Tabernacle Baptist Church was incorporated as Second Baptist Church of the Village of Utica in 1819, when the First (Welsh) Baptist Church dismissed twelve of its English-speaking members to establish and English language congregation. The congregation assumed its current name in 1865 after constructing its current sanctuary building. In 1905 the congregation added an educational building (Thorn Chapel), which to this day houses the congregation’s offices, fellowship hall, kitchen, meeting rooms and Sunday School rooms.
For most of the twentieth century Tabernacle Baptist Church regarded itself as the American Baptist denominational flagship church in eastern Oneida County. However, for much of the second half of the century, the congregation experienced significant numerical decline that mirrored Utica’s fifty percent population loss between the end of the Second World War and the new millennium. By the 1980’s and 90’s the reoccurring question that the congregation revisited on several occasions was: “Why are we remaining in this big, old building with more space than we will ever use again?” In the late 1990’s, as a result of a long-range planning process, the congregation committed itself to remain in its historic, downtown building and to rebuild its ministry as it reached out in ministry to the neighborhoods surrounding the church building.
Shortly thereafter, Tabernacle Baptist Church welcomed the first Karen refugee family to arrive in Utica into its fellowship in autumn 1999. This nine-member family, and hundreds that followed it from the refugee camps of Thailand to the Mohawk Valley, were resettled by the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. In 2000, the congregation formed a Refugee Ministry Taskforce to help the congregation minister to the growing number of Karen refugees arriving in the community from the refugee camps on the Thailand-Burma border. This group continues to oversee the congregation’s ministry of welcome, hospitality, and service to newly arrived refugees from Burma. In 2004, the American Baptist Churches of New York State designated this outreach ad Validated Ministry of the region. In September 2007, the church called the Revered Daniel Calvin San, a Karen Baptist pastor who came to the United States as a refugee, and its Associate Pastor.
Today, Tabernacle Baptist Church is a congregation comprised both of long-term residents of our community and new neighbors who first came to the United States as refugees from Burma. We speak in two languages: English and Karen. We live in city neighborhoods surrounding our church building in suburban developments, and outlying villages. Our fellowship embraces people of all ages: from infants and toddlers, to children and teens, young adults and middle aged and those in their golden years. We are a community of faith that practices the inclusive love of God and radical hospitality and welcome of Jesus Christ.
We believe our congregation’s embracing of the ancient Christian practice of hospitality has not only resulted in the rebirth of our church, but is a living out of the valued proclaimed in Isaiah 1:17. We have provided refuge, welcome, and community for the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow.