Utica Karen Baptist Church

This profile was last updated in 2016

Shortly after arriving in Utica in 1999, the first Karen Baptist refugee family from Burma began attending Utica’s Tabernacle Baptist Church on Clark Place. As more Karen refugees came to Utica, Tabernacle’s membership continued to grow. Services at Tabernacle continued largely in English until the Karen pastor Rev. Daniel San joined Tabernacle in 2007. As Tabernacle’s membership reached 1000, some Karen members left to create the Karen Baptist Church in 2012 to serve, in one community member’s words, the “next Karen generation.” The ages of today’s parish range from toddlers to parents and elders. The community’s lively youth group involves 50-60 young people. Now, the Church’s primary language is S’gaw Karen.

Located in downtown Utica, the Westminster Church building is home to both the Karen Baptist Church and the Westminster Moriah Olivet Presbyterian Church. Built in 1885, this impressive white church features Tiffany-stained glass windows. Outside the massive sanctuary, the church has a gymnasium, a large kitchen, dining rooms, and a small chapel. The Karen Baptist community has been renting and sharing this space with their Presbyterian brothers and sisters since the church formed in 2012.

To help ease the challenge of acclimating to life in the United States, the Karen Baptist community supports each other with many activities and cooperative efforts. Karen worship services are at 1:00 pm every Sunday. In addition, a children’s Bible Study group meets on Sundays at 11:00 am, and a women’s group meets at least once per month. The Church hosts an annual Summer Picnic at Glimmerglass State Park, and the youth group often organizes door-to-door caroling at parishioners’ homes on Christmas and visits elderly members at home. Conferences hosted by the organization of Karen Baptist Churches of USA are another place for young people to connect and forge networks across the country. Events like weddings, new home blessings, and holidays such as Children’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day  are celebrated both within the church building and among households in the greater community. Even birthdays are announced during weekly services as another special way for parishioners to honor each other.

One unique aspect of this community is the way different groups within the church share a variety of leadership roles. Each week, Pastor Kar Min, the youth group, the children and their Sunday School teachers, and the women’s group alternate the responsibility to manage the service and deliver sermons and readings. Wide participation and leadership are significant priorities as this community continues to grow and thrive in Utica.