Franklin St. Schoolhouse, 1852-53 site of Services

Throughout the early history of America, men and women who searched the Scriptures came to the conviction that they ought to be followers of the Word of God, rather than the traditions of men. One such individual was Roger Williams, a central figure in US History who in 1639 founded the first Baptist Church in North America so that individuals would have true liberty in their relationship with God, bound only by His Word. In that same tradition were 13 Christian believers: William Clark, Ellen Clark, David Cairns, Hepzebah Cairns, Joshua Crane, Clarissa Crane, Uzal Ward, Sarah Ward, Caroline Sanford, Ann Sherwood, Charlotte Vanderpool, Samuel Brower and Sylvester Looker. They came together on November 25, 1851 to form First Baptist Church of Bloomfield, New Jersey. The Cranes and Wards were members of the original Colonial founding families of Bloomfield. A little school house on Franklin Street (near today's Jr. High) about a quarter mile from our current location was the groups first place of worship.

 

In March 1852 the land making up our current property at the corner of Franklin and Washington Streets was purchased and construction of a Church building began quickly. Our first Pastor, Rev. John D. Meeson, started his ministry on July 1, 1852. On July 14, 1853 the new building opened for worship. Other Pastors of this era were: Rev. James H. Pratt, 1853 - 58; the Rev. Henry F. Smith, 1858 - 69; the Rev. William F. Stubbert, 1869 - 1875 and the Rev. Ezra D. Simons, 1876 - 1887. In 1885 First Baptist Church of Montclair NJ was established by our church with a building on South Fullerton Street. After a few years, a larger building on Church St. was constructed. Over time however, that Church moved away from its original evangelical biblical doctrine, eventually undergoing a steep decline in membership and selling the building to another congregation.

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Original Church building of 1853

 

Church in 1901, Sunday School building at rear
 

Our Church grew rapidly during this time, with the Rev. Charles A. Cook serving as Pastor from 1888 - 1903, faithfully calling people to born again faith in Jesus Christ. The need for a Christian education facility became evident and in 1892 the Sunday School building was completed. In 1893 Brookdale Baptist Church was started by our church on Broad Street in the northern part of Bloomfield Township. It developed into an independent congregation in 1895 and continues as a strong evangelical church to this day. In 1899 our Church assumed the support of Rev. and Mrs. John M. Carvell, missionaries to Assam, India. In 1901 our Church celebrated it's 50th anniversary and published a fine book detailing the first 50 years. Other Pastors of this period were the Rev. Fred W. Buis, 1904 - 1906, and the Rev. Henry S. Potter, 1907 - 1919.

 

The Church circa 1903
 

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The Church circa 1909

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The Church in 1912

With a growing Congregation the need for a larger building became evident and the current Sanctuary, constructed of New England Granite was completed in 1912 on the same ground as the former Sanctuary. The existing Sunday School building erected in 1892 was incorporated into the complex. A new grand pipe organ was dedicated on June 23, 1912. Cost of a new building and furnishings, about $73,000.

In 1914 Silver Lake Baptist Church was begun in Belleville as an Italian language evangelical church under the leadership of our assistant pastor, Benadetto Pascale. They are now an independent church. From 1920 thru 1941 the Rev. James A. Monk served as Pastor. In January 1936 fire destroyed the Sunday School building of 1892 and work began to build a new facility that would match the granite sanctuary. 1936 also saw the purchase of a Parsonage in Berkeley Heights Park. In 1937 our Present Sunday School building was completed and dedicated.

The Church in 1918

 

Our Church at the corner of Washington St & Franklin St, circa 1923

In 1941 the Rev. Russell G. Jones began serving as Pastor. His ministry here of 19 years saw many come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, discipled and baptized by immersion in obedience to the Scriptures. The support of additional Missionaries was added and in 1957 the Church affiliated with the Conservative Baptist Association of America. In 1960 the basement under the church was enlarged and renovated and named Memorial Hall. Youth activities continue there to this day. From 1961 thru 1969, Rev. Donald J. MacKay served as Pastor. In 1966 there was a fire in the Sunday School building which led to a remodeling and addition of classrooms. From 1970 thru 1972 Rev. David G. King served as Pastor and we continued to see God's blessing.

 
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In 1973 Rev. Robert C. Becker began serving as Pastor. In 1978 our Pipe Organ was renovated under the supervision of our Director of Music, Mrs. Virginia Hughes. 1982 saw new pews, carpeting, and additional lighting for the sanctuary. In 1985 the Berkeley Heights house was sold and a home on Beach Street was purchased as a parsonage. We also modernized the church kitchen in '85. In 1988 we replaced the windows in the Christian Education Building and installed new outside stone bulletin boards. A Korean Church began using our facilities.

Our Church Today
 

 

Many Pastors have served First Baptist over the last 150 years. Notably, from 1973 through 1997, First Baptist was led by Rev. Robert Becker, who for 24 years faithfully taught the Word of God and led us into a closer walk with Jesus Christ. Pastor and his wife Harriet, are fondly appreciated by all who were touched by their ministry.

 

In 1997, the Beckers retired to their waterfront home in Maine, enjoying frequent visits from their children and grandchildren. Pastor Becker didn't stay 'retired' very long, as he signed up to serve as a mentor and counselor to younger Pastors throughout New England.

 

In June 2003 Harriet passed into the joyful presence of the One who gave Himself for her. Even in her absence, Pastor served as a genial host to visiting family and friends. Several years ago he moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to family, and there continued to find ways to minister.

 

In June 2018 Pastor Becker passed out of this life into one infinitely better, and as the words of one of his favorite hymns says, "IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL".

Rev. Robert and Harriet Becker 1999

Over recent decades we have been blessed by a number of men of God who have served as Assistant Pastors, Youth Pastors and Interim Pastors. Among these are David Ashworth, Lamont Blowe, Michael Clement, Howard Crist, Mark Dail, Timm Gearhart, Gary Holden, Andrew Kamphausen, Steve Lorenz, Bill Stoll, Jeremy Van Sant and Phillip Van Wart. Of special note is the Rev. Donald Brueschwyler, who served our church so well in various ways and in February 2000  went to be with the Lord he served. He is missed by many here at Bloomfield and at the churches he served. To God be the glory.

 

Over recent years we've been privileged to sponsor Prophecy Conferences, Musical Performances with student groups from Word of Life, Moody Bible Institute, Lancaster Bible College and Philadelphia College of the Bible among others.

In 1996 Rev. Steven Lorenz began to serve as Minister of Outreach. His ministry reaches out to the community, church visitors and our own families in an effective way.

In 1998 Rev. Jimmie Van Sant was called to serve as Senior Pastor. His ministry of Preaching, Counseling, Teaching, Youth work and leading our Church continues to be greatly appreciated.

 

In 1999 we thanked Mrs. Virginia Hughes for 37 years of faithful service as our Music Director. In her 'semi-retirement' she continued to volunteer in our music ministry. In that same year, Mrs. Jayne Van Sant was appointed as our new Music Director. In 2000 one of the large stained glass windows in our sanctuary was refurbished.

Rev. Jimmie and Jayne Van Sant

Rev. Steven Lorenz

 

In November 2001 our Church celebrated its' 150th Anniversary with a Gala Banquet at the Essex Manor which gave praise to God. Many members and friends attended. In special worship services on Sunday, November 25, we enjoyed guest speakers, a dramatic re-enactment of the Church founding in 1851 and an International Dessert Fellowship.

2005 - Assistant Pastor Steve Lorenz was called as Senior Pastor of a Church in Teaneck, and our church had an appreciation Luncheon for Steve & Kathy and their children. 

2011 - We celebrated our 160th Anniversary with a Fellowship Dinner. Pastor Emeritus Robert Becker spoke, calling us to stay focused on what the Lord will yet do through our congregation.

2018 - On July 1, 2018 we held a "Thank-You" Luncheon for Pastor & Jayne Van Sant, as they entered semi-retirement, moving near family in Pennsylvania where Pastor will lead a small Bible School. Their ministry greatly helped our church!! - A Pastoral Search committee is at work seeking God's choice for an under-shepherd of our congregation.

Rev. Richard J. Callahan

2018 - In October, Rev. Richard Callahan began serving as Interim Pastor. He has been a great encouragement.

Today, on a typical Sunday morning, you'll see about 90 in our worship service. Our Church family is made up of people from every racial group, speaking over a dozen languages, but worshipping together in the unity given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. Many of our members serve in areas of our ministry that include children, youth, and adult programs, plus special outreach ministries. This outreach is extended through our missionary family who presently serve in the United States, Brazil, Canada, Central America, Eastern Asia, Italy, Philippines and Siberia.

2020 - In March global pandemic COVID-19 ravaged the entire world, including the United States. Per the CDC and the White House Coronavirus Task Force's guidelines, we are observing 'Social Distancing.' And as a result, we are currently ministering via YouTube sermons on Sundays at 10:00 am EST and 'Virtual Prayer Services' on Wednesdays at 7:30 pm. Check more details on our Facebook at: @firstbaptistchurchbloomfieldnj

 

On Sunday, September 13, 2020, the membership of First Baptist Church-Bloomfield called Rev. Jeremy Van Sant to serve as pastor. Jeremy spent his teen years in Bloomfield and served in various ministries with his father, Rev. Jimmie Van Sant, in the church prior to leaving for seminary. Upon graduation, he served as an associate pastor in two churches before assuming the role of senior pastor in LeRoy, NY, where he ministered for more than six years. Presently, he is the chaplain of a large nursing home/extended care facility in Lancaster, PA. He comes to our congregation with a wealth of experience. We are excited to welcome Jeremy and his wife of nearly twelve years, Rachel, as we begin a new chapter in our history.

Rev. Jeremy Van Sant