The American Baptist Churches of the Rochester/Genesee Region
The region was legally formed as the Monroe Association October 18, 1827. John Quincy Adams was President of the United States and DeWitt Clinton Governor of the State of New York. Delegates from six churches of the Genesee Association and three from Ontario Association met in the Court House in Rochester and organized the “Monroe Baptist Association.” First Baptist Church of Penfield is the oldest church in the Association, organized in 1804. Of the original nine churches, six remain an active part of the region in the present day.
By 1867 there were 24 congregations in the Association, increasing to 34 by 1899, and finally 47 member congregations comprise today's network of the Rochester Genesee Region.
The first generation of churches was significantly affected by what was then described as four major agitations. These were the organization of the Mormon church, Millerite preaching, the activities of the Fox sisters, or spiritualism, and the growth of Free Masonry.
It was during this first generation that both the Rochester University (University of Rochester) and Rochester Seminary (Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School) were formed and supported by the Baptist churches of the association.
The second generation of churches was deeply involved in the abolition of slavery. The abolition movement was birthed in Rochester, it being home to the nation’s leading abolitionist Frederick Douglass. In fact, at least four great movements grew out of this small city: abolition, women’s suffrage, the Second Great Awakening and the Social Gospel. In addition to Frederick Douglass, other citizens of note were Susan B. Anthony, Charles G. Finney, and Walter Rauschenbusch.
Finney gave the region its name, referring to it as a "burnt district" because so many revivals had taken place in this area during this period of time.
The third generation was marked by rapid growth and expanding interests. A mark of the region from its inception was a strong commitment to mission. Written into the purpose of the first constitution of the Association was a pledge to promote missionary work. Scores of missionaries have gone out from these churches overseas to places such as India, China, the Philippines, the Congo, Japan, El Salvador and Burma. In these early years, there were as many as 48 missionaries sent out from thirteen churches.
The fourth generation reconstituted itself as The Baptist Union of Rochester and MonroeCounty. The Union was organized as a Standard City Mission Society with a full-time executive minister, a legal corporation and joined to ABCUSA through the City Federation of Churches. In these years, the region established the Baptist Home at Fairport, which was dedicated in 1905. At the 100-year mark the Union had 38 member churches, 22 outside of the city of Rochester and 16 within. The collective membership of these congregations totaled 13,048 members, as compared with 881 members when the association was first established. One of the most notable women of this generation was Helen Barrett Montgomery. Montgomery also served as the president of the Woman’s American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (1914 - 1924). In this position, she sought to increase access to education and health care for women and children. In 1915 she, along with two other prominent women of faith, founded the World Wide Guild, the purpose of which was to encourage young women to pursue missionary work. She presided over the National Federation of Women’s Boards of Foreign Missions (1917 - 1918), and in 1921 became the first woman to be elected president of the Northern Baptist Convention. Helen Barrett Montgomery was the first woman to be licensed for ministry by the region in 1898.
The present generation experienced another name change in 1988 when the city societies were permitted to become covenanting partners with the American Baptist Churches USA as regions. Once again, the name changed to the American Baptist Churches of the Rochester/Genesee Region. Although the name changed, the constituencies did not. The majority of member congregations today have been with the region through most of its evolutions.
The first of many women were ordained beginning in 1935. In 1984 the region established Cameron Community Ministries, a Neighborhood Action Center, in partnership with the Genesee Valley Presbytery, serving some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the City of Rochester. In 2005 Cameron served over 30,000 meals to children, youth and adults. Cameron also provides clothing, health supplies, tutoring and a summer day camp.
Today the region has 47 constituent congregations, 15 of which are outside what have been traditional regional boundaries. Initially the region churches were located in Monroe and Livingston Counties of New York known as the Genesee River Valley area. Presently churches are located in 6 counties of New York and in 9 states including, California, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Jersey, Minnesota, and North Carolina. ABCRGR has been one of a few regions of the ABCUSA which has granted refuge to congregations, which were forced to find a new region home or in a few instances chose to align themselves with this region because of affinity with values and character of this region. The character of this region has from its beginning been characterized by the distinctives of soul freedom and local church autonomy. It was Walter Raushenbusch who wrote in 1905, “Our Baptist faith, like our American political constitution, is founded on great principles, and even if some misuse it or misunderstand it, or are inwardly traitors to it, its greatness lifts others up to it. Baptists uphold Baptist principles; and Baptist principles in turn lift up Baptists.”