FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH HISTORY
BY: Mrs. Fern Patient
Fern Lorene Patient
May 25, 1926 - September 27, 2011
In the year of 1883, it was decided a Baptist church needed to be located in Sullivan. A constitution was adopted May 27,1883 at a meeting held at the armory hall, which was located upstairs in the building on the southwest corner of the square. Several people came forward and pledged to walk together in the Baptist articles of faith. On .June 29, 1883 a council was called by moderator Rev. W.C. Barker. The following Elders and Deacons were present:
Elder: S.S. Graham of Springfield
Elder: W.C. Barker of Cooks Mill
Elder: Shelton Boyer of Cooks Mill
Deacon: Levi A. Hicks of Cooks Mill
Deacon: F.W. Sharp of West Prairie
Deacon: J. Whitacre of West Prairie
Deacon: .J. Luttrel of Whitley (Gays)
These Christian men were dedicated to have made the trip and gone to such lengths to help locate a Baptist Church in Sullivan. The mode of transportation was by horse or horse and wagon over dirt roads or perhaps gravel roads. Road oil was not used on roads until about 1920, and then only lightly to keep down dust. The elder from Springfield probably came by train, since the Illinois Central Railroad was completed from Decatur to Mattoon in 1872.
At this time there were only 5 other churches in Sullivan. They were First Christian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic and the Church of .Jesus Christ founded by the Hagerman and Harshman families. Our church was first known as the Baptist Church of Christ.
The first baptisms took place in the river back of the Jim Lehman farm located east of Sullivan. This place is now part of Lake Shelbyville.
In 1885 the church met in the hall over what was at one time the Index Notion Store. And in 1886 a Sunday school was organized and the first song books were purchased. These books only contained words with no music.
In 1889 the church met on the courthouse lawn and inside the courthouse in bad weather. Later they met in the old Presbyterian Church which was located on Jackson street where McDonald's is now located. The church approved the name 'First Baptist Church' on November 16, 1889.
In 1890 the members felt the need of a church building and asked the American Baptist Home Mission Board for a loan of $1,000 to help build the first church. The members and townspeople helped raise another $1,500. The location was chosen at the corner of Hamilton and Adams streets and the land was purchased for $175. The building was designed like the Pleasant Grove church at Cook's Mill. When the building was completed, the Ladies Aid held a festival and made enough money to purchase old style opera seats. Until this time they had sat on boards.
The church was dedicated on November 23, 1890. E.S. Graham, president of Shurtleff College, preached the sermon and Rev. Barker gave the prayer of dedication. The Cook's Mill Church donated the first secretary book and the Methodist Church gave the first pulpit chair. Four hundred dollars was raised at this meeting to pay on the building, with Rev. Brown of the Home Mission Board taking a mortgage for the remainder due on the building.
In June 1916, the building was damaged by fire caused by lighting. At this time the bell tower was taken off and the green shutters were removed. Rev. J.L. Watson began his pastorate June 28th and most all meetings were held in his home until the church was repaired.
In 1925, with only four families left in the church and no pastor on the field, the church was closed, and the building rented to the Church of God.
In 1930 the church was reopened due to the efforts of Rev. James Lively of Mattoon First Baptist and Harry and Alfreda Sumner of Sullivan. Rev. Skinner of Arcola and Mrs. Bessie Winchester Smith of Champaign conducted worship services for three churches located at Cook's Mill, Coles Station and Sullivan.
In 1933, Rev. Harold Ranes accepted a pastoral call and served all three churches for four years. During his pastorate the first furnace was installed and the platform was changed from the north wall to the west wall and the seats all turned to face the west. Mrs. Eleanor Ranes died during this period. The Ann Judson Missionary society was organized under her leadership in 1936 and named by her. The society had wanted to name the group for her, but she declined the honor.
Rev. Francis Strobel was called as pastor for the Cook's Mill and Sullivan churches in September 1938. This same year $1,000 was left to the church from the Delia Kensil estate, making it possible to build a basement and furnish it. The Strobel's daughter, Lois, was killed in a car accident on August 12, 1941, and is buried in the Cook's Mill cemetery. Rev. Strobel resigned March 1944.
Rev. Joseph Hoy was called as pastor of both churches on September 10, 1944. He encouraged us to become independent of state aid, and in 1949 we called him to be our first full time pastor on the field. During his pastorate a new parsonage was built beside the church and dedicated. He passed away September 1952.
Rev. Richard Krell served as pastor from January 1, 1953 to April 19, 1959.
Rev. Donald Brown accepted a call from our church in September 1959, moving on to the field about Thanksgiving and served until June 30, 1963 when he resigned to enter the Army as a Chaplain. The Brown's son, Mark, was born in the car in front of the old parsonage. He lived only four months and is buried here in Greenhill cemetery. During Rev. Brown's ministry our church had a very strong young people's program.
September 1, 1963, Rev. Fred Schmidt began duties as our pastor and served our church four years. He went home to be with the Lord on July 12, 1967, leaving our church the living legacies of his wife and family. Mrs. Lillian Schmidt has shared many times her praise of God who led them to this field of service. She told of the love and kindness of the church and community shown her and the family and how God provided a job and home enabling her to raise her family. We are thankful for Lillian and her faithfulness to our church.
Rev. Norris Hamblin was called as pastor in 1969, and served our church until April 1, 1973. He died of cancer after a long illness. Our church library was dedicated in his memory.
In June 1973, the present church building was purchased and completely redecorated and new pews installed. Rev. Gary Warner filled our pulpit from June 29, 1973 to March 11, 1976.
Jim (James) LeMat filled our pulpit from June 14, 1976 to November 1977. He was an excellent gifted teacher of the scriptures.
Rev. Scott Johnston served our church from September 5, 1978 through December 12,1982. During his ministry the pastor's study was redecorated and new furniture purchased. Also we installed air conditioning in the church.
Rev. Wayne Turner began his pastorate July 31, 1983 and resigned in 2000, after 17 years of service. In 1983 we celebrated our 100th anniversary with a two day program and a large dinner on Sunday. During Rev. Turner's pastorate a new bus garage was built in memory of Louise Huntsburger. In late 1990 and early 1991, the present parsonage was built and the pastor and family moved in on March 29, 1991. In March of 1994 at a Miracle Sunday service, $10,641 was raised and designated for the purchase of three new stained glass windows and for the repair of the old ones in loving memory of so many. Over the years there have been many gifts to our church given to honor those who are now at home with the Lord. Later an elevator was installed, making our church handicap accessible on three levels.
Rev. Gene Godfrey was called to fill our pulpit in 2001. During this pastorate the church kitchen was renovated with new cabinets, sinks, stoves and refrigerators installed and paid for by donations from several members. Also a new van was purchased. The interior was redecorated and the bell tower repaired.
The First Baptist Church has now been in existence for 122 years. During this time the church has been a member of four different associations, they were Mattoon Association, Bloomington Association, Champaign-Urbana Association, and presently Area IV of the Great Rivers Region.
The mode of transportation no doubt was the main factor in determining the size and area of an association.
The church body has been blessed with many fine pastors, both former and present. Our top priority has always been the spreading of the gospel and the enrichment of our Spiritual lives. God has used us and blessed us greatly, so now with faith in our hearts we must continue to pursue the tasks God has given each of us to do. That task is to make known to all the way to obtain salvation thru Jesus Christ and the blood He shed for the remission of our sins.
First Baptist Church History by: Mrs. Fern Patient, September 2005
THE POEM By Fern Patient (original copy with permission)
I knelt to pray but not for long,
I had too much to do.
I had to hurry and get to work,
For bills would soon be due.
So! I knelt and said a hurried prayer,
And jumped up off my knees.
My Christian duty was now done,
My soul could rest at ease….
All day long I had no time,
To spread a word of cheer.
No time, no time, too much to do,
That was my constant cry,
No time to give to souls in need,
But at last the time, the time to die.
I went before the Lord,
I came, I stood with downcast eyes.
For in his hands God held a book;
It was the book of life.
God looked into his book and said,
“Your name I cannot find.
I once was going to write it down….
But never found the time.”
With Christ, all things are possible.
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