Members of North Fork Baptist Church haven’t used their sanctuary, except for a couple of funerals, in over a year and a half.
They’ll be returning Sunday when they celebrate the church’s 220th anniversary.
“What blows my mind is when this church was established in 1801, this was still wilderness,” Pastor Jay Stratton said. “Kentucky had been a state for only nine years.”
The church, which has always been in Switzer, moved to its current location at 3660 Rocky Branch Road in 1870. While there have been additions to the building over the years, the sanctuary was built in 1870.
When the pandemic first hit last year, North Fork streamed its services on Facebook, then went to having a small praise team in person and eventually moved to the worship center behind the church that allowed people to spread out.
On Sunday the congregation will gather for worship in the church’s sanctuary at 10 a.m., followed by the taking of a group picture on the front steps of the church. A potluck meal will be served in the worship center, and there will be an afternoon service, beginning around 1 p.m., where several members will be speaking.
“I think part of the beauty of this place is the consistency in a lot of areas,” Stratton said. “One area that has not been consistent is pastors.”
While Stratton said the church has had quite a bit of turnover at that position, he’s in his 20th year as the pastor.
Working with him for the past 19 years has been Kenny Stephens as the youth pastor. He’s also a deacon.
“I’m 53, but I try to be young at heart," Stephens said. "When our last youth pastor left a girl asked me, ‘Why don’t you be our youth pastor?’
“I said I’d pray on it and see how it goes. Now 19 years later I’m still doing it, and I’m still acting like a child.”
Stephens and his wife, Stacey, were married at North Fork. Stacey Stephens has been a member of the church all her life.
“It’s a special place to me,” she said. “It’s where I was baptized, where we got married, where we raised our child.
“I grew up here, and I’ve served alongside Kenny with the youth. It’s been a blessing.”
Stratton, who also works for the City of Frankfort as a garbage truck driver, said it wasn’t always his plan to stay at North Fork for as long as he has, but the congregation has been key to his years of service.
“There was a time I had looked at going to a bigger church. In 2008, I stood right there,” he said, pointing to the pulpit, “and told them it looked like I was heading toward a divorce, and I offered my resignation.
“The love, the grace, shown here is a debt I could never settle.”