ITHACA, NY -- Tabernacle Baptists Church is celebrating 150+1 years of service in the Fall Creek neighborhood. The church originally wanted to host a celebration for its 150th birthday last year, but like most things, it was derailed by the pandemic.
“We really wanted to do something to emphasize our community and focus on loving them, instead of focusing on an internal celebration,” Pastor Elijah Beltz said.
Beltz said they were going to host an ice cream social during Porchfest, but that was canceled again this year. But as luck would have it, the Streets Alive! Ithaca event is still happening and it takes place right in front of the church. During the festival on Sept. 19, the Tabernacle Baptist Church will have games and ice cream sundaes for all to enjoy.
“We just want to show appreciation for our community,” Beltz said. “The ice cream is for Fall Creek. We would love to get to know our neighbors better.”
The church currently sits on the corner of Utica and Cayuga Streets, as it has for most of its existence. Tabernacle Baptist Church was founded in 1870 by two women who were attending First Baptist church that converted to Christianity.?
“They had a heart for the kids in the Fall Creek area,” Beltz said.
What began with the two women and an evangelist holding revival meetings in a hotel where they were staying led to the Tabernacle Baptist Church. They first met in rented rooms at 28 Mill (now Court) St., and held their first covenant meeting on June 3, 1870. They built a chapel next door at 30 Mill St. later that year, and on Oct. 26, 1874 the church paid $500 to buy the land where the church currently sits. There have been two different buildings on the site, with the current one built in 1963.
“A number of people donated houses so we could have this property and parking lot,” Beltz said. “They were members of the church and people who lived in the Fall Creek neighborhood.”
While the church isn’t new to the community, Beltz is. He moved to Ithaca in fall of 2020 from Rome, NY to take over as the pastor. He said there were a lot of factors that made him and his wife want to move to town.
“We liked the ability to be so close to Cornell and to be in a college town — there are so many perks to that,” he said. “The people are intellectual and even the food becomes great in a college town. My wife and I like ministering the college-aged people and we liked that the church was embedded into the community. It’s not a suburban church, it’s a community church.”
He also noted the church’s history of an international congregation, with attendees from places like Zambia and Nigeria, as a draw.?
Being new to town and the church during a pandemic has presented Beltz with challenges in getting to know the community, but he said he’s been working hard to try to be present when there’s the chance.
“We do blood drives once a month, and those continue whether or not there’s a pandemic because that’s a huge need. That was a great way to meet people with safety protocols in place,” he said.?
The church has also lent space to the Cayuga County Youth Orchestra, the Ithaca Suzuki Institute and local homeschoolers during the pandemic too.
“In the last 10 years we’ve transitioned to that mindset and tried to become more outward focused in some of the things we’re doing, all while trying to maintain who we are in our message,” Beltz said. “We’re Christians, we believe in Jesus Christ, that he died for our sins and rose on the third day. We believe that message, but we want to show it by loving our community.”
Currently the church is only hosting services at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, but will continue to work to reinstate other programs.