COUNCIL BLUFFS — 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, one of the oldest African American congregations in Council Bluffs, is celebrating 115 years. With the church’s history of fellowship dating 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 congregation with 40 members, 13 people singing in the choir and a ride-sharing program, the church is now home to only 20 members and three active choir members, Burt said.
Under the 36-year ministry of the Rev. Jesse Isom, the building’s mortgage was completely paid, and parts of the church were renovated, according to history provided by Burt.
Tabernacle was without a pastor for a year after Isom retired in 2013, and it lost members, Burt said.
But the church still has hope.
“We are trying to make an impact on this corner, in this area and in this community,” Burt 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.”
At 1400 Ave. A, the church sits across the corner from Broadway Park and has 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,” he said. “Bean bags, refreshments and an area for prayer or guidance.”
The church has space for Sunday school 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.”
Deborah Spires, a longtime member and chairwoman of the anniversary event, said that in the past four years, Burt has opened the church to more homeless people, neighborhood residents and whoever wants to be there.
“It’s a nervous time for churches, but you have to look beyond that,” she said. “You can’t think that way, or you can never open your doors. Pastor Burt has made it comfortable so we can do that. We’re looking forward to celebrating 115 years.”