The First Baptist Church, which has been at the corner of Chestnut and Academy streets in Oneonta for more than 110 years, is for sale.
However, members plan to continue as a congregation on a smaller scale and said they hope to keep the parsonage for use as a worship and mission center. The church has about two dozen members who attend Sunday services regularly.
“There is a lot of faith in God in the folks that are here,” said Philip Hulbert, church moderator at First Baptist Church. “There’s a collective will to try to continue the ministry, rather than find a way to disband.”
The property is listed with Exit Team Advantage Realty for $550,000 and includes the sanctuary building with offices, plus an educational wing and a 100-space parking lot.
During an interview in the book-filled pastor’s office Wednesday night, Hulbert said that two serious inquiries have been made regarding a purchase. He declined to identify the parties other than to say that they aren’t churches.
Options such as sharing the building were considered but didn’t work out, Hulbert said. Members reached a decision that the building far exceeded needs and was no longer was sustainable, so they agreed to put it on the market, he said.
Members have experienced a range of emotions about the situation but have focused on continuing their ministry, said the Rev. Gail Baird, a member of First Baptist Church.
“The church is not the building, it’s the people,” said Baird, who grew up and also was ordained in the church.
Churches in the Northeast and locally face challenges with membership levels and whether to to close or merge, not unlike school districts that face declining enrollment and rising costs, the Rev. Randolph “Randy” Palada said.
“We are experiencing the reality of changing times,” Palada said during an interview in his office Thursday.
In 1833, the church became the first Baptist church in Oneonta, according to a historical summary.
In 1903, the congregation moved into its current building, and during the first third of the century membership reached more than 950. Also during this period, the Upstate Home orphanage, precursor to Springbrook, which serves people with special needs, had original ties to church members. Palada said he is a member of the Springbrook board.
Palada, who joined the church in 2010, said the church has money budgeted through June and is at a critical juncture.
The possibility of selling the church has been on the table at least since the congregation’s most-recent search for a minister. At the time of the search, the church’s budget was listed in documents as about $153,800, with an endowment of $400,000.
“We certainly were blessed to have wonderful benefactors,” Hulbert said. The congregation has used endowment funds, which don’t last forever, he said.
First Baptist Church membership of about 30 was declining when he became pastor, Palada said. About five new members have joined during his tenure, he said, and current membership is 20 to 25.
Palada said at the time he joined First Baptist Church, the congregation already faced financial, membership and leadership challenges. Externally, the congregation has faced the changing role of religion and church life in society, he said.
However, Palada said, he is impressed by members’ strong commitment to mission work locally and around the world. And in the face of “overwhelming challenges,” they find strength, support and love, he said.
“I did the best I could to keep the church going,” said Palada, 64, who plans to continue as First Baptist’s minister. A goal is to overcome disappointments and work toward redirection, he said.
The church’s outreach has supported Family Service Association and the Salvation Army, among other community organizations, members said. First Baptist Church is in the American Baptist Churches conference nationally and part of the local Fransego Association.
Also, many community groups have used the church for activities and program, Hulbert said, and Youth for Christ still has an office in the church building.