Lasting Vision

First Baptist Church celebrates and recalls 180 years of service, devotion
Sunday, November 23, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:02 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

In quill-scratched ink, the original minutes of the First Baptist Church of Columbia declare the intention of 11 people to follow certain tenets.

No. 1: “We believe in our only true and living God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and these three are one.”

No. 2: “That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God and the only rule of faith and practice.”

No. 3: “We believe that God chose his people in Christ before the foundation of the world.”

There are several others, preserved in a huge book warped by age in the 180 years since those words were written. Today, with Thanksgiving days away, the church founded on Nov. 22, 1823, is quietly celebrating its anniversary.

First Baptist’s current leader, the Rev. John Baker, said its founding “mothers and fathers ... possessed both a spirit of freedom in Christ and a determination to serve their Lord in community.”

How the church came into existence is a story of human struggle and will.

William Jewell, a well-known doctor, became a member of the Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church and a believer in the Baptist faith. For reasons clouded in history, Jewell was appalled when doctors Mason Moss and Col. James McClelland began a medical practice east of Columbia.

The situation escalated because Moss was a fellow member of the Little Bonne Femme Church with Jewell, and McClelland had donated the land on which the meeting house was built. The account is borne out in church historical records.

The church became involved in the dispute, and Jewell was “released” from Little Bonne Femme. The records say Charles Hardin and four other prominent members of the church were also released on the grounds that they wanted to start a new church.

When Hardin’s request for forming a new church was approved, the Little Bonne Femme Church sent five men to help in the process. After a second request by Hardin, Moss was one of the five people sent to help with the plans for the new church. Moss may have helped “as a magnanimous gesture of Christian fellowship,” the records say.

Jewell was a part of this new church, then called First Baptist Church of Christ of Columbia. He was one of the 11 founders.

Later, in 1836, Jewell built a meeting place with the help of Moses Payne, a Methodist, for the First Baptist congregation and a Methodist congregation. Worshippers used the building for nearly 20 years.

In 1850, the First Baptists built another church on land owned by Boone County Courthouse, and this building was occupied for the next four decades. Then, in 1891, a “Gothic-type” church was built on land purchased at 1112 E. Broadway by members of the congregation. After this church was torn down, a new one was built in 1957. This is where the congregation worships today.

Baker, First Baptist’s leader, said that in its early years, the church welcomed freed slaves and encouraged involvement by women. He said he strives to continue that spirit of open doors — most recently with a contemporary service, “Awakening,” at 8:50 a.m. on Sundays.

Baker said that among the most memorable experiences during his six years as pastor was the church’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The leading role that this church played in the 9-11 crisis ... was a memorable moment,” he said. “First Baptist staff and laity also helped lead and direct a music memorial and brief worship at the Missouri Theatre during the anniversary event of Sept. 11.”

Baker also recalled the church’s involvement in caring for two families from Kosovo about three years ago. Church families housed two boys, one from each family. Both boys, one age 4 and the other age 7, underwent heart surgeries at University Hospital that weren’t available in their war-torn homeland, he said.

“It was a real inspiring time,” Baker said, “and the church really rallied together.”

Carol Hunter, a member of First Baptist for about 18 years, has been on the other end of church care.

“In August of 2003, I was diagnosed with cancer. The church has been providing meals for me two times a week since then,” Hunter said. “I see the love of God through the other people in my church.”

Missourian staff writer Meryl Dillman contributed to this article.

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