By Josette Keelor
MIDDLETOWN -- The doors of the new First Baptist Church of Middletown have not opened yet, but already town officials have hopes for its future, including the opening of a senior center.
At a Town Council meeting on March 10, members of the First Baptist Church of Stephens City gathered as the Rev. Michael Blitch introduced himself to the council and announced his plans to move the church from its current location at Double Tollgate to 2425 First Street in Middletown.
It's a move Mayor Charles H. Harbaugh IV said he hopes will benefit the town as much as the church community. He said he expressed to Blitch the need for a community senior center and how the church might be able to fill that void.
"We're thrilled about it," Harbaugh said before the meeting began. "We think that that would be a good service to provide."
The church on First Street, which currently houses the Meadowbrook Bible Baptist Church, will more than fit the growing congregation of First Baptist and provide needed space for programs, classes and events, Blitch said.
At a Monday night business meeting, Meadowbrook's remaining 10 members and trustees voted unanimously to approve the sale of the church building, said trustee Chris Mullins.
Despite the sale, Mullins said Meadowbrook Bible Baptist led by his father, Rev. Roger C. Mullins, will not close.
Declining membership of the church that changed its name from Meadowbrook Freewill Baptist two years ago fueled his father's decision to sell the building, but Chris Mullins said the pastor plans on reducing his ministry to part-time.
"It was just in the best interest of the church to sell the current building," Chris Mullins said. "There's no plans for anything as far as finding a new location as of now." He said probably in the next few months the congregants will decide on a location to meet.
Meadowbrook's last service at the First Street location will be March 30, and the congregation will host the PromisedLand Quartet of Edinburg at 7 p.m. After the closing date, tentatively set for April 1, First Baptist plans to start services in its new home in time for Palm Sunday on April 13.
Blitch said he believes the knowledge of a thriving Baptist church moving in -- "that they agreed fundamentally with" -- has made the transition easier for the Meadowbrook congregation.
"That's the one thing that I wanted to assure Pastor Mullins is that his life work just continues," Blitch said. "Their church is going to be full again."
To help gauge community interest in the proposed senior center, Chief R. Philip Breeden of the Middletown Police Department has been in contact with area seniors through the Community Care Program he brought with him from Warren County when he became police chief 10 years ago.
"We physically check on elderly, shut-ins, handicapped and some people that their family lives elsewhere and they can't check on them on a daily basis," he said.
Area residents can expect to see notices of the proposed senior center in upcoming water and sewer bills, with information on where the center will be and what it could offer.
"I feel that we're here to serve, as well as protect and enforce the laws," Breeden said.
A senior center, he said, is "something that would really benefit the local people and the seniors in our community."
"I sort of can't wait 'til the church gets here," he said.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com