Two hundred and two years ago, Haddonfield was an historically Quaker village of less than fifty families. Mrs. Letitia Evans asked Rev. John Sisty of Philadelphia to preach, with a view to the founding of a Baptist congregation. So, on August 17, 1817, he preached his first sermon in Haddonfield at the Grove Schoolhouse. The meetings continued with much success, and the Baptist Church was organized on June 11, 1818, with ten constituent members.
As early as September 1818, a collection was taken for the poor on the occasions of the Lord’s Supper, a practice which continues today as the monthly Fellowship Offering.
After a few months, the congregation decided that it was time to build the new Baptist Church its own meeting house. This was erected on the main street, a little distance from the center of the village. The first service was held there on November 29, 1818. The area behind the meeting house was used as a cemetery, and is indeed the site of the Baptist Cemetery today.
In 1838 the Church was twenty years old, and had added two hundred members.
The congregation gave up members to start Baptist churches at Moorestown (1837), Marlton (1939), and Medford (1841).
A new house of worship was built in 1852. It had a steeple containing a bell which was a gift from John Sisty, the first pastor, who had maintained a strong connection to Haddonfield following his retirement.
Women of the church collected money for missions: the state convention, the publication society, foreign missions, and home missions.
As the formerly tiny village grew during the post-Civil War years, it was deemed desirable to move the Baptist Church to the center of town. A new church was built at the current site. Stone was taken from the façade of the second meeting house for the new structure and also the bell from the steeple. Beautiful stained glass windows were installed in the new sanctuary. The first service was held in the new building on January 3, 1886.
Just as Haddonfield grew, so did other nearby towns. The congregation released members to open Baptist churches on Collingswood (1889), Magnolia (1891), and Laurel Springs (1893). Also Ellisburg and Hillman Chapels were established (1885 and 1891).
There is evidence of ecumenism as early as 1889.
In 1890, the John Sisty Memorial Chapel was built on the Cemetery grounds.
The Church gave moral and financial support to the Mount Ephraim Baptist Church (1896), and also the Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Haddonfield, which was recognized as an independent church in 1896. Members from Haddonfield Baptist were released to begin congregations at Haddon Heights (1896), and Westmont Grace Church (also 1896).
The new century saw a surge in mission efforts: 1900 – project to feed the starving in India: 1904 – mission trip to Crow Indian tribe; 1906 – project to aid victims of San Francisco Earthquake; 1906,1909, and 1913 – missions established in China and Japan.
In response to the increasing importance of music in worship and praise, our first volunteer choir began in 1913 and continues today.
Following the trials of the Great War and the 1918 influenza pandemic, ecumenism was important to the town’s ministers. Mission work also continued : 1923 – project to aid earthquake victims in Japan; 1924 – project to aid the starving in the Near East; 1930 and 1938 – missions to the Navajo tribe in Arizona; 1938 – mission to southern India. In addition, White Cross work (foreign and home mission projects organized for Baptist woman on a national level) began in 1921 and continues today.
Boy Scout Troop 64 was chartered in 1926 and continues to be a blessing to the church and to the community.
During the Great Depression, the church kept up a program of welfare work in the community.
1943 found sixty church men in the armed forces.
The exterior of the church building underwent extensive renovations in 1944.
The ladies of the church organized into the Women’s Union in 1945. This consisted of a large group meeting at the church once a month and smaller “circles” meeting in individual homes once a month to work on home and foreign mission projects.
The Memorial Fund of the Haddonfield church was established in 1955.
In that same year, the interior of the building saw major changes.
During this time period, the Bell Choir was formed. The program has grown and expanded greatly over the years.
The children’s annual production of a pageant depicting the Christmas story has become a cherished tradition, as has the outdoor “Live Nativity” program presented for the community.
A unique Summer Enrichment Bible school program has enhanced most of the last thirty-five Augusts.
Rev Michael Feicht arrived in 1991. He had a great calling for missions, his earlier background having been in the Peace Corps. The last quarter century has seen a great emphasis on mission projects and trips and disaster relief through the work of the Women’s Union, involvement in White Cross, participation in ABCUSA, ABCNJ, and ABCIM. Many members are involved in numerous local missions and outreach programs. Rev. Feicht spearheaded mission projects and trips to Puerto Rico, Belarus, Rwanda, Egypt, Lebanon, West Virginia, India, and China.
The First Asian Baptist Church now, since 2010, holds its services in the Skylight Room on our second floor. The congregation, led by Rev. David Ho Jin Yu, is made up mostly of Burmese religious refugees. We welcome them and hope to make their transition to life here easier. Rev. Yu is the director of Asian ministries for ABCUSA and the Asian Church hosted the national meeting of Asian Baptist Churches in 2016. Rev. Yu also organized 2018 and 2019 mission trips to South Korea.
Rev. Dr. Feicht retired in 2018 after 27 years of service in Haddonfield. We currently are blessed to have Rev. Nevin Werron as interim Pastor.
Organist and Choir Director Eleanor and David Shockey also retired in 2019 following 13 years of leading our music ministry. Currently, we have a new Minister of Music as of December 26, 2019, Will Powell, and interim Organist, Robert Gardner, as the search continues for a permanent Organist. Robert Gardner is the Bell Choir Director.
Betty Willingmyre is the Cemetery Administrator.
The congregation remains committed to the church throughout this crucial time period. We are striving to continue all of our ministries and missions. We maintain strong ties to Riverview Estates (Baptist Home) and Baptist Camp Lebanon, as well as to our sister churches Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Haddonfield and Runyombi Baptist Church in Rwanda. We are committed to the ABCUSA and ABCNJ, and also the Haddonfield Council of Churches.
It is obvious that the demographics of Haddonfield have changed greatly over the years. Happily, this is reflected in the church membership. There are members of every race and also many nationalities, and of course, we host the Asian Baptist Church.
As the decades have moved on, it is interesting to see the changes in society, especially as they relate to religious institutions.
Obviously, women’s roles have changed, both in society and in the church. Our own Women’s Union was replaced in large part by Friendship Groups, which focus on prayer, Bible study, and fellowship. Women have taken up leadership roles in the church, some also attending seminary and becoming ordained.
Changes in American society present challenges to the church of today. Many Americans have not been exposed to a religious upbringing, as used to be the norm. People’s schedules and lifestyles no longer reserve Sundays to worship the Creator. Haddonfield Baptist continues to provide inspirational worship services every Sunday morning, with songs of praise and messages of hope. There are both traditional and casual styles of worship. Service opportunities are scheduled so that those who desire to serve can participate in church ministries. Against this changing backdrop, the church’s purpose remains solid – to introduce others to a relationship with Christ.