1858 – 2016
In September of 1858 a small group of people, under the leadership of Elden Branch and eager for a church home, met in a little school to talk of organizing a Baptist church in Fairbury. A council of neighboring churches decided on the Articles of Faith and the Covenant. On Sunday morning, October 3, 1858, the First Baptist Church of Fairbury was organized with the following five constituent members: Caleb and Orpha Patton, Richard and Joanna Hanna and Jesse Hanna.
On April 7, 1860, Rev. B. F. Scrivens was called to the pastorate, he being the first regular pastor of the young church. The membership steadily increased, and in 1864 or 66, during the time of Rev. W. C. F. Hempstead, the members felt equal to the task of building a church. Caleb Patton donated four (4) lots, 2 of which were sold to help off set expenses. Finally, after months of weary waiting, the church was completed and dedicated to God. Rev. John Carnes, beginning as pastor in 1865, was very successful and within five (5) years he received 189 members into the church by baptism, the total membership at this time was 260. In 1871, forty-one (41) members took their letters and organized a Baptist church in Weston. Between the pastorates of Rev. Carnes and Rev. C. D. Merit’s, (1876-1881) the church had a number of pastors, each remaining a short time.
In June 1888, after careful deliberation, it was decided to tear down the old church and rebuild on the same site. Rev. J. J. Crosby was the pastor at this time and in conjunction with the building committee, built a new church at a cost of $5, 479. It was opened for worship and dedicated to the service of God, March 17, 1889.
In May, 1892, Rev. W. L. Riley received and accepted the call of the church and during his pastorate of five (5) years, 150 new members were received into the church. In 1918, Rev. L. W. Ames became pastor and during his tenure the debt was cleared. The Rev. J. S. Shorney was called in December 1927 and served for seven (7) years. Rev. Shorney labored for the church during the worst of the financial depression. Rev. Roberts came next and patiently rebuilt a church that had sagged badly during the financial and spiritual depression of the 1930’s. The next pastor, Rev. Wills, charged that the Northern Baptist Convention was full of modernism. He, along with 39 members, left and started another Baptist church in Fairbury which continued for several years.
The old bell was given to the scrap drive in 1941, and in 1948, after four (4) years of fund raising, the church purchased an organ. In 1954, the entire front of the sanctuary was remodeled. The new furniture was made possible through memorial gifts. During the summer of 1955, the church had a “face lift”. The building was tuck-pointed, the brick sand-blasted and the windows were re-leaded. As a memorial to Cora Harris, a piano was purchased in 1957.
In 1963, the balcony over the overflow room was remodeled, and three (3) additional classrooms were added. During 1968 and 1969, an addition was added to the east side. This included an entryway, pastor’s study, a classroom on the upstairs level and restrooms in the basement.
In 1977, the house on the northeast corner of Fourth Street and Chestnut Street was purchased from the Marshall Fitzgerald family. The house was used as the parsonage and the old parsonage was moved to West Walnut Street making more parking spaces available. The garage on the Fitzgerald property was transformed into a Youth Center for local youth until the property was sold in 1979. In 1979 a group of 12 individual members formed a trust and purchased the Bose house west of the church. A few years later this same group purchased a second house to the west of the Bose house. This house was used as classrooms and fellowship gatherings. Eventually the church purchased both properties from the trust and in 1983 razed them to make necessary parking.
During Rev. Art Campbell’s pastorate (1983-89) the organ, which had been purchased in 1948, was replaced and the family of Joe Gerber purchased a piano for the church. Rev. Kevin Comfort came in 1990 and with him came growth, both spiritual and physical.
In 1992, after much prayer and reflection, it was decided to add a Fellowship Hall to the existing building. Through the hard work of building a solid structure to withstand the weather, the congregation built amongst themselves solid bonds that have withstood the test of time. By working together, a hall was constructed to the glory of God and new bonds of kinship were forged to last forever. More property to the south was purchased a short time later and more parking spaces were added. At that time an average of 125 people were attending weekly worship. By 2002 the average attendance had doubled to 250.
In the fall of 2001 five (5) acres were purchased on North Seventh St., directly north of Prairie Central High School. The whirlwind that went through the group of members as they held hands and dedicated the ground to the work of the Lord was confirmation that the site was where the Lord wanted this church to be. A new church was built on the property and the church family officially moved into its new home in October of 2004. By 2006 the average weekly attendance had reached 320.
A new Youth Pastor was hired in the fall of 2006 and in 2007 a Youth Center / Gym was completed to the east side of the building and two (2) more acres were acquired at the same site. In 2008 it was decided an additional pastor was needed and a third full time pastor was hired.
In 2016, due to the tremendous AWANA and UPWARD ministries the gym was expanded, adding bleachers as well as a youth room was constructed on the east of the Gym.
During the 150 years there has always been a strong emphasis on evangelism in the life of the church. During the last 80 years Kenneth Tyler, Hartford Patterson, Vernon Gibb, Howard Bess, Rose Williams, Randy Devenport, Robert Craig, Sharon Monroe, and Mike Cooper have gone into full time service to our Lord.
Advancing steadily, year by year, amid joy and sorrow, each succeeding pastor giving his mite to God and the church, we come down to the present. It is a long step from the little school of 1858 to our present church home. With the aid of God, to whom we give all honor and thanks, the cooperation of our members and under the leadership of our pastors, we hope to progress along all lines of work in the 21st century with the same thought in our minds as was in our church family’s minds who went before us:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Prepared by Mrs. Patsy Stephens
*Portions taken from “Fifty Years of Retrospect”
Prepared by Mrs. Carrie K. Eckhart; 1908
*Portions taken from “Historical Sketch of the First Baptist Church”
Prepared by Mrs. Rosella Mowery and Mrs. Marilyn Moody; 1983
Daryl Evans 2008
Kyle Gieger 1996
Randy McCulloh 1998
Jon Berbaum 2000
Rick Williams 2006
Josh Medlin 2015