The First Baptist Church of Arlington, Massachusetts is a well-established institution, with a history stretching all the way back to the late 1700s. The common thread running through its story is an emphasis on Bible-based teachings and strong congregational involvement. The current congregation is composed of members from a wide range of backgrounds and experience, hailing from Arlington and many of the surrounding communities. In a recent membership survey, members indicated that their favorite unique characteristic of the church is the supportive multicultural congregation. The unifying goal for the people of First Baptist is encapsulated in its vision statement: “Growing together in faith, sharing Christ’s love with our world.”
This congregation is diverse in background, in culture and in theological perspective in such a way that it is open, and it is welcoming to all. It is generally evangelical, but not in a strongly ideological way. There is not any theological litmus test for being active in the leadership or for participation in Bible studies or worship leadership. There is not a strong need in this congregation to agree on or abide by any specific theological perspective, other than being Christ-centered. In a Church Profile written 20 years ago, a fairly detailed statement was created including the traditional items from an ordination paper outline. However, this did not then, nor does it now hold sway in any concrete way for this church family.
One distinguishing characteristic of this congregation is that although current worship is largely New England traditional, members come from a diversity of Christian worship backgrounds. Just looking at the 40-50 people who are active in worship and in Bible studies, there are the reserved New Englanders, along with members from the South and Midwest who blend with worshippers from Cameroon, China and Haiti. The leadership of the church and the active congregation is made up of a fairly equal mixture of African American and Caucasian members. There are also a variety of worship style backgrounds including lively worship, Roman Catholic and other Protestant traditions. Also, we believe that given the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the active congregation members, there could be a possible openness to experience a diversity of worship styles going into the future.
The general atmosphere of the congregation is that they are comfortable identifying as an American Baptist congregation. A strong contingent of our leadership is engaged with our local Baptist Stillman Association, regional TABCOM activities, and national ABC/USA annual offerings.
There is a desire for Biblical preaching, and for sermons which engage with current culture, social and ethical concerns. However, with a clear diversity of political persuasions, there is a desire to avoid any particular political party or point of view being expressed from the pulpit.
This congregation is diverse in background, in culture and in American Baptist theological perspectives.
First Baptist offers a wide range of ministries. In addition to the primary service on Sunday and Sunday School, there are several weekly Bible studies led by teachers from the congregation. Furthermore, there are also many occasions for congregational involvement throughout the year, including preaching on Laity Sunday and for the yearly Lenten Series, and even supplying the cast for the yearly Christmas Pageant.
Fellowship is very much encouraged, with a designated meeting time after each Sunday Service, and special congregational meals, including Easter and Harvest brunches. The church also participates in many community activities, including food donations, the yearly Walk for Affordable Housing, Operation Planting Hope, and Arlington Town Day. Further outreach is achieved through a yearly MLK Day celebration, supporting the local Boy Scouts through use of the church building, and hosting various concerts throughout the year. The church is also blessed with a phenomenal restored Frazee pipe organ and carillon (church bells) to minister through music.
Current worship attendance ranges from 35 to 40 attendees, including adults, youth and children. The church is funded by a strong endowment, a rental tenant (nursery school) and to a lesser extent weekly tithe and special event collections. Additional paid church staff include an administrative assistant, a director of Christian Education and a custodian.
The general character of the church definitely is traditional, though the congregation is often open to trying new ideas. The church is governed by a range of formal boards and committees, composed of church members that work with the pastor in guiding church decisions. Members are highly motivated to accept leadership and service roles.
On Sundays, the service typically has a fixed format, with hymns, scripture and responsive readings, prayers, children’s message, and the sermon all occurring within a regular structure. To help the pastor facilitate the service, a different member of the congregation serves as the worship leader each week, leading the congregation through the usual progression of worship. Each Sunday, the congregation typically sings several traditional hymns as a group. The choir also typically performs an additional song, which can be drawn from a range of musical styles. Music is provided by the church organ and piano, with special music sometimes provided by a trumpet or other instrument, soloists or recorded tracks. Christmas celebrations include a concert by the choir.
Our relationship with Jesus develops in our spiritual life when we privately make a commitment to follow Jesus and trust and depend upon Him to guide us. We practice baptism by total immersion as a public announcement of our relationship with Jesus. We accept into our fellowship, by way of Christian Experience, those who have been baptized elsewhere, if they do not wish to be baptized again.
All American Baptist local churches are self governing: but we cooperate together with the ABCUSA and the American Baptist churches of Massachusetts (TABCOM) family, to do mission and service work locally and across the globe. We also share resources and support in the process of filling church staff positions.
We believe that we should work with our fellow churches to make things better where we live, work, and worship. We feel that we can work with other churches and groups in a spirit of mutual respect even if we do not agree fully on points of doctrine or practice. It is our belief that God would have people work together for His Kingdom without prejudice towards individual or corporate ideology.
While welcoming and with strong bonds, the congregation is also smaller than it was in generations past. One of the primary desires put forth in survey responses is to grow the membership, to share the love of Jesus with more and more people. Many ideas have been put forward, including working together with other local churches, and becoming even more involved in community activities. The congregation is especially dedicated to ministry to children and youth and particularly interested in growing this area of ministry.
The church is blessed with a large but aging worship facility that is centrally located in the town. The future of the building, grounds and endowment is a key topic in church strategic planning. The church has a strong desire for a pastor that can deliver relevant Bible-based messages on Sunday and minister to the congregation while also serving as a leader that can help the church achieve these diverse goals of ministerial growth and asset management.
Information about the town of Arlington is available on the town web site at https://www.arlingtonma.gov/i-want-to/learn-about/arlington-history-facts.