  The Church voted in favor of an open membership policy for a professing Christian coming from another Christian denomination.  Also in 1991 the Church Camp, Camp Ichthus, had major renovations.  The deteriorating Skunk Hall was replaced with a new two story building named Schultz Inn.
When First Baptist relocated to Nazareth Pike (Linden Street), there were four Church Boards: Diaconate, Trustees, Christian Education and Mission.  Each of these Boards had oversight of different ministry areas.  An advisory board was created to increase communication between the Boards and resolve difficulties.  Unlike the four Boards, the Advisory Board could only advise and could not take any binding action even though it was composed of persons elected to the Boards.