For the Rev. Kent Berghuis, the new lead pastor at First Baptist Church of Dayton, the road to Dayton was first paved at a small Baptist church in Iowa.
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“My parents raised us in a small-town Baptist church where we had wonderful relationships,” the Rev. Berghuis recalls. His parents were active at the church, and the Rev. Berghuis felt a calling to the ministry through the church’s active youth group.
The Rev. Berghuis graduated from Faith Baptist Bible College in Iowa and received his doctorate in theological studies from Trinity International University, his Th.M from Dallas Theological Seminary. “I’ve kept a foot in both the church and education through my whole career.”
Donna Curry, chairwoman of the search committee at First Baptist, said the committee was impressed with the Rev. Berghuis’ strong theological background, his ability to translate this scholarship into relevant messages from the pulpit and to provide empathetic pastoral care.
The Rev. Berghuis began his duties Oct. 1. He came to Dayton from First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, where he was senior pastor. From 2004 to 2015 he was senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Lansdale, Penn., a Philadelphia suburb. Here he led an inter-cultural ministry with extensive community outreach efforts.
The Rev. Berghuis says that he understands some of the challenges facing him as he takes on the leadership role at an old downtown Dayton church, and says he’s confident those challenges will be met. “We face challenges related to property maintenance, funding and lower membership and attendance,” he said. “We will face these challenges with an honest effort to engage the community today with all its diversity, promote genuine spiritual and relational vitality. If we remember that the church’s building and resources exist to bless people and not the other way around, we can trust that God and people will care for the church’s needs.”
Because of the great downtown location at 111 W. Monument Ave., the Rev. Berghuis hopes the church can be a significant part of the revitalization of Dayton. New residential and business construction near the church offers opportunity to connect with new people. “We hope people will notice us and that we’ll get out in the community and make a difference.”
The Rev. Berghuis wants the community to know that First Baptist has a unique blend of progressive and traditional values. It welcomes people from diverse backgrounds and affirms people regardless of race, gender, culture, sexual orientation and categories that often divide people. “While we know who we are as a particular Christian congregation, we also respect and value others from differing perspectives and want to work together to heal wounds and overcome divisions,” he said. “First Baptist of Dayton is a place where your heart, souls and mind can all be nourished in service to the love of God and neighbor.”
Admitting that church attendance is down nationwide, the Rev. Berghuis thinks often religion has become part of the problem of what divides the world instead of being part of the solution to bring people together. “We need to release ourselves from a preservationist mindset and seek regular renewal and outreach.”
The Rev. Berghuis and his wife, Deb, have three grown children and live walking distance to the church in the city’s Grafton Hill neighborhood with their pet sheltie. “I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a pastor at this beautiful and historic church,” said the Rev. Berghuis. “It has a reputation throughout our American Baptist denomination as a leading congregation with a progressive voice. We are making a difference for the sake of God’s kingdom and a better world.”
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