The church, begun Oct. 14, 2012 by Pastor Philip Rizzo in a rented storefront on Jefferson Street with a few parishioners, has now grown into a congregation of about 60 people. They celebrated their anniversary by assembling Bibles for a new Baptist church in Pennsylvania, having a special guest speaker perform church services, and sitting down together to share a meal.
Rizzo said he began City Baptist in Hoboken after 9/11 and the heroic landing of US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River in which an alumna of his alma mater, Villanova, was a passenger.
“After 9/11 a lot of people flooded back into churches, and I thought ‘Where are they running in Hoboken?’” said Rizzo. “Where is the Bible church? A church based solely on the Bible and word of God. Then I’m reading my alumni magazine and there is this guy’s testimony about being on that plane, and he recounts this passenger counting down until the moment of impact, and being raised Catholic he begins to recite the Hail Mary. It broke my heart to read that. It emphasized where religion and the Bible parted ways. As far as he knew he was stepping into eternity and he called out to someone who couldn’t save him. Jesus is the only savior. No one taught him what the Bible said.”
He says this is what separates City Baptist from other churches.
“I would say the main thing about our church is the Bible in our church is the final authority,” said Rizzo. “We don’t have a church doctrine, our doctrine is the Bible and that’s it. Our church slogan is ‘The word of God magnified’.”
He said those two incidents prompted him to open City Baptist in a storefront on Jefferson Street. They opened just weeks before Hurricane Sandy hit and “destroyed everything.”
Despite this, they rebuilt only to have to move three years later because the landlord sold the building.
Now City Baptist meets in the Hoboken High School auditorium for service on Sundays.
“The sacredness in the church has never been about the building,” said Rizzo. “It is about the group of people worshiping Jesus Christ as our savior. That can happen in someone’s living room. It’s not about the building.”
“It’s a good reminder that it’s always the word of God being preached and I am just the mouthpiece.”— Pastor Philip Rizzo
The anniversary celebration began on Friday evening and ended Sunday. On Friday and Saturday the parishioners gathered to assemble Bibles for a new independent Baptist church starting in Philadelphia.
During the two days they made about 6,000 copies by using a hydraulic press to create neat square edges and staples to bind the pages together.
“We want to be a blessing to other church planters,” said Rizzo. “That is almost 50,000 Bibles we have given to northeast cities since we were formed.”
According to Rizzo a “church planter” is someone who begins an independent Baptist church in a city or town that doesn’t yet have one.
While they assemble Bibles every year on their anniversary, this year’s Bible assembly was a little different because it included a full translation of the Bible in both English and Arabic.
Rizzo explained that this is because the new Philadelphia Baptist church is being started by a pastor who is trying to reach the local Arabic community.
On Sunday they had a special service to bless the word of God and the city of Philadelphia before sending the Bibles to the new church. They also hosted a special church service and Sunday school conducted by a guest speaker and guest preacher and their newly formed choir performed.
“Our church hears me preach every Sunday so it’s nice for them to hear from someone else,” Rizzo laughed.
This year the guest pastor was Charles Clark III who is Pastor at Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin N.J.
“As a young church it’s always good to have a senior voice, another voice of someone who has been in the ministry 20 plus years preach the word of God and for our church to know and recognize he says the same things I say,” said Rizzo. “It’s good confirmation to our church that the people in the ministry a lot longer than me are preaching the same things. It’s a good reminder that it’s always the word of God being preached and I am just the mouthpiece.”
After mass they had a celebratory luncheon with cake in the high school cafeteria with tables decorated by Rizzo’s wife.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.