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Church History Spotlight

You're never too old to serve God


John Gano (1727-1804) was an early American Baptist preacher. He pastored the First Baptist Church of New York City for 26 years and served as a chaplain in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. When the war ended in 1783, General George Washington personally asked Gano to offer a prayer of thanksgiving.

Ben Stratton

The War had forced Gano deeply in debt. He sold his property in New York, paid his debts and moved to frontier Kentucky for a new beginning. Shortly afterwards in 1788, he became the pastor of the Town Fork Baptist Church outside of Lexington. He had a good ministry there until in 1798, at the age of 72, he was thrown from his horse and seriously injured. While recovering in bed, he suffered a paralytic stroke which left him unable to speak. Together these calamities caused him to step down from the pastorate and retire to his home in broken health.

Photo courtesy of Gano Chapel, William Jewel College, Liberty, MO.

This painting of John Gano, who pastored Town Fork Baptist Church near Lexington in the late 18th century, commemorates him baptizing George Washington. A Time magazine article in 1932 said that Washington was immersed in the Potomac in the presence of 42 witnesses. The painting was commissioned in 1908 by Rev. E.T. Sanford of Manhattan's North Church.

At this same time a controversy was beginning among Kentucky Baptists. James Garrard was a Baptist preacher and a popular lawyer in the state. While serving as the second governor of Kentucky, Garrard was led to believe the theory of Arianism. This ancient heresy denied the deity of Christ and insisted that Jesus was only a good teacher. Garrard soon promoted this heretical view throughout the Lexington area. Many Baptist churches were troubled by his teaching and the brethren seemed unsure what to do.

Then someone remembered John Gano. It was now 1803 and the 77-year-old Gano had not recovered completely from his horse fall and stroke. Elkhorn Baptist Association decided to have a meeting and Gano had to be carried to the pulpit to preach. He preached a powerful sermon on the deity of Christ, which helped to stop the spread of Arian heresy in Kentucky.

The next year John Gano died.

If God can use Gano at this point in his life, what difference for the Lord can you make?

Ben Stratton is pastor of Farmington Baptist Church in Graves County and a Baptist historian with the J.H. Spencer Historical Society.

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