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Free Will Baptist celebrates 75 years
Turlock Free Will Baptist Church, the oldest Free Will Baptist church in California, is preparing to celebrate its 75th anniversary. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

The Turlock Free Will Baptist Church is the oldest of its kind in the state, and is preparing to celebrate 75 years of rich history and outreach within the city.

The first time the church convened was March 22, 1942 with Reverend John Waltman, who moved his family to Turlock from Oklahoma after feeling the need for more churches to be started in the San Joaquin Valley. The church originally met at the Assyrian Hall on East Canal Drive with 19 members, and since it was the first Free Will Baptist church in Northern California, people drove from miles away to attend.

In 1945 the church bought a lot on the corner of Lander Avenue and C Street where members would continue to worship for 20 years, adding a kitchen, junior chapel and parsonage to the already existing church auditorium. When the church moved to its current location on Geer Road in 1960, parts of the buildings at the Lander church were sold to separate buyers, one of which is used to this day at a church in Delhi, and another which is still used by a church today on I Street in Turlock.

Since moving to its Geer Road location nearly 60 years ago, the Turlock Free Will Baptist Church has added a kitchen, a parsonage, classrooms, a junior chapel, a new main sanctuary and a bus to bring people to church. Today the church is still located at 2217 Geer Road and is the oldest existing Free Will Baptist church in California.

The church is dedicated to outreach within the community, bringing people to church who never would have been able to come otherwise. The church also provides a homeless ministry and a food closet, and is home to the Central Valley Bible Institute, which trains students to serve as teachers and pastors for all denominations.

“We try to intentionally reach out with a gospel of Jesus Christ and help people understand and grow,” said Lynn Moline, a member of both the church and its anniversary steering committee. “We accept everyone and really try to help others.”

To celebrate 75 years in Turlock, the church will be celebrating with food, fun and fellowship on March 18 and 19. On Saturday, the celebration will kick off with a prayer summit at 3:30 p.m., a coffee hour at 4:30 p.m. and a dinner at 5:30 p.m. followed by a worship service. On Sunday, a continental breakfast will be provided at 9:45 a.m., followed by morning worship service at 10:30 a.m., which Mayor Gary Soiseth will attend, and lunch and fellowship at 12:30 p.m. In attendance at the celebration will also be family members of the church’s former pastors, as well as representatives from both the national and state associations of the Free Will Baptist church.

“We are going to recognize past and current pastors, and have performances from the kids,” said Moline. “It’s just going to be a grand old time.”