BY Win Dolan
Highlights of Our Story First Baptist Church: 1867-2007
A year long series originally printed in the Tidings (article #9)
It would be safe to say that our church was born of discord. Those 22 founders either withdrew voluntarily from the South Yamhill Baptist Church in 1867 because of some disagreement, or, perhaps, were dismissed by vote of that church. In either case, it was not the last time a split occurred or was threatened.
Toward the middle of the next century, the whole body of Oregon Baptists was shaken up by a theological argument: were we “Conservative” or “Liberal”? Specifically, do we or do we not read the scriptures literally? Linfield College was attacked as a stronghold of liberalism; our church tended to line up with the college. More than half the Baptist churches of the state, including some of the largest, formally withdrew from the state body. The dissidents from our own church included some strong members, I don’t know just how many. They, with other local adherents, soon formed the Bethel Baptist Church (now Baker Creek Community Church), aligned with the other Conservative congregations.
Several years later something called the Singletary Plan threatened the peace at FBC. It was Craig Singletary (name used with permission) as church Moderator and chairman of the Official Board (now called Church Board), who suggested adopting the policy of a prominent church in Washington, D.C.. In this system everyone would renew his or her membership each year through a formal declaration of intent, including a financial pledge and plan of active participation. There was much discussion pro and con, but when it came to a vote in the Board, it was clear that too many of us were unhappy about this strict requirement. It was decided to drop the proposal.
Later still, a group of members found themselves out of tune with the generally liberal stance of the church. In a kind of local repeat of the state-wide split of 1948, they withdrew membership. Most of these, including some very strong people, joined with others to form the Covenant Church.
The most recent furor among us was precipitated in the early 1990s when a former pastor, apparently without consulting anyone, performed a marriage-like ceremony of mutual commitment for a young gay man of our congregation and his partner. While this took place in another city and might be regarded as a private matter, it was not so received. Many people were outraged and talked about defecting; a few actually did so, but some of these came back.
We have evolved as an inclusive church. In the fall of 2004 we entered into an all-church study on the blessing of same-gender unions. After a respectful discussion, the Church Board authorized present and future pastors to bless such unions as their conscience allows. Permission for pastors to bless such unions in the church sanctuary came in 2013. Meanwhile, we have accepted many gay and lesbian people into the fellowship. Some of these, like some of the rest of us, have been active and effective contributors to the church life.