By Mary O’KEEFE
n 1945, World War II was coming to an end. The country was looking forward to men and women coming back from the battles and working toward the “American dream.” During the war churches were a gathering place, not just for worship but church basements were used for events like emergency preparedness classes, for creating care packages for soldiers, and babysitting for working “Rosie the Riveter” moms.
This was the year that La Crescenta residents with Swedish backgrounds started the Swedish Baptist Conference, now the First Baptist Church of La Crescenta.
“It started at a home, 2907 Mary Street,” said present pastor of the First Baptist Church of La Crescenta, Bill Flanders.
On Sunday, Sept. 6, the First Baptist Church celebrated 70 years in La Crescenta.
The first church building was located on the site where today The Arc stands – just down the street from the current church site. Both are located in the 4400 block of La Crescenta Avenue.
All First Baptist Churches used to be called “Swedish Baptist Conference.”
“[The Swedish Baptist faith] started when Swedish sailors heard the Gospel. They took it back to Sweden in the 1840s,” Flanders said.
The Church of Sweden at the time was Lutheran, he added.
The Swedish Baptist church was founded in 1848 and those who wanted to follow the Baptist religion were soon to find they were not welcomed in their own country. The founders of the La Crescenta church were of Swedish descent.
Don Carlson has been a member of the church since 1959.
“My grandparents were members who started the church,” he said.
That first congregation had about 500 members and was an extremely busy church, Carlson recalled.
Over the years the size of the congregation has decreased, much like other churches; however, the First Baptist Church of La Crescenta has been regaining members and building a strong congregational foundation with longtime members like Carlson mixed with new members.
“We had to change some things, [like] the music to liven things up,” Carlton said.
Another factor that is helping the congregation grow is reaching out to the youth.
“We do have youth involved in the church,” he said. “It [works] if they [youth] have a sense of ownership. If not, they feel isolated and they don’t come back.”
Flanders added he is also seeing more young families coming back to church.
“This is the number one church,” said Kursten Rush, a seventh grader and member of the church for “years.”
“I went to two different churches before this and this is the best one,” she said. “[Here they show] love and kindness.”
Another piece of the 70-year growth is keeping the church active with programs that range from Mothers of Preschoolers to special needs adults.
“We started Special Friends class [for adults with special needs] in the 1960s,” said Bill Frame, who runs the program. “Right now we have from 10 to 12 adults. Adults come every week.”
The program talks, and teaches, about the Old Testament and they sing and pray,” Frame added.
“In December we sing in a church [service],” Frame said.
“We want to reach the next generation,” Carlson added.
Flanders said it was a balance among the senior members of the church, the youth and always welcoming new members.
“I have been here since I was 6-years-old,” said Robert Thomas. “We are an extremely friendly [congregation]. When you are here we want you to feel at home.
“When people come, they want to come back. Pastor [Flanders’] sermons are very personal and filled with the Holy Spirit.”