History of Baptist Churches in America
The first Baptist Church was founded in America in 1638 by Roger Williams. The denomination first began in Providence, Rhode Island. When the Baptist Church began in America there weren’t many members in the church. They first worshiped either in the open, outside, or in the homes of various members.
Not until 1700 did Baptist Churches even have signs of a church building. The first building was described to be in the shape of a hay-cap, with a fireplace in the middle, and the smoke escaped through a hole in the roof. In the early 1770’s the Baptist church had 118 members. This tradition began to grow all over the country and has ended up in Hastings Nebraska as well.
History of the First Baptist Church in Hastings, NE
The First Baptist Church in Hastings Nebraska began on April 29, 1873, when 10 people met in a lumber office located at 2nd and Hastings. The building was unfinished and right next to a lumberyard. They used piles of lumber for their seats.
After a season of prayer they voted unanimously to organize themselves into a Baptist Church officially; Six who were unable to be present sent their names stating their desire to become members, making a total of 16 charter members to start the First Baptist Church of Hastings.
Those members’ names were: Mr. Purdy and his two daughters, Mr. Cole, Mr. and Mrs. Williams, Mr. Holt, Mr. and Mrs. H. H. Starr, and Mrs. I. D. Newell. The church accepted the Rev. Isaac Dennison Newell, who formerly worked for the American Baptist Home Missionary Society, as pastor.
The church for the first time observed the Lord’s Supper on November 9th, 1873. There were many new beginnings for the church at this time. Rev. Newell got the church started, and then passed his leadership position to Rev. H. A. Guild.
Rev. Newell was the pastor from 1873 to 1875. Joyce Dinnell, a member of the church since 1946, states, “You can find Rev. Newell’s tombstone at the graveyard by the college.”
On October 24, 1918 Rev. Newell passed away, his grave can be found along with his wife Annie’s in the Parkview Cemetery in Hastings, Nebraska.
On June 3rd, 1879, I. A. Rockwood became pastor of the church. He found the church to be very run down. The records of the church were poorly kept, but the church had 30 members and was starting to grow.
Some Firsts for the Church
On October 27th, 1879, the Woman’s Home Mission and Benevolent Society was first organized. This society greatly aided in raising money to advance different lines of church work. This organization opened many doors of service for the church.
The first Sunday school was organized February 12th, 1880, with Mrs. Catherine Emery as a superintendent. She and others taught children about the Lord. One year later on February 26, 1881 the church had its first participants for Baptism.
The building that the church first met in was later moved to 1st and St. Joseph Street. Numerous buildings were used as meeting places until the first church building was completed for a cost of $1665. It was dedicated on January 29, 1882 as the First Baptist Church. The Home Missionary Society gave $500 to help the church get on their feet. It was located at 4th and Lincoln.
Times were prosperous. The population in the City of Hastings increased and in a period of five years beginning in 1891, 337 members were received into the church. The total enrollment in the Sunday Schools in 1895 was 634.
The church had its 50th anniversary in May of 1923. Back then the church had 459 members of the church. 28 of those were “consecrated and efficient” officers and teachers of the church. It cost $5,200 to make the building with luxuries like carpet and other appliances. The church had a celebration for the anniversary, which consisted of music from the choir, horn solos and prayer.
At the 50th anniversary of the church Mrs. Bertha Kemp was the only person present who was one of the ten who assembled to start the church fifty years earlier at the first meeting. Mrs. Kemp paid a tribute to the minister who organized the church, Rev. I. D. Newell. Mrs. Kemp said, “We were married by Mr. Newell in 1875 and three of our children had been married by Mr. Newell as well.”
The church building met the end of its days when it burned down on May 15, 1924. The only part left standing was the bell tower. This tower is a part the present building, which was dedicated on March 7, 1926 with Rev. A. S. Cross as pastor.
It was estimated that the cost of replacing the old building was over $50,000. Chief Mead said, “The fire broke over the entire roof of the church almost at once and made it impossible to keep the blaze from any other part of the building.”
Rumors On the Cause Of the Fire
Two weeks prior to the fire at Sunday services the Rev. Renn, who was pastor at the time, announced that he was a Ku Klux Klansman “From the crown of his head to the tip of his toes.” The pastor’s announcement was very unwelcome to some of the members of the church.
On the Sunday after the announcement, robed Klansmen entered the church and presented Rev. Renn with $175. This situation made deacons of the church very angry, and caused 10 of them to announce their resignations.
Joyce Dinnell states, “There were many rumors that the Ku Klux Klan had burned the building down, but it was never certain whether they actually did.” This rumor started because of the controversy with the deacons of the church, due to Rev. Renn.
Dinnell stated, “During a service the KKK marched in and went down every row of the church.”
Starting From the Ground Up
After the fire of 1924 the church rebuilt, and that building still stands today. In this building they have had the rest of their anniversary celebrations thus far. The new church building has had many improvements.
The biggest is the new educational wing which was completed and dedicated on February 27, 1966, during the pastorate of Rev Harry Cowles. Early church services began in the chapel of the new unit. During the addition of the new unit, there was a complete remodeling of the church kitchen area.
Rev. Clyde Fowler said, “This dedication is a milestone in the life and history of our church. This event marks the consummation of much thoughtful planning, months of hard work, and unceasing prayer.”
The educational unit was constructed in two levels. The lower level of the new addition has an area of 4000 square feet and the upper level and area of 4950 square feet. The two levels were used for classroom spaces for the youth and a nursery.
At that time in the church’s life (1966) there were a total of 589 members and the church was worth about $50,000. Rev. Fowler foresaw that the church would grow even more.
After the new addition, many members were active in a Coffeehouse Ministry, sponsored by the Council of Churches and the Ministerial Association from 1969 to 1972. The current minister of the church, Pastor Larry, states, “The Coffeehouse was apparently a relatively short-lived ecumenical effort with other churches and only a few from FBC were involved.”
In the 1980’s and 1990’s the church was very active in sponsoring and working in the Crossroads homeless shelter, located on property the church owned right north of the sanctuary. Miss Anna Ranz played a key role in the sponsorship of that ministry. The Crossroads Center was dedicated to her memory.
Today the Crossroads Center has moved to 14th Street and is still serving the community. In October of 2008 First Baptist Church sold the original Crossroads property.
During the long pastorate of Rev. Harry Cowles (during the 50’s and into the 70’s) the church prospered, many new members were added, and the balcony was well used every Sunday. In the years since, the church slowly declined for various reasons.
Thus far the church has had over thirty pastors and many members. The church continues to meet needs of their members and the community.
The church directory from 1995 states, “As the First Baptist Church continues its second century, it proposes to continue to serve the needs of the people and to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ!”
In the present (2004 to 2008) there are new signs of life, young people and children in services, alternative styles of music in use, and new members joining. One focus of the church is children’s church which is taught by Connie Harvey every week.
The youth also meet every Thursday night for worship and a Bible lesson. The youth are starting to get more involved with the service every week by playing contemporary music for some of the worship portion of the service.
The First Baptist Church in 2008 is currently led by Pastor Larry Harvey. He and his wife, Connie, joined the church in 2007. They both plan on continuing the tradition that Newell started long ago in spreading the good news in Hastings Nebraska.
Pastor Larry said, “Part of our vision for the church is to oversee a very strong Sunday morning service with a good mixture of contemporary and traditional music, with relevant, usable, hearable preaching. We want to see development through individuals, by their getting concerned about some ministry opportunity and then moving to meet that need and to involve others in the project. We hope that pattern will grow in the future so that a variety of activities get underway to serve the community in new ways (or old ways) and to involve people with others in the church in ways that give them a sense of meaning, belonging and accomplishment.”
Pastor Larry’s aim as a preacher is to deliver a message that encourages his congregation to look at Jesus and listen to him, Isaiah, and the prophets, learning to practice what the Scriptures say without being belligerent.
His concern is that society is no longer viewing biblical precepts as relevant. “Out of my background and awareness of philosophy and history, I just very much want to see people become realistic, alive and hopeful in their faith.”
[Thanks to Bryan Lewis for compiling this history in 2009.]
Brandt , L. L. . “Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Program.” 1(1948): 6.
“Centennial Directory.” First Baptist Church (1973): 12.
Hastings Tribune , “Remember When… .” 11.
Robert , Newell. “The Wondrous Weaving of Life.” (1986): 11.
Unknown, “Dedication of Educational Unit.” 1(1966): 26.
Unknown, “1994 Directory of First Baptist Church.” 1(1994): 5.
Unknown, “A Service of Dedication.” Crossroads Center 1(1982): 4.
Unknown, “50th Anniversary First Baptist .” 1(1923):
Dinnell, Joyce. Interview, July 2nd 2008