BY Win Dolan

Highlights of Our Story  First Baptist Church: 1867-2007
A year long series that originally appeared in the Tidings (article #4)

  . . . it’s more than likely that if I should mention, say, the Presbyterian church, you would think first of the familiar red-brick building on Second Street. Or, if a newcomer should ask you on the street, “Where is the First Baptist Church,” you would not reply, “Oh, we live all over town.”  Next month’s installment of this series will deal with the several buildings that FBC has occupied, but for now let’s think about the second line of the verse:

“A church is not a steeple,
A church is all its people.”

When those courageous eleven men, nine women and two children (what, only two, in that day of large families?)  formed the First Baptist Church of McMinnville 140 years ago, they had no sanctuary, no property, no office space, no building fund, no visible resources.  What they did have included the encouraging presence of McMinnville College, also of Baptist origin but itself small and struggling, other Baptist groups in the state who soon formed associations of neighboring churches, and of course their own sturdy faith in God and each other.

These latter assets have enabled many churches to survive hardship and disaster. Think of the small black churches in the South during the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s, sometimes torched and often threatened by hatred groups.  Think of churches in China, once thriving as a product of missionary zeal, but forced underground by the infamous Cultural Revolution.  When I went with a Baptist group to visit China in about 1980, I remember seeing a handsome building, once a Christian church but at that date commandeered into a printing business, full of presses and publishing activity.  Yet we met with groups trying, with scarcely any resources, to reclaim their church homes with the grudging permission of a slightly relaxed government.  We attended worship, in borrowed space but with no lack of spirit.

So consider how it would be if some disaster were to destroy our building.  We’d have to find a place for worship services, perhaps in another church at an inconvenient time, or in a public building, or perhaps at Linfield College.  We’d need office space, and the Sunday School and small groups would need to make plans.  The budget would be upset, with no utilities or insurance or upkeep to pay, but with rentals to replace those items.  In these hypothetical circumstances, would you attend as faithfully, keep up your contributions, maintain your group connections?  Churches need buildings.

Continued in the next article “A church is not a steeple, but…(part 2)”