BY Win Dolan
Highlights of Our Story First Baptist Church: 1867-2007
A year long series that originally appeared in the Tidings (article #1)
The parallel lives of First Baptist Church and Linfield College can hardly be described more clearly than by Dr. J. Hybert Pollard’s words, as quoted in ’Linfield’s Hundred Years’:
The church was born of the college. In the nation at large, it is true, the church brought the colleges into existence, but in the particular case of McMinnville, the college brought the church into existence . . . Thus it was that as two pioneer brothers, the relationship between the two through the years has been closer than brothers, even that of twins.”
In the very beginning of the church’s life, it found its leadership in the staff of McMinnville College. The church’s first home in the town was the college’s early building, which stood on the same corner that we occupy today. The two institutions struggled for many years to keep body and soul together, even to exist. Each had one financial crisis after another, hardly able to meet payroll, meager as it was, to say nothing of hopes to expand or to build.
In 1884 the college moved from town into the newly build Pioneer Hall. By this time the church had also occupied its first substantial building. There was no break in the relationship, however, because McMinnville College had a firmly Baptist identity. This meant that nearly all faculty members were Baptist and formed much of the church’s leadership. At the same time, Baptist families in the Northwest sent many of their sons and daughters to the college. Most of these at that time wre used to attending church, so that they gravitated naturally to First Baptist, often bringing their membership here from their home churches.
The Conquest Class for college students in our Sunday School, taught usually by a college professor, lasted for more than fifty years in the 1900s. It often attracted an attendance of a hundred or more (who needed a bus in those days? Everyone took the half-mile walk for granted). In my early years of singing in the choir, I used to count the student present at worship, usually well over a hundred.
Later years brought broad changes in American society and standards. Rather than choose freely among Baptist candidates for faculty vacancies, colleges must advertise widely, then be prepared to show that the choice is made without restriction. At the same time, students and their families are less firmly tied to a denomination, choosing a college on other characteristics, even as many churches become community-oriented rather than exclusive. Yet we still have a number of college faculty active in our church, besides many retirees and alumni. The ‘Twin brothers’ have become fraternal rather than identical.