When I think back over the 50 years that I have been a member of First Baptist Church, many things come to mind. I remember Sunday, September 21, 1975, when after morning worship we had a fellowship dinner followed by a bond burning ceremony. I believe the bonds had been sold to raise money to remodel some part of the church, but the bonds themselves were a bit before my time and I only knew about them because of the celebration. What a day! Then there was Victory Sunday in October of 1992, when after a 4-5 week campaign focused on the future of our church and featuring the enthusiastic children of the Sunday School, the church succeeded in raising the funds for a much needed new roof to be installed before winter. That very same day, Rev. Robert Henderson preached his first sermon in our church and was called to be our pastor. Again, what a day of thanksgiving!
Rev. Henderson served as pastor from October of 1992 to March of 2014. He led us to embrace the vision of a new church and to purchase the new church property. He was preceded by Rev. Selden Bernauer, who was an Electrical engineer in his former career and left it behind when he was called to the ministry. He was a musician par excellence, and the church enjoyed his singing and piano talent over the years from September 1984 to March 1992. He was preceded by Rev. Don C. Galehr, who had “retired” from a long ministry of evangelism to serve our church. Dedicated to winning souls to the Lord, he mentored three fine young men who dedicated their lives to Christian service and entered the ministry. These future ministers were Robert Williams, who still serves our church in many leadership capacities, Chester McFarland, and Martin Carney. Rev. Galehr was pastor from January of 1975 to December of 1983.
In more recent years, following Rev. Henderson, Rev. Ben Manley served as pastor from 2014 until his retirement in September of 2018. The remodeling of the church entryway was undertaken during his time with us. At present, Rev. Ray Pepple serves the church and has been faithful in visiting the sick and shut-ins of the church, partnering with George Shaub — right up until the time of the Covid closures. Under his leadership the Timber Creek ministry was started. When the church had to close for a time in the spring, he kept in touch with the church family and friends through thoughtful and encouraging letters, reminding us of God’s everlasting love and care for us. He is committed to keeping the church open in the weeks and months ahead unless forced to close by new State of Illinois mandates.
Fond memories of years gone by include one Sunday when Rev. Galehr was here and we all came dressed in “Old Timers’” clothes. One year the program for our Mother – Daughter Banquet was modeling our wedding dresses. Some of the dresses dated back to the 1800’s.
Other enjoyable memories include the women’s Prayer and Share group on Tuesday mornings, church picnics, weiner roasts, hayrides, potlucks, homemade ice cream competitions, Vacation Bible School every June, family game nights, Sunday School class parties, and even outdoor church services. One year Joyce and Harold Seelye took a trip to the Holy Land, and they brought home beautiful slides of their travels to share with those of us who might never otherwise be able to go there. Later on as part of a church fundraiser, Joyce even arranged for her nephew, Astronaut Scott Altman, to be on the program, and many of us got to meet a real live astronaut. Another year Mary Schaupp arranged for a special person to person phone call to be made from the pulpit in our sanctuary to our American Baptist missionaries in Alaska. That was long before the days of cell phones, and it was amazing to hear the mission news from so far away.
Other happy memories include the mission trips that were undertaken over the years. We always enjoyed great fun and fellowship along with the challenging work undertaken. These included trips to Bacon College; Kansas City-Bethel Neighborhood; Anadarko, Oklahoma; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Green Lake Conference Center; and Northern Theological Seminary. A lot of good recipes were shared on those trips.
Way back in 1906 our members celebrated the Golden Anniversary of the church. Several wars and a Great Depression later, the Centennial of First Baptist was celebrated in 1956, and in July of 1981 we celebrated our 125th Anniversary with a banquet on Saturday night and a guest speaker on Sunday morning with a potluck at noon. We were always sure of a delicious meal with Judy Awe, Nola Turley, and many others in the kitchen. We had many former members come from quite a distance for the celebration. One thing I remember about the 150th anniversary in 2006 was that we had John ”Scotty” Scott from Blue Mound come and sing. I don’t know if Pete Willmert remembers, but Scotty and Pete sang a duet. Dennis and Marilyn sure remember that. Pete, we could sure use you in a choir right now. Scotty used to live in Lincoln and was active at First Baptist years ago. Scotty and I were good friends when he lived in Blue Mound. He came to Old Stonington many Sunday evenings for our singspiration and evening worship.
But my fondest memory is that of the faithful choir that we had for so many years. They didn’t even want to stop singing during the summer! They realized the importance of the ministry of music in our worship service. When I would buy music for the choir I had to buy 20, even 24 copies. Some of the people in the choir over the years were: Gene & Blanche Alexander, Ray & Mae Shane, Ben & Edie Schmitgen, Tom & Phyllis Martin, Ed & Vi Rickey, Irene Sutton, Ardyce Olsen, Ted & Judy Awe, Doc Swan, Vi McClard, Vi Malkowski, (we had a trio consisting of the 3 Vi’s and called them our Vi Squad), Betty Courtwright, Angela and Marian Howerton, Jeff & Bev Wunderlin, Barb Seelye, Melissa Burris, The Glick’s- Dick, Kathy & Chris, Joyce Seelye, Gladys Dutz, Lauri Brown Harris, Randy Buse, Rhonda Buse Sutton, Bob Williams, Luana Overbey, and the Willmert’s — Marilyn, Dennis, Victoria & Brian. I know there are many more names that I have not mentioned. Even some of our pastors sang in the choir. Several of these choir members are now singing in the heavenly choir.
We did a couple of joint cantatas with Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In 1976, the Bicentennial Year, we did a joint cantata, “I Love America.” That year we had Paul Gleason bring his “Minute Men Boys,” and they brought the flags down the aisle during the Sunday morning worship service. One of those boys was Martin Carney. His family started coming to our church after that. Marty, Chester McFarland, and our own Bob Williams all went into the ministry from this church. We sang on Sunday mornings and prepared Easter and Christmas cantatas each year.
I’d like to challenge anyone interested in using his or her voice to the glory of God to let me know. I have cassette tapes or videos of all the cantatas we did. A couple of the cantatas had scenes being acted while we sang. One year we had a large cross in the Baptistry and George Shaub portrayed Jesus on the cross. Every year in addition to the Christmas cantata, the Christmas story was re-enacted complete with shepherds, wise men, Mary and Joseph, (almost always) an infant baby as Jesus, and I think one year Gloria Craig even brought a real lamb.
Another memory is of Bob and Margaret Doyle. Bob played the organ and Margaret played the piano for many years before they moved to Cedar Rapids. Twenty years ago this past April, Bob called me and said that he and Margaret wanted to give our church “Chrystal Bells.” We have used them many times. I think one of my most memorable times with the bells was about the last time Blanche, Margaret’s mother, was able to be in church. When we played the bells, I had her come and play the bells with us. She really enjoyed that.
I have one memory of a Mr. Anderson. I can’t remember his name but his wife’s name was Betty. When he became a Christian and was baptized, he left his wallet in his pants pocket. His reply for doing that was that he wanted all of him to be dedicated to the Lord. I pray that each of us will dedicate our all to the Lord so we can continue to make memories at First Baptist.