It embraces the deep history of having the signature of John Hancock on its charter document.

It is preparing to fight the community's current plague — the epidemic of heroin use.

Many things have changed at the First Baptist Church since it was founded 250 years ago, but the message has stayed the same. 

"Jesus is our savior and we live to serve him," lead Pastor Rick Harrington said. 

This year, the church is celebrating its 250th anniversary. In 1765, Pastor Hezekiah Smith founded First Baptist Church in Haverhill. The church charter was signed by Hancock, who at the time was the governor of Massachusetts. The church's membership dates back to before the Declaration of Independence, through the Civil War, both World Wars, and through the Great Depression and the events of Sept. 11, 2001. 

The current First Baptist Church building at 217 Main St. is not the original building. It's the fourth structure the church has owned. However, the current building does possess some historic significance. Built in 1882, it was designed to seat more than 1,000 people, complete with balconies and a choir loft. Passersby can see the stained glass windows lit up at night during an evening concert or Christmas Eve service.

During the past four years, major construction has happened there.

"We have redone our sanctuary and have added more parking spaces,'' Harrington said. "We are currently in the process of changing the heating system and redoing our fellowship hall.''

The church is making these changes to pursue its goals. 

"We want to have the most up-to-date facility to continue on with our goal to make an impact in ... Haverhill," Harrington said.

Harrington said the church plans to celebrate its anniversary in the fall with a big dinner. Plans are in the works. 

"We don't just want to glorify our past,'' he said. "We want to look ahead to the next chapter of the story.''

"We are very much in the idea stage right now,'' church musical director Ruthie Cranton said of what the celebration will include. "We keep throwing around ideas. We have been thinking about what it was like to go to church 250 years ago. Maybe we will wear costumes. Whatever we do, it will be fun and well done.''

Harrington has been the lead pastor for the past four years and has seen a lot of change over that time. 

"There is more of an outward focus than an inward one now,'' he said. "There is more acceptance to change. We are one of the most warm and caring congregations. We embrace outsiders. We have more of a younger demographic now, too. There are a lot more families with kids." 

The church is considering new ways to connect to the public. It is developing a addiction ministry called "Celebrate Recovery'' to help fight the community's heroin crisis. Church leaders hope to have that ministry running in six months. 

"We think it's important to get out in the city and help people get connected to God," Harrington said.

Cranton has been the musical director for the past decade and has seen her share of changes. 

For her, the church feel like a "home" where everyone works together. 

"If a change happens, everyone talks about it,'' she said. "It's never like, 'This change is going to happen and you have to just deal with it,' I have a lot of trust in our pastor and he has trust in me. At the end of the day, our main goal is just to get the gospel out."

Follow Sara Brown on Twitter @Sara_M_Brown_

First Baptist Church highlights

250 years in existence

Four different church buildings, the current one at 217 Main St.

John Hancock's signature on the church charter, the document allowing it to begin operating

Current church built in 1882, designed to seat more than 1,000 people

An anniversary celebration planned for the fall, with details to be announced

Church goals include attacking current community problems such as heroin abuse

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