SALT LAKE CITY â€” For 125 years â€” four more years than Utah has been a state â€” the Calvary Baptist Church has been a center of exuberant faith in Salt Lake City.
And there is more work to be done.
That was the message Sunday as the Calvary's congregation came together for the final of several days celebrating the church's anniversary. The lively service included messages from Salt Lake's mayor and police chief, rousing performances by several choirs and a dance number from young women in the congregation that brought the room to its feet.
"For over 125 years we have been lifting the name of Jesus in this community," said Pastor France A. Davis, praising the congregation. "It is a great day to be in the house of the Lord."
Bessie Thornton, a deaconess in the church, beamed from beneath an ornate white hat as she joined other deacons and deaconesses in the front of the sanctuary. Together they welcomed the congregation and prayed for many more years serving the community and bringing those in need into the fold.
Having been a member of Calvary Baptist since moving to Salt Lake from Atlanta more than 30 years ago, Thornton said after the service that she appreciated the chance to celebrate with members who welcomed her into the congregation and remember those who have passed away.
"I was here when we built this church from the ground up. It's just amazing to see where we've come from," Thornton said, describing a vision of the faith's original members smiling down from heaven. "My children grew up in this church, and now my grandchildren are here."
Thornton said she hopes the messages of coming together as a church family, with no distinction of race or gender, resonated with her brothers and sisters in the congregation.
Salt Lake's Calvary Baptist Church, 1090 S. State, began in 1892 as a prayer group in the homes of the city's growing African-American community, said Ron Coleman, who recounted the church's history. Through the years the congregation moved between several buildings in the city, Coleman said, but always remained "a downtown church" integral to the community.
The congregation continued to grow to more than 700 members, according to the church's history, when they helped build the State Street location that opened in 2001. The facility includes space for worship, education and recreation.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski thanked those in the church for their contributions to the city, calling on them to continue their work spreading equality in the area.
"Our collective wisdom and life experiences can help chart the course forward, a course where no one is judged for who they are, but accepted for exactly who they are, a child of God," Biskupski said.
She drew a chorus of applause in the church as she continued: "We are all God's children, and God wants us to treat each other with love, dignity and respect."
Biskupski also praised Rev. Davis for more than 40 years of leadership in the church, calling his service "impactful, meaningful and life changing" to the community.
Police Chief Mike Brown praised the members for their contributions in the city, and thanked them for their heartfelt invitations asking him to come to church whenever they cross paths with him.
"This congregation is a light in the midst of Zion," Brown said. "You truly are a light in Salt Lake City."
Offering a special sermon for the event, Pastor LaMar T. Jackson, of Kaysville's True Vine Baptist Church, preached of building a firm foundation of faith within families.
Strength in families cannot come from material possessions, Jackson warned, but can be found through faith in God.
"It's hard work to build a marriage, and it's hard work to build a good family," Jackson said. "You can't build a family without Jesus."
The same is true for a church, Jackson explained, saying "a church is only as strong as the families that make it up."
Rev. Jackson urged the congregants to set faith-based goals for their families and their church in order to build a strong foundation for themselves.
"Without a solid foundation, Calvary wouldn't have pressed ahead for 125 years," he assured.