HISTORY OF THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
The story of the First Baptist Church of Hamilton begins in much the same manner as all Baptist congregations. In the 1860s, Baptists in the vicinity of Hamilton began worshiping together. These meetings were held in different buildings located in Hamilton. On May 30, 1868, a group of men and women met at the home of Rev. B. Whitely to organize a church. Those present and becoming charter members were: W. P. Weathers, J. C. Griffing, E. F. Green, B. Whitely, Nancy Buster, Jane Highland, and Frances Whitely. The church was named “The Baptist Church of Hamilton, Missouri, and Rev. B. Whitely was called as first pastor and later ordained on July 10, 1868. Also in this first meeting it was decided:
(1) The church officers would consist of the pastor, deacons, a clerk, a treasurer, and any others necessary to carry out the business of the church.
(2) Business meetings were to be conducted at 3:00pm on the Saturday which preceded the first Sunday of each month.
(3) Communion was to be observed on the first Sunday of the year, and every third month thereafter.
(4) They adopted the Baptist church covenant found in the New Hampshire Confession of Faith of 1833.
During the year 1869, William H. Dolby was called as pastor. In addition, the church was admitted to the North Liberty Baptist Association.
Several noteworthy events occurred in the 1870s. F. J. Levett was called as pastor in 1873 and ordained a few weeks later. In July of 1874, the church members voted to buy a lot on which to build a Baptist church building. The first service held in the new building was a business meeting on Saturday, August 10, 1878. The next day regular Sunday services, including communion, were held. After the new building was erected, the Baptist Church of Hamilton reported that there were 81 members. That fall, on September 22, a Sunday School was organized.
The 1880s saw four pastors of the Baptist Church of Hamilton. These were: J. E. Petty (1880), T. M. S. Kenney (1881— 85), W. G. Thomas (1885—87), and J. H. Terrill (1887—1893).
In June, 1885, the Woman’s Missionary Society was organized. The minutes of that meeting reads: “At a meeting held at the house of Mrs. Leavitt on Thursday, the 20th day of August, 1885, for the purpose of organizing a Woman’s Missionary Society in Cameron with the Baptist Church of Hamilton, Missouri, Mrs. Whitman in the chair.” This society, which would later become a Woman’s Missionary Union, is one of the oldest in the state of Missouri. Its original purpose was to “seek information about mission work in foreign countries, in America, in our State, here at home, and then pray and give of our time, talents, and money to help spread the gospel.”
A Ladies Aid Society was also established in the church during this time. The primary purpose of this organization was to “raise money for benevolent purposes.” They sewed carpet rags, quilted quilts, tacked “comfortables,” cleaned the church and parsonage, held socials, served dinners, and sewed clothing for the needy.
On June 4, 1887, the church changed its name to the “First Baptist Church of Hamilton, Missouri.” Even so, many people continue to refer to the church as “the Hamilton Baptist Church.”
In 1891, a vestibule, housing a bell, was added to the church and some changes were made to the interior of the building. Electric lights were added in 1897. Those serving as pastor in the 1890s were: J. H. Terrill (1887—93), J. N. Bowling (1893—94), W. Billers (1895—98), and W. H. Owen (1898—1900). Through the 1890s the church had approximately 140 members.
In the first ten years of this century several men pastored First Baptist Church, Hamilton. They were: W. H. Owen (to September, 1900), W. B. Robins (supply pastor from November 1900 to March 1901), T.W. Chambliss (1901—1903), A. L. Ganton (1903—1905), and C. C. Hatcher (1905—1911).
The Caldwell—Ray Baptist Association was organized in FBC Hamilton in 1904. Rev. C. C. Hatcher served as associational moderator from 1905—1911. In 1905 the church moved closer to the Southern Baptist Convention. Having previously used American Baptist literature, they now began using Southern Baptist Sunday School literature.
During the next ten years the pastors of the church were J. S. Henry (1911-13), J. B. Crouch (1913-15), Grant Creekmore (1915—17), and E. M. Lands (1917—21). On October 1, 1915, the minutes of the Ladies Aid Society tells of them hiring Homer Mason to sweep and dust the church for $1.75 a month. During 1919, the church building was raised and a basement was added.
Those who served as pastor in the 1920s were: E. M. Lands (until May, 1921), A. W. Urquhart (1921—24), W. W. Anderson (1925—27), and J. W. Trower (1928—30). Rev. Trower was also associational moderator in 1929.
The 1930s pastors were A. P. Sengpiehl (1930—33), E. M. Lands (1933—35), N. I. Pritchard (1936), and Raymond Coldren (1936—40). Rev. Coldren led the church to sponsor its first Vacation Bible School in 1940. He was also associational moderator that year.
The 1940s saw five pastors at FBC Hamilton. They were: E. C. Kraft (1940—42), F. C. Stevenson (1942), Paul Graf (1943—44), G. B. (Jack) Stanton (1944—47), and F. S. Johnson (1948—50). Stanton was associational moderator in 1947, and Johnson was the Caldwell—Ray Associational missionary before accepting the call as pastor.
The church property saw several changes during the 1940s. Running water was installed in 1947. The old parsonage, west of the church, was sold and the Johnson family occupied the new parsonage in the northeast part of Hamilton. In 1948, due to ceiling plaster falling in the sanctuary, the church was redecorated and the ceiling lowered.
There was also a growth of ministry opportunities in the 1940s. In December, 1942, the first Training Union was organized. In February, 1948, a Brotherhood was organized with C. O. Drumm, Sr., as president. In addition, Mrs. Pearl Riddle became the first member of
our church to be the associational clerk, serving from 1945-50. Finally, the church helped to establish the Kidder Baptist Mission in 1947.
The vast changes of the 1950s were overseen by four pastors: E. V. Thurman (1950—52), Paul Andrews (1953—56), Ralph Holland (1957—58), and Coy Martin (1958—60).
In 1952, E. V. Thurman initiated the beginning of a Baptist mission in Kingston, Missouri. A tent revival was held, and the mission became an independent congregation soon after. It is now the Kingston Baptist Church.
On Thursday morning, December 24, 1953, the sanctuary, office, and a classroom of the church were destroyed by fire. The annex south of the building, that had been built five years earlier, was saved but damaged with smoke and water. The loss was estimated at $50,000. The building had been insured for $18,000. Rev. Andrews and members of the church met immediately and made arrangements with the Hamilton Board of Education to hold all Baptist activities in the elementary school building. Not a single service was canceled. Other pastors of Hamilton graciously offered the use of their buildings and equipment. Church members purchased their own Broadman Hymnals and brought them to each meeting until the new church was built.
On December 30, 1953, the church named committees to begin plans for the construction of a new church building. Ground breaking ceremonies for the new church were held on April 11, 1954, and on May 16, 1954, the cornerstone was laid. It contains the history of the church, a picture of the old church, and other items. The new church sanctuary was dedicated on September 26, 1954. The stainless steel and white—framed steeple atop the church now houses the old church bell, which had fallen to the basement during the fire.
On September 9, 1959, the church was happy to hold a note-burning service as the money borrowed from The Hamilton Bank and all other indebtedness had been paid. The total amount paid in constructing and equipping the new building was $82,500.
In 1958—59, Mrs. Komora Thornhill became the second member of FBC Hamilton to serve as associational cleric. Mrs. Thornhill also served as associational W.M.U. President for a number of years.
Only three pastors served the church during a twenty year period from 1960—80. These were: Bill Murphy (1960—63), Neal Myers (1963—65), and A. W. Pruessner (1965—80). Also in the 1960s, the church had its first “interim” pastor: Dr. Hugh Wamble, Chairman of the Church History Department at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Before the 1960s, church records only indicate that “supply preachers”
filled in between pastorates.
The 1960s saw a change of address for the church parsonage. The parsonage bought in 1947 was sold when Bill Murphy became pastor.
On June 2, 1968, FBC Hamilton celebrated its centennial with special services. Rev. Paul Andrews delivered the morning message, based on Matthew 16:13—28. A basket dinner followed, at 12:00 noon, with many family, friends, and special guests. Rev. A. W. Pruessner, the pastor, delivered a message in the centennial service entitled “A Challenge for the Second Hundred Years.”
Three pastors, and several interim pastors, served the church from 1981 to the present——1993: Earl McElwee, interim (1981), Don Walker (1981—83), Eldon Jones, interim (October, 1983 —April, 1984), Todd Decker (1984—87), Dr. John C. Howell, interim and Professor of Christian Ethics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (October, 1987—January,1988), and J. Barry Pennington (1988 —1994), Kevin Ritter1985 —to 2009, and Doug Crabb, October 2010 to present.
Mrs. Linda Ford was elected associational clerk in 1990, and served in that position until 2006. She was the third member of FBC Hamilton to serve as associational clerk.
In 1987, the church bought a house and property southeast of the main building. The house, called the “Little House,” served as additional education and fellowship space for the youth program of First Baptist Church. The little house fell into disrepair and was no longer used. It was removed in 2012.
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the addition of a number of improvements to the church and its ministry capabilities. This included such things as:
(1) Track-lighting above the stage.
(2) A new sound system, which greatly enhanced our worship capabilities.
(3) A new furnace and air conditioning system. For the first time, all educational space was air conditioned.
(4) New carpeting in the sanctuary.
(5) A church van, which enabled more flexible transportation for fellowship and outreach.
(6) A vertical lift. For the first time, all three floors of the church were accessible without the use of stairs.
(7) Complete repainting of the outside of the church.
(8) A new organ, with features that add to the quality of worship.
In addition, the church renovated the parsonage. The kitchen was remodeled in 1987, and new windows were installed in 1992. A complete repainting of the parsonage, inside and out, was completed in 1993.
In 1992, FBC Hamilton voted with other churches in the Caldwell—Ray Baptist Association to merge with the Clinton Baptist Association. This merger became official on September 11, 1993, with a new name: Heartland Baptist Association, Inc.
In the early 1990s, a major change occurred in the manner in which FBC Hamilton relates to the Southern Baptist Convention and distributes its mission offerings. Following a Baptist heritage study, reports from the Denominational Study Committee, and in-home group meetings, FBC Hamilton adopted the following public statement on April 8, 1992:
“First Baptist Church of Hamilton is a part of the core constituency of Southern Baptist life. We are a rural congregation that is mainstream conservative. But in the past two years we have become troubled by the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC and its effect on Southern Baptist life. We are concerned that great Baptist heritage values, such as the priesthood of all believers and the separation of church and state, are crumbling. We worry about the creedal spirit that seems to have invaded Southern Baptist life.”
“For this reason, we as a church have decided to participate with other Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a way to move beyond the conflict of the past 13 years and to help shape a meaningful, cooperative mission agenda for the future.
Also, our church will send the majority of our cooperative mission dollars through the Ventures alternative funding plan developed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.”
Our church will remain within the Southern Baptist Convention and will remain actively involved with and supportive of the Missouri Baptist Convention and the Caldwell—Ray Baptist Association.”
These relationships changed in 2003 when the Heartland Baptist Association (formerly the Caldwell – Ray Baptist Association) questioned the credentials of the Hamilton Baptist Church, and sent investigators to investigate Hamilton Baptist Church because of our support of both Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention. After investigations the Heartland Baptist Association determined they had no grounds to withdraw fellowship from Hamilton Baptist Church.
This changed more dramatically in 2005 when the Missouri Baptist Convention voted to expel 19 churches across Missouri including the Hamilton Baptist Church for their “dual alignment” and the Missouri Baptist Convention declared churches could not be dually aligned but must be singley aligned with the Missouri Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.
This act also determined that the Hamilton Baptist Church was, therefore, not in friendly coooperation and therefore did not meet the qualifications of the Heartland Baptist Association.
Since these events, Hamilton Baptist Church has continued to be involved in missions through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowships of both Misssouri and the national group.
Through our denominational study committee, our church will continue to monitor ongoing developments in the Southern Baptist Convention in general, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in particular. We will continue to pray for unity some day in some way in the Southern Baptist family.”
Note: We gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Barbara Vaughn Wolf’s Forward
Steps, and the church Historical Committee, 1968, for much of the material included in this church history.