HISTORY OF FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, Henderson Kentucky
By E. Keevil Judy, D.D., October, 1964. Updated and revised by Kenneth L. Davis, 1988-2006, with select revisions by Todd A. Linn, PhD.
As would be the case a century later, the late 1830′s was a time of depression in the United States. Although the policies of Andrew Jackson were the underlying cause, the economy did not falter until shortly after his vice-president, Martin Van Buren, became President. This depression would be a principal factor in Van Buren’s defeat by the Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison, in 1840.
In 1839 there were only a handful of Baptists in the twenty-nine year old community on the Ohio River known as Henderson. These faithful few had been worshipping in the old Union meeting house which was located in Central (Transylvania) Park. It was here that Rev. J. L. Burroughs, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Owensboro, held a revival meeting early in the year, resulting in several conversions and sparking the desire for a separate place of worship. The condemnation of the meeting house as unsafe further spurred their actions.
Thirty-five members met at the home of Mr. & Mrs. James W. Clay on August 12, 1839, and formed the First United Baptist Church of Henderson. Land was purchased from James Alves and the first place of worship was built at the corner of Center and Elm Streets. The church has occupied this location from that time. The first pastor called was Elder H. B. Wiggin. (Some records give his name as N. B. Wiggin.)
A History of Kentucky Baptists by Frank M. Masters states that in 1840, one year after this church was established, there were only nine full-time Baptist churches in Kentucky. This was one of the nine.
The decade of the 1840′s would see the United States fulfill whad been termed its “Manifest Destiny”, the destiny of stretching across the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This dream would become reality following the Mexican War, when the United States annexed the former possessions of Mexico, and Texas became a state.
Provision was made for negroes to worship in the basement of the sanctuary and in 1840 members of the African Baptist Church were admitted into memberhip and baptized by Elder Wiggin. In 1845 a new First Baptist Church was organized for the black members of the community. Though now a separate church, the congregation continued to worship in the basement of the parent church. As the storm clouds of states’ rights and secession began to form over our nation, the same issues caused a split among Baptists. When Baptists of the south withdrew from the conven tion that was formed in 1814 to form the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, this church became an affiliate. It was not until John Bryce of Virginia came to be pastor in 1851 that the church made significant growth. During his pastorate of eleven years (from 1851 to 1862) a great revival was led by George C. Lorimer of New York City and many were added to the church.
Rev. Bryce was a dynamic leader who was a jack-of-all-trades. Trained as a lawyer, Rev. Bryce reached adulthood before becoming a Christian and then almost immediately felt the call to preach. Th ough he served off and on as a pastor the rest of his life, his accomplishments outside the church were also great.
Rev. Bryce served as an army chaplain in the War of 1812 and later served his country again as Surveyor of the Port at Shreveport, Louisiana. He was also said to be President Tyler’s confidential agent in the annexation of Texas.
During the meeting of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky in 1857, Dr. Bryce introduced a resolution from the Female Missionary Society of Henderson urging all churches in the state to form such societies. A member of the this group was not able to introduce this resolution because under the rules of the time, women were not allowed to speak or pray in church.
Several men of First Baptist were called to the ministry during Dr. Bryce’s tenure. Out of this period came Dr. George Frederick Pentecost who was baptized in the Ohio River and went on to preach all over the world, including serving alongside D.L. Moody and preaching once in Charles Spurgeon’s Tabernacle in London England. Pentecost also contributed a chapter to the historic work The Fundamentals, writing Chapter 20, “What the Bible Contains for the Believer.”
In addition to Dr. Pentecost, Pascal Hickman Lockett was ordained a minster during this period. Locket was the father of Miss Beulah Lockett, and was county attorney during a portion of the 1850s.
The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 brought about the promised effect of the southern states seceding to form the Confederate States of America. The bloodiest four years in American history would pit brother against brother and father against son as names such as Bull Run, ShilohChurch, Gettysburg, and Appomattox would become household topics.
Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth and the period of Reconstruction ordered by Congress for the southern states would cause as great a rift between the s ections of the country as the war itself had.
The Civil War had a deterring effect on the progress of the church. Following Dr. Bryce’s retirement due to old age three pastors, J. H. Spencer, A. J. Miller, and R. S. Callahan, came and went in the period 1862-1866. Further tragedy struck as Dr. Bryce died in 1864 of what at the time was termed congestion of the brain. He was buried in Henderson’s city (Fernwood) cemetery.
In 1866, following the Civil War, the white and black churches severed their ties. The black church, now known as the First Missionary Baptist Church, purchased the former Methodist church at Washington and Elm Streets for $3030.00 and maintains its sanctuary there today. The proximity of the two churches with similar names causes no end of confusion to the post office and anyone from out of town.
In 1868 the church could not support a pastor and P. H. Lockett served the years 1868 to 1872 without salary. He was able to do this, because in addition to being an ordained minister, he also served as Henderson County Judge for four terms beginning in 1866.
The corruption of the 1870′s would be almost unmatched in U.S. history. As the nation approached its one hundredth birthday, the excesses of New York political boss, William March “Boss” Tweed and ineffectiveness of President Grant would continue to grab headlines.
One of the country’s most notorious military setbacks would occur in 1876 at the time of the centennial celebration in Philadelphia. Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer would lead his men to disaster at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Following Rev. Lockett, H. H. D. Straton served as pastor of the church. Although reported to be a good speaker, he was a man of rather extreme beliefs. Under his pastorate anyone who attended a circus, the theater, or other forms of amusement was excluded from the church. These actions so depleted the church that only a small congregation remained on his leaving.
From 1875 to 1879 First Baptist was without a regular minister as R. D. Peay supplied, with other visiting ministers occasionally filling the pulpit.
Following the ten month pastorate of R. S. Fleming, the church ceased to function as a self-supporting unit and came under the operation of the Board of State Missions, with that organi zation partially providing the funds for the continued operation of the church. The church had also almost ceased to function at all with only a handful of faithful members attending worship services. The sanctuary had fallen into disrepair and the church had fallen from being a state leader to being one of the weakest. In 1883 the secretary of the Home Missions Board, I. T. Tichenor, came to serve as interim pastor and began to turn the troubled church around.
The following year, the Board of State Missions recommended Rev. J. M. Phillips as pastor. Rev. Phillips came for a four year pastorate that saw significant growth in the church. Three hundred twenty-five new members were added. It was also during this pastorate that Mrs. Clarissa Margaret Berry Clay, in whose home the church had been organized, died. For interesting details of the life of this remarkable woman, readers are referred to the account of the death of Mrs. Clay in the February 11, 1885, issue of the Henderson Semi-Weekly Reporter, to be found in the Public Library of Henderson, Kentucky.
In 1887 the church experienced the greatest revival known in Henderson, with some 200 converts. The report of the State Board of Missions of 1887 has this paragraph: “The wisdom of the policy of concentrating mission forces on important centers in order ‘to build up strong self-sustaining churches was strikingly shown in the remarkable meeting with our mission church in Henderson.’ Two brethren with evangelistic gifts, employed by the State Board of Missions, continued the meeting for four weeks, which resulted in 150 additions to the church.”
Rev. George H. Simmons pastored two years (1888-1890) with special appeal to the youth of the church. He led in organizing a mission which later became the Audubon Baptist Church. He also laid the groundwork for a new sanctuary. The old building was torn down and the congregation used the building of Adas Israel for worship.
The “Gay Nineties” would end on anything but a gay note as the country went to war with Spain. The war did bring a new American hero to the forefront as a little-known Assistant Secretary of the Navy resigned his position to lead the First Volunteer Cavalry. Teddy Roosevelt’s daring exploits would propel him to the governorship of New York and on to the Vice-Presidency and Presidency following the assassination of William McKinley.
The pastorate of Rev. J. M. Sallee during the period 1890-1899 is one of the most significant in the church’s history. In spite of the financial panic of the period, the new church was built, the cornerstone being laid in 1893. That Dr. Sallee was a strong leader is evidenced by the organization of Audubon Baptist Church in 1892, the building of our present sanctuary in 1893, and the missionary zeal that was kindled in the church.
Dr. Sallee made a significant contribution in another field. He was very effective in meeting arguments of followers of Alexander Campbell. This group, known as Campbellites, followed Campbell’s doctrine which did not allow missions or benevolent societies in Baptist churches. Friends of Dr. Sallee urged him to put his thoughts in pamphlet form. Instead he wove them into a novel, “Mabel Clement”, which was widely distributed through the library service of the Sunday School Board.
In 1899 Dr. Sallee’s own son, Eugene, was ordained and went as a missionary to China. Later two daughters of the mission minded pastor, Nannie Sallee and Hannah Fair Sallee, went to China as missionaries. No doubt these people had great influence in moving the women toward organization of the Women’s Missionary Society in 1907.
As the youngest man ever to become President, “Teddy the Trust Buster” brought a new vigor to the office and became one of the most popular presidents in U. S. history. His “Big Stick Policy” and efforts to secure the Isthmus of Panama for a cdanal would make him famous around the world. During the pastorate of Rev. F. W. Taylor (1899-1902) great emphasis was placed on paying the debt on the building. Two missions were under the care of the church, one at DeKoven and one at Wilson Station. The Ladies Aid was quite active. Records of the time show that they gave chairs for the Sunday School and a flower pedestal for use in the sanctuary.
The first pipe organ was installed in 1904 during the pastorate of Dr. Leonard Dooland (1903-1904). The committee was Walter Brashear, William Weaver and Prof. J. W. Welch. A Baptist Young People’s Union (BYPU) was organized with Lorenzo Camp as president. Miss Sallie Priest and Miss Nannie Priest organized the Philathea and Baraca classes. The Ladies Aid gave a new carpet for the sanctuary, Joe K. Lockett and Seton W. Norris gave a chandelier, and the deacons gave the side lights to match the chandelier. A mission Sunday School was organized in Fishtown after several months of meetings in the home of Mrs. Adele Wigal.
The five year period beginning in 1905 was under the leadership of Dr. Cecil V. Cook. The debt on the sanctuary was paid off in 1907, followed by a dedication. Miss Sallie Priest went as a missionary to China, as did the Sallee sisters mentioned earlier, and John Culver went to India. Property at Washington and Alves was purchased for a parsonage in 1908. The first president of the Missionary Society, organized in 1907, was Mrs. Walter Brashear. The first secretary was Mrs. Adele Wigal.
The whole world sent to war as the Central Powers, led by Germany and Austria-Hungary, fought the Allies, led by Britain, France, and later, the United States. The U. S. was so unprepared for the conflict that even though it did not enter the fighting until three years after the war started, Britain and France had to supply much of the material used by country in the war.
The airplane and the submarine made their debuts as serious weapons of war with devastating results. The trench warfare and 19th Century military tactice in the face of machine guns and modern artillery led to needless deaths on the field of battle.
The pastorate of Dr. George W. Clark (1910-1914) was for those involved a time of crisis. A man of strong convictions and great leadership, he led the church to build the Sunday School Annex on property next to the sanctuary, which had been purchased from the Johnson family. Differences of opinion in the membership over matters of church polity and sharp disagreement with the pastor on the part of some prominent members led to a resolution to form another Baptist church with Dr. Clark as pastor. The move was opposed by 157 members of the First Church.
On August 5, 1914, Dr. Clark, with the financial secretary, Marion Gresham, clerk Ely Smithson, deacons Abe Robertson, G. W. Adams, Dr. W. S. Forwood, Ed Bennett, J. C. Taylor, W. O. Anderson, John Pearce, and 168 other members asked for letters to form the Immanuel Baptist Temple. While this was a crisis time for the First Church, it has turned out to be a blessing to the city and has given great impetus to the work of the Kingdom. As is often the case when an organization splits, the two churches have grown larger, been greatly blessed, and become stronger than if only one congregation had been maintained. That the two congrega tions have long since become reconciled is evidenced by their complete cooperation, even to the extent of joint services on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Immanuel and the 125th Anniver sary of the First Church.
The divisions of the church resulted in retrenchment for a few years. Rev. T. N. Compton of Owensboro served as supply pastor. New deacons elected were Ben E. Niles, William H. Weaver, D. J. W. Stone, Wallace Stewart, Robert Crafton, Ira Wright, W. E. Edmonson, and L. W. Rogers. E.R. Conway was financial secretary. There was a debt of $9,000 on the church from construction of the Sunday School Annex. The parsonage was sold for $3,000 and paid on the debt. Trustee Joe K. Lockett signed notes of $6,000, thus saving the building for the church.
Rev. Frank Hardy became the next pastor in 1914 and served and pastored for the next three years until 1917. He instituted the envelope system of giving, in 1915, which is still in use today. That year the mission budget was $1,200, of which $300 was to be paid by the women and $900 by the men. Rev. Hardy also led in grading the Sunday School. Eighty-nine new members were added to the church.
The year 1917 brought our totally unprepared nation into the war now known as World War I and a new pastor to the pulpit, Dr. O. R. Mangum, who was pastor from 1917 to 1919. This was the time of the Seventy-five Million Dollar Campaign of the Southern Baptist Convention. First Church’s quota of $30,000 was accepted and paid in full. The church also sent its quota of young men as twenty-four members served in World War I.
The “Roaring Twenties” brought Prohibition, Flappers, The Charleston, and Chicago mobs. Warren G. Harding, who was noted for his good looks would sit in the White House during the early years of the decade. He would be followed at his death by a man known for his quiet ways, Calvin Coolidge.
The end of the decade saw a man in office who might have been considered one of the best presidents, Herbert Hoover. Hoover campaigned on the slogan “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” There was one giant stumbling block to this era of prosperity which Hoover would not be able to overcome–the stock market crash of 1929 and The Great Depression.
The longest pastorate in the first ninety-two years of the church’s life was served by Dr. Logan B. English from 1919 to 1931, a total of almost twelve years. Dr. English was a bachelor when he came to Henderson, but while here he married Miss Corilla Eberhardt, daughter of Dr. E. F. Eberhardt, who pastored the Georgetown (Kentucky) Baptist Church for many years.
Dr. English was strong on Sunday School and dreamed of a building to house it. Photographs on file and church bulletins of that period give evidence of the growth both in numbers and in efficiency of the church. The bulletin of April 6, 1924, shows Sunday School enrollment of 479 and attendance of 426.
In an effort to increase overall Sunday school attendance, W.W. Agnew, leader of the Men’s Bible Class, led a three-month campaign, a friendly challenge against the city of Owensboro to determine which city could have the highest number of men present for Sunday School.
The competing cities worked throughout the months of March, April, and May, to secure the highest number of attendees for the final day of the challenge, occurring Sunday May 31, 1925. The Men’s Class invited men from all over Henderson County as well as across the river into Evansville, Indiana. An advertisement in the local newspaper taken out by the Men’s Class the preceding Friday illustrates the universal effort to enlist all men, regardless of church affiliation. It reads, “We will need every available man at the Grand Theater Sunday morning to win this contest.”
When the fateful day arrived, Henderson had 2,438 in attendance, a number which included some 600 men from Evansville ferried across the river to help their sister city. Despite the large number of attendees, Henderson lost the challenge to the city of Owensboro, who succeeded in getting 2,686 men to attend their rival program on the same day.
A panoramic photograph of the event is in the church library. The picture shows a large number of men standing in front of the Grand Theater, including members of the Agora Orchestra and the Weyerbacher’s Boys Band of Evansville which led in a parade preceding the program.
The Great Depression would be the fact of life which would dominate the 1930′s as organizations known by their initials, WPA, CCC, and PWA became party of the national vocabulary. The election of FranklinDelanoRoosevelt and his aggressive methods in fighting the depression would start reversing the country’s fortunes. The depression would drag on though for almost nine more years until forcibly ended on a December Sunday in 1941.
Dr. English resigned in 1931, leaving a harmonious and prosperous church. Between his resignation and the coming of Dr. Brown B. Smith to be pastor, the church experienced a disastrous fire in the early morning of March 28, 1932. Valiant efforts of the firemen from across the street (including the chief, who first saw the fire, and nearly lost his life when he fell through the floor to the basement) saved the main part of the structure.
Since the church had no pastor, W. E. Server called a meeting and appointed a building committee composed of H. C. Trevathan, C. E. Weldon, and Virgil Taylor. The congregation of Adas Israel once again opened its building to the church for worship. Sunday School was held in the gym of Barret Manual Training High School.
The sanctuary, which had been partially burned out, was at first feared to be a total loss with damage originally estimated at around $20,000, but the building was repaired and changed somewhat. In the original, the choir loft and the organ console were above the platform and the baptistry was under the choir loft and back of the pulpit stand. Many of the effects of the fire are still visible today in the form of charred beam and ceiling veneer.
Dr. Smith, of Staunton, Virginia, came to be pastor in 1932 and held the first service in the repaired sanctuary on October 2, 1932. Dr. Smith, like Dr. English, had a twelve-year pastorate ending in 1944. One of the highlights of his pastorate was the meeting of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky here in 1934. At that time a great controversy was raging over the baptism of Dr. Sherwood, the president of Georgetown College. Dr. Sherwood had originally joined a Christian church (Disciples of Christ). He later was received into a Northern Baptist church (now American Baptist) upon his original baptism. He transferred his membership to a Southern Baptist church by letter from the Northern Baptist church. Proponents of strict closed baptism polity among Baptist churches questioned his baptism and also his theology. The debate reached a serious stage here in 1934, resulting in the resignation of Dr. Sherwood.
In 1937, an 11-year-old boy named Laverne Butler was baptized under the pastorate of Dr. Smith. Laverne lived with his family at 215 S. Ingram Street and spent his formative years at First Baptist before leaving in 1944 at the age of 18 to attend Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Laverne Butler went on to become one of the strongest voices of what came to be known as the “conservative resurgence” within the Southern Baptist Convention. As nearly 20-year pastor of Ninth & O Baptist Church in Louisville from 1969 to 1988, Butler preached historic Baptist doctrine that was often viewed with disdain by many faculty at neighboring Southern Seminary when that institution was largely theologically moderate to liberal.
With boldness and irenic spirit, Butler become known for the famous sermon, “Will the Real Southern Baptist Please Stand Up,” a sermon preached on multiple occasions throughout the denomination that called for belief in historic baptist orthodoxy and an inerrant Bible.
Butler also served many churches as interim pastor, including two interim pastorates at the historic Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Upon leaving Ninth and O, he became president of Mid-Continent University in Mayfield, Kentucky from 1988 until retiring in 1997.
Paul Pressler’s book on the conservative resurgence, A Hill on Which to Die (B&H, 2002), refers favorably to Butler as one of the “heroes of the resurgence.”
In 1939 the church celebrated her one-hundredth anniversary with appropriate services. The speaker in the morning was the beloved Dr. James McKee Adams, professor of Biblical Archeology at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. In the evening, Dr. J. W. Black, General Secretary and Moderator of the General Associa tion, was the speaker. The bulletin of that day carries a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This celebration was followed by a two-week revival with the McKinley Musical Messen gers leading.
“December 7, 1941, a day which will live in infamy.” These were the words spoken by President Roosevelt as he asked Congress to declare war on Japan following the sneak attack on P earl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. Henderson was personally as the commander of the Pacific Fleet was Husband E. Kimmel, a native of Henderson.
The fighting against dictatorships in Europe and Japanese aggression in the Pacific would not end except with a gunshot in an underground bunker in Berlin and two searing flashes of light over a devastated Japan.
It was during the pastorate of Dr. Smith that Miss Mary Wilson died on April 17, 1941. She was the last in a family of three sisters and two brothers. She left the residue of the Wilson estate to First Baptist Church and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She also gave her home at 200 South Green Street to the church to be used as a parsonage. The pastor was to pay rent on the property for upkeep. She gave pastor Brown B. Smith a home on Center Street across from the church. Cash from the estate amounted to ap proximately $220,000 and was divided equally between the church and the seminary. The $110,000 that came to the church was to be divided equally between a trust fund and a building fund. $55,000 was placed in a new building, to be discussed later, and $55,000 remains in a trust fund, the income of which is to be used for operating expenses and benevolences.
Henderson’s first radio station, WSON, went on the air on December 17, 1941. Shortly after this, First Baptist began airing the Sunday morning services on the station. This was one of the first remote broadcasts for the fledgling station which was managed by its founder, Hecht S. Lackey.
The period 1945 to 1952 was one of growth in membership and in physical facilities. E. Keevil Judy was the pastor during this period. Records show that there were 693 additions to the church. The new educational building was erected and furnished at a cost of approximately $150,000.
One of the greatest revivals in the history of First Baptist was held in the latter part of 1947. Led by Dr. Arthur Fox with Rev. J. T. Ford in charge of music, the two week long revival brought seventy-three new members into the church. Sixty-three, who had made professions of faith, were baptized the Sunday following the revival. It took Rev. Judy one hour to baptize all of those who had been saved.
Dr. Logan B. English was guest speaker at the cornerstone laying of the new building on May 29, 1949. The names of 792 people who attended Sunday School that day were among items placed in the cornerstone. Members of the building committee were H. C. Treva than, Chairman, John Conway, James H. Meyer, Sr., G. L. Utley, H. L. Smith, Henry Lain, and James S. Priest, Jr. The new building was officially opened March 5, 1950. Sunday School attendance that day was 850.
War was once again in the headlines as the communists crosed the 39th Parallel into South Korea and the United Nations voted to intervene. Seventy year old General of the Army Douglas MacArthur would lead the U. N. forces brilliantly at Inchon but his strategy would cause his eventual downfall. The Chinese, believing the United Nations forces were about to cross the YaluRiver into China, invaded the Korean peninsula from the north.
For his actions, MacArthur would be relieved of his command by President Truman. In his final message to Congress he ended his speech with the words, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
The scene at home was one of rapid change as a new form of music known as rock-n-roll swept the country and performers such as Buddy Holly became famous. Television became an integral part of our lives as Uncle Miltie and Howdy Doody entered our homes each week.
Rev. Francis Tallant was pastor from 1953 to 1960. Under his aggressive leadership the church continued to grow. Scores of new members were added and youth work was greatly advanced with bus loads attending assemblies at Ridgecrest. The church staff was enlarged to include two secretaries and an assistant to the pastor. In 1953 both the sanctuary and educational building were completely air conditioned. The former home of Mr. & Mrs. Griffin Sutton at 636 Washington Street was purchased for a parsonage and the property at 200 South Green was sold. The outside wall of the main building erected in 1893 was sandblasted and repointed in 1960.
First Baptist had invested in a lot on Hwy. 41 and in 1954 traded this lot for one more centrally located in the community. From July 5-15, 1954, a tent revival and Vacation Bible School were held. From these early beginnings came Airline Baptist Church.
The Sunday of July 18, 1954, saw a Sunday School organized with 29 present. Services were conducted in the Tom Glover Building (Dixie Mart) on Clay St. until a mission building could be completed. First Baptist voted on September 8, 1954 to enter into a building program and work was begun immediately. Several active members from FBC served as teachers in the new mission. The building was finished on January 23, 1955 and dedication services were held February 27, 1955 with a sermon given by Rev. Tallant.
The growth of Airline Mission was such that additional property was purchased in 1959 for an expansion. Airline continued as a mission of First Baptist until 1960 when it became self-supporting enough to become a church. First Baptist assumed all indebtedness on the Airline building and pastorium, thus giving the young church a good start.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but, what you can do for your country,” said John F. Kennedy in his inaugural speech. The short term of office of this youngest man to be elected President would be termed “Camelot” by some. Civil rights, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin Crisis, and the Bay of Pigs debacle would come in quick succession. A small country in southeast Asia which had once been a part of French Indochina, Vietnam, would begin to work its way into the headlines.
President Kennedy’s life would be ended by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas. Lyndon Johnson would succeed him and lead the country through a period of the greatest domestic and political upheaval in the nation’s history.
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. would lead us to a new awareness of deep-rooted problems in our country and the Age of Aquarius would come into full force as the beatniks of the Fifties and Sixties gave way to Hippies, the peace movement, and the idea of “never trust anyone over thirty.”
Rev. Tom Dunlap came in 1960. Although he was pastor only one and one-half years, he led the church in significant accom plishments. The new pipe organ, made possible by bequests of Mr. & Mrs. Charles Johnson, was installed and dedicated. The interior of the sanctuary was redecorated and a new wall-to-wall carpet was installed. The organ console and the grand piano were enclosed with railings to match the choir rail.
The Riverside Chapel was re-established as a mission of the church. A First Baptist member, Ray Hughes, helped provided leadership for this mission which primarily served the Merritt Drive area.
Beyond all of the physical accomplishments, the greatest contribution of Rev. Dunlap was his leading the people together in loving fellowship. He resigned just before Christmas, 1961, to return to his native state of Mississippi to pastor the First Baptist Church of Natchez.
In February, 1962, Dr. E. Keevil Judy began his second pastorate of this church. The church was in debt with no provision in the budget to make payments. The payments due the Cooperative Program had also been lagging. A special Rally Day was held to raise money for the indebtedness and the Cooperative Program. Those wishing to give came to the front of the church and laid the money on the altar. A goal of $5000 was set for the special offering. All expectations were surpassed as the congregation rose to the occasion and gave $8131.54.
In 1964, the two residences just east of our property were torn down and a parking lot was built to provide off-street parking for about fifty cars.
The year 1964 was the 125th anniversary of the organization of the church. This was celebrated with special activities extending from August 16 to October 18. On August 16, a Founders Day service was held with Dr. Robert Humphreys as guest speaker in the morning and dinner-on-the-grounds in Central Park at noon. In the evening service, highlights of the church history were read while a spotlight was played on a lovely lady dressed in the costume of the period being described. There were six of these ladies, one for each 25th year starting in 1839 and ending in 1964. First Mission ary Baptist Church provided the special music.
The cornerstone of the sanctuary, which was laid in 1893, was opened. The history written by Judge John Lockett and placed in the stone was intended to be read in the evening service, but the contents of the stone had so deteriorated as to be unrecognizable. Only the picture of pastor J. M. Sallee had survived. The photo was placed under glass along with remnants of other articles. They were then photographed and printed in the church bulletin of August 16, 1964.
Dr. Judy continued to serve as pastor until March 30, 1970, when he decided to “retire.” His continuing service as interim pastor for churches in the area however have continued to keep him almost as busy as he was when pastoring full time. Upon Dr. Judy’s retire ment, the director of the Green Valley Association, Rev. David Bratcher, was asked to serve as interim pastor of the church.
Watergate, the end of the war in Vietnam, and a peanut farmer from Georgia dominated the headlines of the 70′s. Though Richard Nixon led the country in triumphs of foreign diplomacy, he tripped on his domestic policy and desire for secrecy. Burglars hired by his campaign workers rifled the files of the Democratic National Headquarters and were caught in the act. Though he denied knowledge of the plot, the circumstantial evidence was against him, and his aides were proven guilty, forcing his resignation from office in 1974.
Gerald Ford would trip his way through two years as president and lose the 1976 election to Georgian Jimmy Carter. Carter was seen as an outsider who could speed up the bureaucratic inertia of Washington, but his own unwillingness to work with those bureaucrats contributed to his loss in the 1980 election to former California governor and â€œBâ€ movie actor Ronald Reagan.
In October of 1970 Rev. Bratcher became the pastor of the church and has served the longest of any pastor in the church’s history. During Rev. Bratcher’s tenure as pastor the church was continually refurbished; including a new sound system, carpeting, and lighting. New ranks were added to the organ. This was made possible through the generosity of Mrs. Sue McQuiston, a former member of the church, who because of her love of music and First Baptist, provided for the music program of the church in her will.
From the time Rev. Bratcher became pastor in October, 1970 until the end of February 1989, 1,137 people joined First Baptist for a gain of 88 members and a gain in resident membership of 145. For one of the few times in its history First Baptist had a second minister on staff as Rev. Alan Chamness arrived in 1973 to serve as Minister of Music & Youth. Alan’s devotion to both areas brought about great growth. Rev. Chamness’s work with senior adults brought new life and activity to that segment of the church population.
One of the most charismatic presidents to ever serve, Ronald Reagan, whether liked or disliked, continued to capture the imagination of the general public as America regained much of the pride which had been lost in the Vietnam and Watergate eras. Though his economic policies, known as Reaganomics, were often ridiculed, the double-digit inflation which afflicted the country during the Carter years was brought under control.
Reagan’s continuing pressure brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany as that symbol of the “Iron Curtain”, the Berlin Wall, was torn down.
The 1980′s saw four young men of First Baptist complete their training and go on to become ministers. Keith Sanderson and Steve Kellough became ministers of music, Jeff Coursey trained to become a pastor, and Freddy Morris became a minister of activi ties.
First Baptist’s continuing commitment to missions, which was developed under men like J. M. Sallee, was further shown with the creation of the Kingwood Baptist Mission in Kingwood, West Virginia in 1979. This mission, in an area of West Virginia which was not used to Baptists, continued to grow and prosper under the leadership of Rev. Hal Branson until, though it is still under the care of First Baptist, the mission became an independent church in 1988.
Another mission group, the W.M.U. celebrated its centennial year under the leadership of Mrs. Jo Flint. The highlight of the celebration was the making of a Centennial Quilt the W.M.U. members. Even the Pastor Emeritus, Dr. E. K. Judy, and the Minister of Music, Alan Chamness made blocks for this beautiful quilt.
The youth Bible study held in homes on Tuesday nights grew to over 40 teenagers each week. This study, led each week by Rev. Chamness, not only brought about increased awareness among the youth but also brought many parents into the fellowship of the church.
Preparations began to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the church. Mark Horton was chosen as the head of the committee which would oversee the celebrations which would begin with a picnic on August 13, 1988 and end with a homecoming and dinner on August 13, 1989. Rev. Bratcher announced that he would retire at the end of 1989, following the sesqui centennial celebration, ending almost twenty years of leadership.
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 culminated with one of the swiftest victories in history by the United States in the Gulf War of 1991. Following a month of aerial bombardment, the U.S. and Coalition forces decimated the Iraqi army in just 100 hours of ground fighting.
President George Bush saw his unprecedented wave of popularity collapse just over a year later as he was defeated for a second term as President by Bill Clinton, the Governor of Arkansas. The following eight years were a mixture of economic prosperity and presidential degradation as President Clinton managed to go from one legal crisis to another.
Bill Patterson was called to serve as pastor of FBC and began his pastorate in August, 1990. The ensuing 10 years would see almost a doubling of Sunday School attendance, two morning worship services, and the addition of a new educational building. The pastoral staff was expanded as Rev. Gordon “Skip” Lloyd was called as Minister of Education and Administration in 1991 and Rev. Jim Trader served as a part time Minister of Outreach.
Following Rev. Lloyd’s departure to Virginia, Rev. Ron Osborne served as interim Minister of Education. In January 1999 Wayne Jenkins was ordained and became the Minister of Education. Ellie Coursey also joined the staff as Director of Children’s Ministries, a reflection of the growing number of young families in our church.
The new millennium came and went with no earth shattering events. The Y2K computer disaster was averted and services did all over the world did not come to an end because early programmers did not plan for years after 1999. However, later in 2001 the world was rocked as terrorists destroyed the WorldTradeCenter and attacked the Pentagon. The actions of 9/11/2001 led to wars in Afghanistan in Iraq which have still not been resolved.
Dr. Bill Patterson left First Baptist in 2000 and, following a two-year search, Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD, of Louisville was called in 2002 to serve as pastor. Additional staff who have joined the Ministerial Team and Support Staff include Darren Phegley, Director of Media Ministries, Rev. Rich Stratton in 2006 as Minister of Education, Rev. Matt McCraw in 2009 as Student Minister, and Rev. Ken Martin in 2010 as Minister of Administration.
The period from 2002 to the present has seen steady growth in the church as Sunday school attendance approaches the 650 mark. In 2009 the church began a partnership with Evansville Christian School and began offering kindergarten in the Education Building. In 2010 the church began construction of a new Student Ministry Building adjacent to the sanctuary on Elm Street. Space limitations continue to challenge the church to best utilize the present facility while also prayerfully considering the acquisition of property for future growth. Great days are ahead as we continue to glorify God through Bible-centered preaching, reaching, and teaching in the name of Jesus Christ!