Her father, Deacon Bruce Hayes, still preaches at the church and her grandmother is considered to be the mother of the church.
“She’s our spiritual guide and one of the oldest members,” Erin Hayes said.
This year marks the church’s 75th anniversary as the first black Baptist church in Warren County, and church members will celebrate the milestone with a banquet today and anniversary service Sunday.
After black children were denied entrance into other local church services in the 1930s, the idea for a new place of worship took hold, Gwendolyn Roquemore said.
“My grandfather was responding to a need in the community,” said Roquemore, a member of First Baptist and Erin Hayes’ great-grandmother. “There was no welcoming church and he took building a new church upon himself as a mission.”
Roquemore said she witnessed firsthand the church’s moves from a kitchen to a tent to a chicken house, all before the final construction plans were settled. The church was built by community members using donations from local businesses.
“I’ve seen the church go through its ups and downs,” Bruce Hayes said. “I’ve seen it move to a new location and I’ve seen pastors come and go, but the church is still standing.”
Like his daughter, Bruce Hayes grew up in the church. His great-grandfather was the church’s founder and his mother has always played the organ and piano at church services.
Bruce Hayes, who will be the guest of honor at today’s anniversary banquet, said he would love to see the membership of the church grow.
“Our challenges today are different than what was faced in 1939, but we are still trying to meet the needs of the parish and the community wherever we can,” he said.
Bruce Hayes did not always work at the church. It was not until he became active again in the parish that he was provided with opportunities to become a deacon and serve as chairman of the deacon board.
He said that while race was a large issue in America during the time of First Baptist’s establishment, the church was not subjected to much racial tension. He said many of the benefactors who greatly supported the growth and expansion of First Baptist were white.
The church also helped his daughter receive her minister’s license.
Erin Hayes, currently pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Rahway, N.J., will return to the church where she grew up Sunday for the special anniversary service. She will preach about the church’s history and instill hopes and plans for the future.
“My family, as well as countless other ministers and deacons, are the fruit of labor and love that has come out of this church,” she said. “First Baptist grew out of adversity and has produced people who are willing to challenge their faith and our society.”
Source: Lehigh Valley Live / The Express Times | Kathryn Nieves