First Baptist Church in Ithaca is currently conducting a pastoral search process. It is our intention to begin accepting applications in January 2017 and to have hired a pastor by June 2017. In this section of the web site are items which may be of particular interest to those interested in this calling.
Inquiries should be directed to Alan Newton, Regional Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 585-473-3200.
First Baptist Church of Ithaca is located in the center of the vibrant city of Ithaca, NY (a city of more than 30,000 people). Although in a city location off of Dewitt Park, our members come from both downtown and rural locations more than 25 miles from the church. Those members are willing to travel the distance because of the uniqueness and values found at First Baptist of Ithaca. We are an old established church. Our identity is marked by our shared values for social justice and diversity. Our church is a member of the American Baptist Churches USA, in the Rochester-Genesee Region. We belong to the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB).
We strongly believe that
Like good Ithacans, we pride ourselves in our environmental consciousness and activism. The church has solar panels to offset our energy use. We compost and recycle. We bring our own reusable bags to the grocery store. We use biodegradable materials and are attempting to eliminate landfill waste. We emphasize fair trade products. We have an earth-awareness Sunday once a month and we have a "green" page in our monthly newsletter. At our monthly dish-to-pass lunch (second Sunday) one can find at the table vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes alongside some traditional favorites. Many of us drive hybrid cars, bike, walk, or use public transportation. We garden organically and participate in community-supported agriculture. We also participate as a church in environmental groups such as the Interfaith Climate Action Network (ICAN) and environmental activities in our community.
Our strengths are many but a few especially stand out:
We are a richly musical family. We are blessed by our organist and our choir director who are both very talented and very creative in their musical approach and repertoire. Our congregation includes members who teach music, play in community bands, and sing in community choruses. First Baptist proudly has its own Christian folk band who often play some of their original pieces. The Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers and The Ithaca Gay Men’s Chorus periodically provide special music for us on Sunday, as do student musicians from the local colleges and local artists.
Another unique strength is that in our modestly-sized congregation, there are a half-dozen retired clergy who choose First Baptist as their home church but serve in other organizations. These individuals graciously offer themselves for pastoral duties such as visitation and organizational leadership.
First Baptist plays an important role in our community. Our members participate in advocacy groups such as SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) and the Tompkins County Workers' Center. We regularly make lunches for the local homeless shelter and volunteer at a food pantry. Given our central location, our building host to many groups such as a Sufi meditation group, a mindfulness meditation group, the Sacred Harp Singers, and a post-traumatic stress disorder group.
We are an active congregation that wishes to grow and has so much to offer.
The position of Pastor at First Baptist Church, Ithaca, includes a number of duties and responsibilities that require a myriad of multifaceted skill sets.
A survey of the congregation reveals the following. Leadership is shared at First Baptist, with the congregation taking the lead on some items and the pastor taking the lead on some items. The pastor is expected to take leadership to train others to be leaders: "let's do this together and now you do it." The church has typically sought to avoid conflict and confrontation, but we are looking to increase our ability to make use of it. Our church tends toward being influenced by contemporary ideas and trends, as opposed to history and tradition, and this tendency is expected to increase in the future. Our approach to issues is decidedly activist, with a proven history of taking a stand as a congregation on social issues. We are strongly involved as individuals in community affairs, and we would like to see that increase for the congregation together. We feel ethical decisions should be made in light of circumstance. In terms of planning, we like to do things both by way of informal networks and by way of responsible, structured teams and committees. Some of our decision-making is governed by boards, and some decision-making is governed by the congregation; this seems to work for us. Decisions tend to be communicated formally through worship, bulletins, and a newsletter. The congregation does not uniformly emphasize denominational identity and ABC relationships. Whereas theology and polity typically come first in many churches, at First Baptist ithaca it comes second to the emotional aspects of community.
In September 2016 the congregation was formally polled, asking them to identify which of 29 skills areas they believe the congregation is currently capable of doing well and for which they believe we need pastoral leadership.
The following four items were identified by 97% of the respondents as areas for which we would like pastoral leadership:
Over 85% of respondents identified these three items as areas for which we would like pastoral leadership:
These results were discussed with the congregation during two adult education sessions in October. The theme of collaboration and the ability to share leadership was strong in the congregation. We would like a pastor to empower people to become leaders, to train and grow lay leadership in the church. People see the need for a pastor to motivate and support people to discover and use their gifts for ministry in their daily lives. We are looking for a pastor who is a warm and caring person with a healthy sense of humor. Other characteristics important to the congregation include good communication skills, an aptitude for tending to the details of running the church, an ability to bring into the congregation new members including younger families, and an openness to varying theological perspectives. Members have talked about having a pastor who will assist in the increased use of social media and the offering of more contemporary music in the church. A dedication to social and environmental justice, done with grace, is crucial.
Founded after the harvest season of 1821 by 23 people in Danby, New York, the church moved a few miles north to Ithaca in 1826. The first home for the First Baptist Church in Ithaca was built in 1831, with a young Ezra Cornell serving as one of the carpenters. Upon the building's destruction by fire in 1854, a second structure was built and used until the growing community required a larger building. The present structure was completed in 1890, with financial assistance from John D. Rockefeller. Its architect was William Henry Miller, who designed a number of major buildings on the Cornell campus and in downtown Ithaca. Now widely recognized as an example of Romanesque architecture, the building has been called the "Jewel of DeWitt park." In 1971 it was designated a historic landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the City of Ithaca. It is also listed on the NYS and national Registers of Historic Landmarks. During the early 1970s the congregation explored ways to create a better, more workable church space, included selling the building and moving, demolishing and rebuilding on site, or renovating the interior. The congregation voted to renovate the interior of the building February 1, 1976. St. John’s Episcopal Church shared their chapel and office space with First Baptist for 9 months, until basic work was completed, which included an open and inclusive remodel of the Sanctuary. Worship resumed in the First Baptist Church building for Easter, 1978.
From its beginnings, First Baptist has been involved in strategic ministries. In the late nineteenth century, our church became a center for the women's suffrage movement in upstate New York: in 1902 meeting of the Tompkins County Suffrage Association took place in the church parlor, and in 1914 a mass meeting of suffragettes from nine counties met at the church. First Baptist was willing to take real risks because it saw the marginalizing of women as a biblical justice issue.
The church was willing to stand up and be counted during the civil rights turmoil of the 1950's and 1960's, and First Baptist met with Calvary Baptist of Ithaca to affirm the message of Martin Luther King. The church protested the Vietnam War in the late 1960's and 1970's. The first Planned Parenthood office and clinic in Ithaca were housed in First Baptist during the 1970's. The pastor was a board member, and a congregation member supervised the clinic and helped start the education program. Before Roe vs. Wade, the pastor was part of a clergy service to assist women in locating a safe abortion. In the 1980's, the church joined with the Quakers as leaders of the "sanctuary" movement in the Ithaca area, calling "upon the U.S. government to acknowledge the right of Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees to political asylum." First Baptist declared its opposition to the deportation of "refugees as long as persecution, torture, and murder of civilians continued." The church has continued its active support of refugees to the present. It has helped refugees to resettle in Ithaca from Vietnam, Haiti, Romania, Cambodia, Kosovo, Belarus, and other countries.
For decades First Baptist has been a champion of inclusiveness. It has long been a home to people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. In 1997, as a result of the current move by some within the American Baptist Churches of the USA to disfellowship welcoming and affirming churches, First Baptist became a member of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. The immediate past executive director of AWAB sought out First Baptist as the sponsoring congregation for her ordination. In 2007 the church joined the Tompkins County Workers' Center to assist in the campaign for a living wage for all workers. The pastor worked with Ithaca College students to get a living wage for food service employees at the college; he also addressed the needs of migrant farm workers. First Baptist is a living wage employer, and in Ithaca there are 106 certified living wage businesses with over 3119 workers (2016). In 2105 the church sponsored a trip where 12 of us, 7 adults and 5 youth, went to Guatemala to assist and learn about people's lives there.
Our congregation identifies all members of the church as ministers, and some young people upon leaving Ithaca have decided to attend seminary and pursue ministerial careers. (The church has ordained five ministers in the past 25 years.) Our membership includes an unusually large number of retired ministers, and ordained ministers doing non-pastoral work, from both the ABC and other denominations. Over the years the church has had links to the international community through the presence of foreign students, members who have lived abroad during sabbatical and/or study leaves, and missionaries taking courses at local colleges while on furlough. Students and others here for a few years keep in touch; a few return to Ithaca to rejoin us. A significant number of members after leaving Ithaca maintain contact, sending appreciative notes for receiving our newsletter, The Visitor, some continuing to provide financial support, visiting us when in the area, and expressing the wish that “they could find another church like First Baptist!”
Ithaca is a small city located in Tompkins County, in the central Finger Lakes region of New York State. Drive northeast from Ithaca for about five hours, and you will find yourself among the heavily forested Adirondack Mountains. Drive southeast approximately the same distance, and you can cross over into Manhattan , a shadowed landscape of a different kind. Northwest of Ithaca is Niagara Falls. To the southwest run the arteries that move out into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. Transports heading from central New York westward carry wine, car timing chains road salt, gravel, and apples.
But Ithaca, New York, never identifies itself as an industrial or farming town. It’s mainly a college town, rich in expensive backpacks and soft, crushable briefcases. Democrats and decaf coffees and articulate citizens’ committees that make life hell for administrators. Strong-arm tactics are met with public disapproval in Ithaca, though one often hears residents mutter wistfully that it would be nice if the city government could settle a few questions with less community input, more dispatch; less talk more action.
People who have heard of Ithaca usually know it as the home to Cornell University. The university’s various buildings stand up among the trees and can be seen clearly from a number of vantage points because the local landscape is hilly. From the v alley, the town has grown up the sides of three big hills. Cornell’s Italianate clock tower and distinctive, blocky art museum dominate East Hill. The twin towers of two high-rise dormitories on the campus of Ithaca College, a private undergraduate institution, dominate South Hill. West Hill is strictly residential. Between these three hills run thin, settled valleys and a network of precipitous gorges; some of the most spectacular residences in Ithaca sit propped on the edge of this or that abyss. Traffic descending the hills, trying to reach the downtown “flats” or cross over to one of the colleges, regularly backs up at a few notorious intersections. Creek waters spilling down through the gorges empty into the central flats and pass through the reinforced ditches of downtown Ithaca before mixing with the deep water of Cayuga Lake.
The City of Ithaca’s population is 31,000. Cornell University students number 20,000, while Ithaca College has 7,000 students. In all of Tompkins County, the total population is almost 104,000. * Visitors generally consider Ithaca picturesque. Parents of graduates recall the impressions of compact repose and youthful industry that fulfilled their expectations of a college town. Ithaca is always hosting visitors – the fluid swell and ebb of an international student population marks the seasons.
*Updated using 2013 data.
What does the Lord require of you?
To do Justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
Peace to all who enter here.