Our Story

“The thing that brought me the most joy was to see the children grow up, nurtured by their own nuclear families, then performing marriage ceremonies for those I had baptized. When you serve a church for twenty-six years, you are able to enjoy many of those occasions.”                            Dr. G. Nelson Duke

It is impossible to summarize in a few paragraphs the history of this great church. If that history were a painting, it would have to be an immense mural. Perhaps by examining one large panel of that mural, the long and fruitful ministry of Nelson Duke (1963 – 1989), we can begin to see the larger panorama.May 24, 1987- During the Sunday evening service a fire breaks out in the sanctuary. A dream went up in smoke that night. Several years before, our members had voted to build a new sanctuary on the same ground where the old one stood. They had sacrificed to make the dream a reality, giving over and above regular tithes and offerings and worshiping on folding chairs in the gymnasium while the new building took shape.Even as the fire raged, members offered up prayers to God that night. There were prayers of thanksgiving that there had been no injuries or loss of life. Just the week before, Jim Fuller’s graded choirs sang on Sunday night and the platform at the front would have been filled with preschoolers. The next day, Memorial Day, many members gathered and sorted through the ruined building, seeing what could be salvaged. The church proposed to meet as usual on Wednesday night and the gym was full, another testimony to the faith and resilience of the members of First Baptist Church.

We Build…Build…and Build

Members of long standing in the 19th and 20th Centuries may have felt they were in a perpetual building program. Five years after the First Baptist Church was organized in 1837, the first church building was completed and dedicated in 1842. Amazingly, this small building survived and housed the members of Second Baptist Church until 1971. It had been transferred to our black brothers and sisters in Christ in July of 1869. Many of them had been members of First Baptist Church until 1863 when they organized their own church. First Church was already beginning a new church edifice on Monroe Street at the present site of the News Tribune building. That building was dedicated for worship in 1871. Only 17 years later, the church first built on our current site. Its third sanctuary was built in only a few months at a cost of slightly over $12,000. After Paul Weber became pastor in 1920, the church began a period of growth which necessitated two sections of Sunday School each week. In 1925, the classic Spanish style sanctuary, where the church met for six decades, was built. During those sixty years, the church plant expanded several times. In 1943, the church purchased and renovated the old Montgomery Ward building for educational space. In 1958, it moved into a new educational building with 24 departments and 63 individual classrooms. In 1972, it completed its space in the Ward building.

We Reach Out

In 1970, Concord Baptist Association offered to deed seven acres of Ten Mile Drive to First Church to initiate a mission in this growing area of Jefferson City. The offer was accepted and the church began to move immediately toward establishment of a new mission. When Concord Chapel was completed in March 1971, at a cost of $78,600 for construction and furnishings, the building was debt free. Only nine months later, Concord Baptist Church was officially organized. Two hundred members of First Church moved their memberships to get the church started, with about half of those staying to become permanent members. The dynamic church that mee ts at Concord today is a testimony to the foresight and unselfishness of those members of our church from the early ‘70’s.

Many of our area churches began as missions of First Baptist. Park Baptist Mission was established in 1914, which in 1935 became Park Baptist Church. In 1961, it changed its name to Immanuel Baptist Church. Memorial Baptist Church was established by members of Park.

Renn Addition Mission began meeting in 1940 in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Luther Nichols. In 1941, First Church allocated funds for the building of a one room frame church. In December 1951, the mission was organized into Calvary Baptist Church. Members from Calvary later helped establish Southridge Baptist Church.

The late Avery Wooderson, some of whose family are still members at First Baptist, served as superintendent of pioneers missions in Iowa from 1960 – 1968 and was instrumental in establishing several missions there. First Baptist helped sponsor missions in Ottumwa, Albia, and Crestwood. Members of those missions were officially members of First Baptist Church, Jefferson City. Today, our Hispanic Mission reaches out with the gospel within the wall of our church and into the community.

Mission giving has always been a priority of First Baptist. For many years, when local needs were fewer, our church devoted nearly 30 percent of its total budget to Cooperative Program giving. Including all mission causes, in several years it exceeded 30 percent. Nelson Duke counted it a privilege to serve a church where a significant majority of Baptist Building leadership were members of the congregation. Doubtless that leadership helped open the hearts and minds to the needs in Missouri and beyond and still do.

January 23, 2000, is a significant day in our history and for our future. Once more, Nelson Duke, now Pastor Emeritus, stands in front of the congregation, invited by our pastor, Doyle Sager, to share in the note burning ceremony, erasing our debt on the sanctuary. Once more, members of our church have given above and beyond regular tithes and offerings to retire our debt early, in order that we can use those funds in present and future ministry. And, after the note is burned and the congregation sings, Nelson stands his face full of emotion and you seem to see the whole history in his face.

You can’t see the whole thing, of course, because the mural is too large and it stretches from the sometimes obscure past to our faith in a bright future. But you seem to see and hear and smell and touch…. That small band of brothers and sisters, black and white, gathering for worship at Monroe and Miller in 1842…Rev. Juvel Garcia, finally arriving in the summer of 2000 to lead the Hispanic Mission in worship in Duke Chapel… You can hear Hugh Stephens quietly leading discussion at a business meeting and the laughter of V.Bl Elder and the preaching of Paul Weber… you can smell Clara Payne’s Wednesday night pan rolls… You can feel the shake of Arnie Meyer’s enormous right hand, extended in greeting one again…You can hear Nathalie Cross play the organ while eleven members of the Sugarbaker family arrive late for the early service and fill an entire pew… You can see Carl and Wanda Morrow leaving to lend their quiet leadership to the establishment of Concord Church…

You can’t see the future, but perhaps you can see what it might look like during children’s sermon… The daughters of James and Karla Foster are there while their parents look on, sitting next to the grandparents, Charles and Virginia, sitting near where Walter and Nellie used to sit… Extend the mural out the other way and there’s part of the future…

And, in four generations, what kind of church will First Church be? That depends on us. As we strive to be “a place of caring and grace” today, we begin sketching the first faint outlines of that painting. Are you listening?