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Deeply Rooted in History — and Faith

Deeply Rooted in History — and Faith

  • Photos by Chris Padgett
  • This story was originally published in the November 2023 issue of COMO Magazine.
Interior of First Baptist Church
Banner Celebrating 200 Years Of First Baptist Church
Wooden Cross On A Table With Candles And A Church Choir In The Background
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Banner Celebrating 200 Years Of First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church celebrates 200 years of history in Columbia.

When William Jewell joined Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church in 1823, the physician became critical of two members of the church who claimed to be physicians. He criticized them, according to documents from the William E. Partee Center for Baptist Historical Studies, by slandering them as “a so-called physician, but in reality only a quack.”

Though Jewell apologized, a short time later he circulated pamphlets attacking one of the men. With that action, Jewell set into motion the founding of what Columbians now know as First Baptist Church. 

“Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church granted William Jewell, members of his family, and a few others, letters of dismissal and encouraged them to form their own church,” says Ken Hammann, a First Baptist Church member who has been leading efforts to digitize and document the church’s history. 

On November 22, 1823, Jewell and 10 others started Columbia Church, the first church of any denomination in the city of Columbia. At that time, Hammann says, the population of Columbia was 130. Though there are no records to indicate a firm date, Columbia Church later became known as First Baptist; likely in the 1800s, Hammann says. 

First Baptist moved to its current location on the corner of East Broadway and Waugh Street in 1891, and the current sanctuary was dedicated in 1957. With its rich history in Columbia, Pastor Carol McEntyre says that First Baptist is an especially spiritual place. 

“There is a Celtic concept of thin places, where the atmosphere of a location makes it easy to connect with God, almost as if there is no barrier between heaven and earth,” McEntyre says. “People have been praying and singing and worshipping God on this spot for a long time, and it feels holy to be the stewards of that.” 

A Year of Celebration 

In October 2022, First Baptist kicked off a year of celebration leading up to its 200th anniversary on November 22. McEntyre has served as First Baptist’s first female senior pastor for the past 11 years. The church has hosted concerts and guest speakers and has encouraged and supported acts of kindness. On November 12, a special worship service and banquet will be held at Stephens College, and this Christmas, ornaments with the First Baptist logo will be available for purchase. 

“You only turn 200 once,” McEntyre says. 

As a mainstay in the community, First Baptist is meaningful to many people for a variety of reasons. 

“For people worshiping on a Sunday, they remember when they were married in this space, or baptized in this space, or their parents got married in this space, or their grandparents were members here,” McEntyre says. 

While First Baptist holds so much history for those who worship there, much of the city’s history is tied to the church.

“A church like First Baptist has had a significant impact on the city of Columbia,” Hammann says. “Members of our church were namesakes of Stephens College. William Jewell secured sufficient money to outbid other counties to bring the University of Missouri to Columbia and Boone County. E.W. Stephens, publisher of the Herald newspaper and president of the Board of Curators for MU and other colleges was a member, as was Alpha Hart Lewis, the namesake of our current elementary school.” 

In addition, McEntyre says that six First Baptist pastors also served as president of Stephens College. 

As part of the anniversary celebration, First Baptist will publish a 750-page book in January, a compilation of all the historical documents and information available about the church and its history. Hammann says the book will then be distributed to libraries, historical societies, universities, the Library of Congress, and to members of the church. 

Embracing History

As Hammann and other church members have spent considerable time researching the history of First Baptist, they’ve made other discoveries, as well.

While First Baptist celebrates its founders and members who had such a positive impact on the city, McEntrye says they aren’t shying away from acknowledging all of the church’s history. 

“As we were researching the church’s history we became aware that a number of our founders and many of our members were enslavers,” Hammann says. “We have done this by looking at public records. For example, there are slave census records for Boone County, and we have the will and probate records for one of our founders. We were also able to extract from our handwritten minutes the fact that several of our founders and members had slaves

“From the beginning of the celebration we have acknowledged our past sins and recognized that we had a distorted view of the gospel,” she says. 

McEntyre says First Baptist has created a Racial Justice and Inclusion team that is now a permanent part of the church structure, and says they see the work of racial justice as “essential work.” 

“We certainly have plans to continue to understand our history and lament the sense of the past but also to commit to help change the future, and making that team a permanent part of our church structure was important,” she adds. 

First Baptist was built on “progressive DNA,” and many of today’s values are the result of seeds that were planted long ago. McEntyre says music is a key value that is integrated throughout a variety of worship services. Children are a priority and the church offers many intergenerational activities and events. In 1917, the church first elected women to the Church Council. in the 1960s, women were first elected to the Board of Deacons, and in 1977, First Baptist ordained women to the ministry. 

“We’ve always had this progressive bent related to gender,” she says. 

In 2014, McEntyre says First Baptist officially went through a process to become welcoming and affirming to the LGBTQ+ community, though she says “the church had long been a place where gay and lesbian people could come be part of the community.” 

“Progressive Christian theology is important to us, understanding that it is often Conservative Evangelicalism that gets a lot of press,” she notes. 

Connecting with Community

In addition to providing a spiritual home for so many around Columbia, First Baptist is committed to supporting people in need throughout the community. In partnership with Love Columbia, the church sponsors an Extra Mile transitional house, a four- to six-month program that provides transitional housing for families with children experiencing housing instability or homelessness. 

“It’s a way you feel like you’re making a deep impact on the family,” McEntyre says. 

As she reflects on whether the 11 people who met in a home in 1823 would have ever imagined that the church would be so deeply woven into the fabric of the community 200 years later, McEntyre says she is honored to be a small part of that history.

“You have gratitude for the hundreds of people who have taken care of this church and stewarded it all these years,” she adds. “You also realize that the work of God is through this place, that you are just a small part of it. It is a much bigger story than the chapter that you’re writing.” 

First Baptist Church

Founded: 1823

Church Council

  • Rena Tratchel,
    Church Moderator
  • Ken Hammann, 
    Church Treasurer
  • Abby Hartsfield, 
    Church Clerk
  • Dolores Shearon
  • Henry Imler
  • Jen Boeckman
  • Cindy Giovanini
  • Julie Scroggs
  • Julie Walker
  • Lynne Lampe
  • Stephen Hoell
  • Caryn McClanahan
  • Rebekah Robertson
  • Roger McKinney

Church Covenant

Because we have responded to Christ’s call to follow Him as disciples and because we find this calling too difficult and too important to fulfill alone, we covenant together to support and to pray for one another without ceasing; to be candid in our speech, kind in our attitudes, and caring in all our dealings with one another; to seek the mind and vision of Christ for ourselves and our life together, mindful that our unity does not require uniformity.

Moreover, we covenant to give first priority to our times of public worship and learning; to sustain our common mission by proportionate giving, faithful service and personal witness; to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel we profess and of this family of faith; and to seek each other’s forgiveness and God’s when we fail to honor this covenant, trusting God’s Spirit to renew us in stronger faith, brighter hope and broader love.

First Baptist Church

1112 E. Broadway
(573) 442-1149

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