Tabernacle church commemorates 115 years in Council Bluffs

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — The Rev. Raymond Burt Sr. recollected the history of the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church as one that has grieved, but holds on to an optimistic future for the members of the parish and their plans for ministry.

This year, the church is celebrating 115 years as one of the oldest African American churches in Council Bluffs, The Daily Nonpareil reported. With a history of fellowship dating back to 1904, Burt said he’s met many people who have a connection to the church in some way — people who know or remember former ministers, people with relatives who were baptized in the church.

Once a booming church with 40 members, 13 people singing in the choir and a ride share program, Burt said the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church is now home to only 20 members and three active choir members.

Tabernacle was without a pastor for a year after the Rev. Jesse Isom retired in 2013, and they suffered a loss of membership, Burt said.

Under Isom’s 36-year ministry, the building’s mortgage was completely paid and parts of the church were renovated, according to history provided by Burt.

Presently, the church still has hope, considering the impact it could make.

“We are trying to make an impact on this corner, in this area and in this community,” he said. “We were up to 40 members, but we’ve had some deaths in the last few years. We want to get more families and young people involved.”

From the corner, the church has a view of the park across the street and a connection to those who make their home under the West Broadway viaduct. Burt said he is planning to open a community center behind the church, in a small house once connected to the building.

“We feel once our community center is running, it will have an impact on our neighborhood and more people will be involved with the church,” Burt said. “Bean bags, refreshments and an area for prayer or guidance.”

The church has space for a Sunday school, a community center and equipment for a bustling choir.

“We welcome all families and former members back to the church,” Burt said. “But if they’ve joined other churches, we understand.”

On any given Sunday that children or youth attend the service, there is a member of the church prepared to teach Sunday school lessons. Space in the lower quarters of the church is allotted for tables and chairs — adjacent to where the church’s history is displayed.

Deborah Spires, longtime member and elected chairperson of the anniversary event, said in the last four years, Burt has opened the church to more people who are homeless, residents in the neighborhood and whoever wants to be there.

“It’s a nervous time for churches, but you have to look beyond that. You can’t think that way or you can never open your doors. Pastor Burt has made it comfortable so we can do that,” Spires said. “We’re looking forward to celebrating 115 years.”

Tabernacle will soon host its anniversary celebration. Its regular service will start at 11 a.m. and its celebratory service with Isom will be held at 3:30 p.m.

Cake and light appetizers are available afterward.

“Everyone is invited. We will sing to the glory of God and have a great time,” Burt said.

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