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Historic Owego Church Looks to Future

(Source: Jason Weinstein)

At almost 182 years old, the First Baptist Church in Owego has seen it's share of history. It's also made it's share. The church was the first in the nation to publicly state an anti-slavery position.

"This became a focal point because the church took such an overt stand against slavery. They went public and there were some mobs around that didn't like that. And there were some riots," said First Baptist of Owego Pastor, Reverend G. Terry Steenburg.

The church's abolitionist stance brought speakers such as Frederick Douglas to First Baptist. An eye-catching remnant of that era remains.

"A beautiful stained-glass window that was given by the grandchildren in memory of their grandfather who was the pastor here during the Civil War," said Steenburg.

A few years later the church had a young congregant who would go on to become the world's richest man - John D. Rockefeller. 

"In those days we had a good library and he was quite a reader. He liked to come to church. I don't know if there was anything real spiritual about his motives but he would come to church with his grandmother and he'd grab a bunch of books," said Steenburg.

But an unfortunate piece of history befell the church in September of 2011 - the Southern Tier's second major flood in five years. Despite having spent $200,000 to rebuild the church still needs anywhere from 200- to 500-thousand dollars to finish the job. Steenburg has faith the rebuild will be finished.

"We've had small gifts of 25 dollars. We've had larger gifts of $5,000 from individuals and just recently we've had - I don't know who they were in the community - gave us $1,000," said Steenburg.

The church may have a rich history but it's the days ahead that will be critical to it's survival.

"To my congregation I'll say we're a church with a future in the making. I believe that," said Steenburg.

****In Owego, Jason Weinstein Fox 40 HD News****

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