200-year journey takes congregation from Cross Roads to Gowensville First

First Baptist Church of Gowensville anticipates celebrating its bicentennial year on May 3 with carriage rides between its two morning services and dinner on the grounds afterward.

Local historian and church member Dean Campbell, who has written “The Bicentennial History of First Baptist Church Gowensville, 1820-2020,” describes how the “little white church on the hill” has been a spiritual landmark sitting at the intersection of Highways 14 and 11 since 1913.

The church’s origin, however, dates back another century — to 1809, when the Head of Tyger Baptist Church founded a mission arm in upper Greenville County. Eleven years later, 20 people attended the May 5, 1820, meeting to constitute Cross Roads Baptist Church.

In 1873, members changed its name to Gowensville Baptist to reflect its growing community. They renamed it again in 2000 to First Baptist.

Since its inception, 51 pastors, associate pastors and interims have served the Gowensville congregation. The church has commissioned five foreign missionaries and ordained 10 persons into the ministry. And they helped organize Campobello Baptist Church in 1880.

Other notable events included in the church history written by Campbell, which will be available at the celebration, include:

1848 — The original church building was erected, and members followed a traditional custom of providing an adjoining cemetery and seating men on the sanctuary’s left side and women and children on the right.

1859 — Gowensville Male and Female Seminary was founded to offer advanced education for the community’s youth and operated under church auspices until 1881.

1913 — The current sanctuary was built on the original site to accommodate growth.

1949 — Full-time preaching started on Sunday mornings and evenings.

2005 — A family life center, with a 100-seat dining room, kitchen, basketball court, and 12 classrooms, was dedicated.

Last year, sanctuary renovations were begun, which uncovered and restored the original wood floors that were hewn and installed by men of the church during its 1913 construction.

Also, in a somewhat unusual move, church members approved Josh Phillips, who was then associate, switching roles with then senior pastor Bruce Schmidt as a way of transitioning for the future.

“For a church with as much history as Gowensville, our people have always shown a remarkable willingness to grow, adapt and change,” Pastor Phillips said. “We stand on the shoulders of 200 years of Christians who’ve laid the foundation where we are today. While we look back, we don’t stay there. We’re embracing where God is taking us now.

“This gives me a lot of hope for the future,” he added. “Our mission today is exactly the same as when this church began: We are here to bring God glory and to make disciples of Jesus Christ by proclaiming the gospel.

“If we can maintain this focus,” Phillips said, “then there’s no limit to what God can do through us in the years to come.”

(With reporting by Ellen Henderson)