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Davis Journal

Interim Pastor helps sustain growth as the First Baptist Church of Bountiful celebrates 65 years

Dec 09, 2022 11:43AM ● By Alisha Copfer

The First Baptist Church of Bountiful will hold an Advent Festival on Nov. 26 at 5 p.m. Photo by Roger V. Tuttle

BOUNTIFUL—Started over 65 years ago, The First Baptist Church of Bountiful comes from humble beginnings. To listen to Robert Vandegrift speak of the early days of the church, you start to understand why this establishment is so vital to the community. 

“A congregation is a community,” writes Vandegrift, Church historian and member of the Board of Trustees in History of the First Baptist Church of Bountiful, Utah. “As we serve, there are roles and responsibilities we have to each other. In time, they will be wrapped in memory and should not be forgotten. Congregations endure common experiences. A congregation is a democracy where the members should express opinions, listen to others and make sound decisions.”

Vandegrift is described as a pillar of the church by Interim Pastor Jim Gunnuscio. “Pastor Jim,” as the congregation knows him, stepped into the position in September 2022 after the previous Pastor stepped down. 

“After my first sermon in September, I received several comments about having not heard a sermon like that in a long time,” said Pastor Jim. “While I never considered I would be pastoring a church, God has a way of bringing you to where you should be.”

Although the First Baptist Church of Bountiful originally opened its doors in 1957, the congregation has recently struggled with attendance. Vandegrift stated that it has been hard for him to see the congregation go from nearly 500 members to no more than 10 people in attendance at services. “The church has been a great church and has been very involved over the years,” said Vandegrift. However, more recently, those in the church have been less involved, and the congregation has dwindled more and more. 

Gunnuscio was born in Centerville, where he grew up on a farm. He currently resides in Woods Cross with his wife, MaryAnn. “I have served in the ministry for the past 40 years on a volunteer basis many times,” said Pastor Jim. His other ministry work includes Child Life at Primary Children’s Hospital, Rocky Care Center in Bountiful, Make-A-Wish Foundation as a wish granter and Family Promise homeless program as board chairman. He has also worked as Chaplain and a bereavement counselor for the past six years.

“I look forward to this next chapter of my life as my wife and I become part of the family of believers at First Baptist Church in Bountiful,” he said. “I feel it is a blessing to be called to be their Interim Pastor and want to be able to assist the church in reaching their vision for the future. I also want to be able to share the love of Christ with the community.”

Pastor Jim went on to say that he intends to keep the faith while he continues to regrow this congregation. “This position gave me my purpose back,” he said. “It is a blessing that they have let me be their pastor here and that I am able to serve them and God.”

With the work that Vandegrift and Pastor Jim are doing for the First Baptist Church, they have seen the congregation go from less than five at its lowest to now over 20 members. “We still have a lot of work to do, but through dedication and faith in God, we will get there,” said Pastor Jim.

Over 65 years ago, multiple families in the Bountiful area were members of the First Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, but they needed something closer. After finding a location on Orchard Drive in Bountiful, on Nov. 3, 1957, more than 100 people attended the groundbreaking ceremonies for the church opening.

As Pastor Jim, Vandegrift and the rest of the board of trustees work together, the church is starting to see growth come back to its congregation. “I would come to this church as a kid,” said Pastor Jim. “The parking lot would be full, and I could see that this church has always held a special place in the community. I believe we can still be an asset to the community by providing many resources.”

The First Baptist Church is excited to hold an Advent Festival on Nov. 26 at 5 p.m. that will have ornament making, snacks, singing and decorating of the tree. Pastor Jim also holds a weekly grief support session to which all are invited. These sessions are held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Tuesday.