First Baptist Church celebrating 150 years
By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 4/30/2014
If the Romanesque Revival-style building at the corner of Hickory and Fourth streets could talk, it would have some amazing stories to tell, the Rev. Joel Fredrikson said.
“Think about all of the incredible ‘life’ moments this church has witnessed in over 150 years of history,” Fredrikson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ottawa, 410 S. Hickory St., wrote in his blog on the church’s website.
On Friday, First Baptist Church is set to mark its 150th anniversary with a planned three-day sesquicentennial celebration titled “Foundation for the Future.”
“It is not only a time to celebrate the past 150 years of ministry as a congregation, but also to look forward to the next 150 years as a church,” Fredrikson said Wednesday in his office at the church. “That’s why we named the celebration Foundation for the Future.”
The celebration begins Friday with a community open house 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. where refreshments will be served in the church’s parlor.
The congregation is planning community service projects for Saturday morning. The sanctuary is expected to be open in the afternoon for prayer. A banquet is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Elliott Hall, the church’s Christian Education Building, followed by a special program in the sanctuary.
A video history, which is to include old photographs and favorite memories, will be shown during Saturday’s program as well as at the open house Friday, Miriam Lemp, a member of the church’s sesquicentennial committee, said. For those who cannot attend, the DVD will be made available for viewing, Fredrikson said.
The weekend celebration is expected to culminate with a worship service 11 a.m. Sunday at the church, with the Rev. John Williams, executive minister of American Baptist Churches of the Central Region, scheduled to preach.
The church has extended an invitation to other churches, community leaders and the public to attend the three-day festivities, and more than 150 people have responded to the RSVP for Saturday evening’s banquet, Fredrikson said.
“It’s hard to predict how many people will attend the other events, but we are hoping for a good turnout,” Fredrikson said. “Everyone is invited to help us celebrate our sesquicentennial.”
It’s not surprising the First Baptist Church is as old as the community itself. Ottawa, founded in September 1864, is planning a series of events to mark its own sesquicentennial this year.
Two of Ottawa’s founding fathers, the Revs. Isaac Kalloch and C.C. Hutchinson, also were founding members of the church. Kalloch agreed to be the church’s first pastor, but would only stay a few months because of his involvement in various commercial enterprises that consumed most of his time. Kalloch would go on to become mayor of San Francisco. Meanwhile, on the banks of the Arkansas River in south central Kansas, Hutchinson would found a community that would bear his surname. Another church founder, Charles T. Evans, would become Ottawa’s first postmaster.
Kalloch, Hutchinson, Evans and a few others believed a Baptist church was needed in the little town that just had sprung up on the Marais des Cygnes River. The group’s first meeting took place May 2, 1864, in the “upper room” of Lathrop Hall, at Second and Main streets, with the “New Hampshire Confession” adopted as the articles of faith of the congregation, according to historical documents at the Franklin County Records and Research Center, 1124 W. Seventh St. Terrace, Ottawa.
The church was first known as Second Baptist Church because the Rev. Jotham Meeker, a missionary among the Ottawa Indians, already had established a First Baptist Church at the mission. By Nov. 1, 1864, the Second Baptist Church had 19 members — in sharp contrast to today’s church, which has about 600 members and has an attendance of about 250 to 300 people each Sunday, pastor Fredrikson said.
The Second Baptist congregation would meet for church services at Lathrop Hall for three years until members built a church at 417 S. Main St. in 1867. Services continued there for nearly 20 years until the congregation moved to a newly constructed building Nov. 7, 1886, at the southwest corner of Fourth and Hickory streets, where the church remains today.
Designed by renowned architect George P. Washburn, the building — with an addition constructed in 1895 — is described by the Kansas State Historical Society as a “Romanesque Revival-style church. Distinctive features include the stone construction fortified with buttresses, Palladian-style arched windows with articulated arched stone surrounds that allow light to enter the sanctuary.”
The Second Baptist congregation changed the church’s name to First Baptist Church in 1896, long after the mission church had ceased, historical records show.
The First Baptist Church has a long history of influential pastors, according to historical archives. A couple of the most noted leaders from the modern era include the Rev. W.A. Elliott, who was pastor of the church for four decades from 1907 to 1947, and the Rev. Roger Fredrikson, pastor from 1954 to 1959, and father of the church’s current pastor, the Rev. Joel Fredrikson, and his sister, Miriam Lemp.
Roger Fredrikson, a 1942 graduate of Ottawa University, initiated the Adventures in Faith program at Ottawa University more than 30 years ago, which is a “forerunner to the comprehensive spiritual programming now offered through the [university’s] Fredrikson Center,” according to OU’s website.
First Baptist Church’s ties to Ottawa University date from the beginnings of both institutions. The Kansas Baptist Convention met in Ottawa in 1864, and at the urging of Kalloch, influential Indian leader John Tecumseh “Tauy” Jones and others, convention delegates decided to build a Baptist college in Ottawa. On June 5, 1864, “the corner stone of the Indian Academy of Ottawa University was laid with prayer and thanksgiving,” according historical documents. The university will mark its sesquicentennial next year.
Fredrikson, a 1975 graduate of Ottawa University who moved back to Ottawa in 2005 to become pastor of the church, said the church and university have shared close ties throughout their history. Those ties still are evident today, with the church’s current membership roll including OU faculty members and former faculty members, current university trustees and former trustees, OU students and OU alumni, Fredrikson said.
The modern First Baptist Church is involved in numerous community activities, Lemp, a 1972 OU graduate who moved back to the community in 1980 and taught at Ottawa Middle School for 28 years, said.
The church was one of the founding members of Hope House, a food pantry, clothing closet and emergency housing assistance center at 302 S. Walnut St., Ottawa, Lemp said. The church also helped start Habitat for Humanity of Franklin County, a locally run affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization, Lemp, a member of the organization’s board of directors, said.
With its deep ties to the community and university, First Baptist Church’s roots are strongly entrenched in Ottawa, the church’s archives note.
Pastor Fredrikson is hopeful the next 150 years will be as memorable for future congregations to look back upon, he said, in his open invitation to the community to join the church’s sesquicentennial celebration this weekend.
“We look forward with great hope and anticipation for what the next 150 years holds for all of us,” Fredrikson said.