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Church celebrates milestone

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

BRIDGEPORT -- Simpson Creek Baptist Church may be old, but it is anything but over the hill.

Sunday evening, the parking lot was full and the pews were packed as 17 members of the church's choral group Vocé sang well-harmonized inspirational songs to a background of modern instrumental tracks. Vocé, pronounced "vo-chay," means voice in Italian, and members are drawn from the church's Adult Worship Choir, according to Pat Anders, associate pastor of music and worship.

In fact, Vocé is only one of six or seven choral groups at the church, which has an estimated membership of 1,100 and about 300 Sunday school enrollees, said Pastor Bob Scharnhorst.

Not bad for a church that was founded by five people in 1770 and considered the oldest Protestant church west of the Allegheny Mountains.

"I've been a member of this church for all my life. In effect, I grew up with it," said Sue Bryant.

"It was much smaller when I was a child. We have pretty consistent attendance, and we are looking at adding additional space for parking and Sunday school classes," Bryant said.

Sunday's choral performance was just on in a series of events to celebrate the church's 230th anniversary.

According to "A Brief History of the Simpson Creek Baptist Church, Bridgeport WV, 1770-1997, the church was served by itinerant pastors until 1780. Church representatives had to make dangerous trips by wagon or horseback over the mountains to attend association meetings.

By 1800 the church had a stable congregation and acted as an organizer of other churches. By the mid-1980s, membership had grown to 800. It is growing still.

"It's a good problem to have," Scharnhorst said.

Scharnhorst added the church is not only expanding in numbers. He said it is trying to expand its spiritual reach across generations.

"We try to encourage older adults to become involved with younger children. We have quite a few classes that have members as young as 25 and as old as 50 mixed. It's pretty much cross-generational," he said.

The church has a youth minister as well as a minister of music. Scharnhorst said one advantage of size is an ability to offer something to everyone and keep young people interested and involved.

"We have a divorce support group that about 50 people a year go through. It's been a real success," he said. "We try to emphasize Christian education from adults on down. One of our projects is called 'Discover Land'. The motto is 'seeing children believe in Christ'. That is the building foundation for spiritual growth."

Staff Writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at sgainer@exponent-telegram.com.

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