First Baptist Church
Somerville, New Jersey
In early 1843, Mr. Samuel Tunison became convinced by his study of the Bible that he should be baptized by immersion. There being no baptist church in Somerset County at this time, he arranged with Reverend Mr. Barker, of the Samptown Baptist Church to be baptized in the Raritan River by the covered bridge. This was the first believer's baptism by total immersion in the Somerville vicinity. Soon others joined the group which began holding regular meetings in the County Court House.
In October 1843, the First Baptist Church was organized by Pethuel Mason, Mr. Tunison, and nine other like-minded Christians, and was officially sanctioned by representatives of several other baptist churches in the state. They built their first meetinghouse on the north side of West Main Street, where the Melting Pot Restaurant is now located. We have no photos of the building, but we do have a drawing made by Mr. Mason's son, Henry E. Mason. The congregation grew for three years and became known for their quarterly musical concerts sponsored by the Sunday school. Baptisms continued to be performed in the Raritan River or the Raritan Canal until 1856 when a baptismal pool was built under the platform in the meetinghouse. During the Civil War, the U.S. flag was flown from a pole atop the steeple and another from the pastor's house.
In 1867 the house across the street from the church was purchased for a parsonage for the pastor who had been living in Raritan. (The Stevens Harness and Leather Shop.) Through the years, the church was damaged by a heavy snowstorm, the east wall of the foundation was found to be dangerously weakened, and though repairs were made, the congregation had outgrown the building. It was then decided no more money should be spent on it and that a new church should be built here on High Street. Asa R. Dilts, a member of the church and a local carpenter and builder, was selected to provide the plans and build the church. Usable bricks and timbers from the demolished church were brought over for use in the new building. New bricks were obtained from E.E. Brown's Brick and Tile yard north of town. The clock and bell were also installed in the new tower. The stained glass windows you see here were in place when the new church was dedicated on December 4, 1873.
Four major alterations and additions have been made to the church building in the intervening years. The first was caused by a disastrous fire which occurred in March 1926. Dr. Lancelot Ely, who had his office and home two doors to the east, pulled the alarm box when he saw smoke pouring from the stained glass windows. After the fire was put out, it was found that the area around the pulpit and the choir loft needed to be gutted and most of the organ had fallen into the basement. Within two years, the sanctuary was rebuilt and redecorated. A new organ was donated by the Nevius Family, and a new building was added on to the north end of the church. The new building was called the Thornhill Memorial Church House after Robert Thornhill was an active member around the turn of the century; it contained a large, two-story auditorium, kitchen, classroom, projection room and choir room.
In 1949 a Day Nursery School was opened for the convenience of working mothers in the community. This has grown in size and sophistication over the years and has brought Christian values into many unchurched homes. Now a Preschool, is licensed by the state for children ages 2 ½ - 6 years. The program is focused on providing a foundation for the children in learning skills, basic spiritual education and life skills. There are two, three and five day per week morning programs available. Enrichment is offered every day during the week. All classes go until 2 PM and include topics such as Science, Sports, Cooking, Art, Math and so much more. Mommy & Me is a hands on class combined with creative art projects, large and small motor activities, music and snack. This is a wonderful first time school experience shared by parent and child from 18 -36 months of age. Wee Play is another amazing parent/child program offering a colorful variety of indoor play equipment. Singing, movement and musical instruments enhance verbal skills and rhythm as well as development of eye, hand and foot coordination, motor ability and balance.
In 1960-61, the sanctuary was extended into the Thornhill building to increase the seating capacity to 400. The choir loft was enlarged to seat 50 members and the new Casavant Organ was installed. The baptistry was built to the rear of the choir loft. As part of this construction, Thornhill Hall received a second floor and the rest of it was made into an educational facility.
In 1970-71 a new assembly hall was built on the north side of the Thornhill building and a new front entrance and steeple were added on High Street. Construction included a new kitchen, lounge and two classrooms. The area under the sanctuary was also renovated for classroom space.
When Pastor Paul Harbach retired in 2003, a Pulpit Committee was formed to seek a replacement. After some months of deliberation, the committee recommended that the Associate Pastor be called as Senior Pastor. That recommendation failed at the congregational meeting held to consider it. As a result, many of those who worshiped in the contemporary service left the church. Some members of the traditional congregation had previously left. The attempt to blend two congregations with differing needs and styles of worship was not bridged.
The church proceeded to take the necessary steps in working with the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey to form a pastoral search committee in seeking a pastor. The committee was formed in March 2004 with the approval of the church membership. The membership prayed for God's guidance and discernment for the committee as they worked together to select God's servant to lead the congregation. In December 2005 the church voted unanimously to call the Reverend Loreno R. Flemmings as the next pastor of the First Baptist Church. The church celebrates new beginnings with Pastor Flemmings, his wife Jackie, and the wider community in "Becoming Fishers of People." We are working together as pastor and people in growing a healthier and faithful church in the 21st century.
First Baptist has developed over the past years meaningful, sustainable partnerships and relationships with the following faith based groups and organizations.
Somerset Jail Chaplaincy Christmas Care Program
Since 2010, the pastor, officers and members of First Baptist Church have worked cooperatively with the Jail Chaplaincy of Somerset County to continue running a Christmas Care Program for the children of inmates who are incarcerated. The Jail Chaplaincy asked for donations of non-violent toys or gifts, costing from $10-$25. The toys and gifts are suitable for either girls or boys, and for all ages from infants to high School students. The toys are delivered to First Baptist Church on specified days and times. We received donations of toys from local parishes, congregations, and individuals and a free “Toy Store” is set up for inmates. These gifts are then bagged and tagged to await pick-up by the Inmates’ families at First Baptist Church.
Somerville Community Youth Center
Middle Earth, a nonprofit group started in 1969 with the mission to work with middle and high school children during their out-of-school time and provide youth with prevention, intervention and crisis services to help them to develop into responsible and productive members of the community.
In September, 2013, the First Baptist Church established a partnership with Middle Earth to accomplish its mission in Somerville. The purpose of the Middle Earth Community Youth Centers is to provide a safe and supervised place during out-of-school hours for youth (ages 12-18) to gather for fun activities, interact positively with their peers, learn life skills, and talk to caring adults. The Somerville Youth Center is located at the First Baptist Church, 132 W. High Street in Somerville, and is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-7 p.m.
The Fountain of Living Water
In May, 2015, First Baptist Church established a covenant/lease agreement with the pastor, officers and members of Fountain of Living Water congregation to use our church sanctuary and facility for the following: Tuesday, Bible study from 7:30-9pm, Wednesday, Choir rehearsal 6:00-7:30 pm, Thursdays, alternating services for youth, women, men, and children from 7:30-9:30 pm., Sunday worship service from 1-4pm. In addition, there will be special services, conferences, and social and fellowship gatherings during the year.
The Fountain of Living Water is a Pentecostal congregation and its mission is to praise and glorify God through our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ who loves us and gave His life for us. The pastor, officers and members seek to teach and exalt all biblical teaching and evangelize the community of Somerville, NJ. Their objectives are the following: to encourage and promote world evangelism; to approve and conduct all biblical teachings and to disapprove all anti-biblical teachings, and conduct methods to promote a basis for fellowship among all Christians.
First Baptist Church Ministers
|Henry C. Fish||1844-1851|
|George P. Nice||1851-1858|
|Joseph N. Folwell||1858-1860|
|George W. Clark||1873-1877|
|John B. Mulford||1878-1881|
|Robert A. Paterson||1881-1882|
|George E. Horr||1883-1888|
|Frank A. Smith||1892-1902|
|Frederick J. Soule||1910-1914|
|William M. Kennedy||1918-1929|
|Edward P. Brinkman||1929-1935|
|William s. Robinson||1935-1938|
|Ronald V. Wells||1938-1942|
|Bruce C. McGraw||1942-1950|
|Paul H. Harbach||1988-2003|
|Loreno R. Flemmings||2006-Present|