First Baptist Church, LeMars
The History of the First Baptist Church of Le Mars, Iowa
When Mr. and Mrs. William Clagg and family first came to Le Mars in the spring of 1887, they found no regular Baptist church, although there had been an organization of this denomination but because their numbers were not large, and not having a house of worship of their own and meeting with various difficulties, they had become discouraged and disbanded. Their members for the most part, had joined other churches finding church homes with them.
There was at that time, a Freewill Baptist Church in Le Mars quite well represented in membership and attendance with a very efficient pastor and a good church building located where the Hildreth Memorial Church now stands.
The disbanded Baptist congregation often attended and enjoyed the services, but because of different religious views, they were not satisfied to join as members. Other denominations were cordial to the Regular Baptist, inviting them to join with them for a church home with the privilege of withdrawing from them to join one of their own at any time desired. This they fully appreciated.
But the Baptists felt it was neither easy or fitting to be a member of one church and working for the interests of another, for they felt one must be loyal to the church of which they are a member and because Mr. and Mrs. Clagg, with a few others were sure they could not subscribe to some of the doctrines of the already established churches, they were not satisfied until efforts were made to organize a Baptist church of their faith.
In time, the Freewill Baptist Church, began to decline in interest. Their pastor having resigned, leaving them without regular services, which finally resulted in disbanding and selling the church property to the Evangelical denomination.
At the time the Regular Baptist church was started it was understood by some that the Freewill church was about to take this step.
The opportunity for an organization of the Regular Baptists did not present itself until some time after the Congregationalists had built and moved into their new church.
The Methodist Church had been contemplating buying their former location, and it was also rumored that the Free Methodists would buy the building and tear it down to move it to Merrill.
At this time, some of the Baptists were wishing strongly that it could be in their power to purchase the property from the Congregationalists just as it was and start a new church.
It was suggested to Mr. Clagg by several different Baptists in the other churches here that now would be a good time for the Baptists to buy that church building and get started, which really meant they were in sympathy with that undertaking. After much discussion, which resulted in a fine spirit of cooperation and sacrifice, Mr. Clagg concluded to make the effort. Acting on that decision, he went to see the trustees of the Congregational Church, and asked them what they would take for the property just as it stood. The answer was, a thousand dollars, and not a cent less.
As he had understood their price was much higher and perhaps beyond the considering, he entered into an agreement with them at once, to give the Baptists at chance to see what could be done which they seemed very willing to do.
Mr. Clagg wrote to the Baptist State Convention and Home Mission boards stating the situation and inquiring what assistance they would be willing to give. They agreed to grant $300, providing the other $700 could be raised first. To solicit in the name of the church required an organization and most of the Baptists at that time were understood to be in other churches waiting an opportunity to be in their own church home.
Mr. Clagg had previously met Rev. Robert Carrol, then a district Missionary in Northwest Iowa and had heard him preach and was very strongly impressed in his favor. He wrote to him asking him to come to Le Mars and hold some special meetings with a view to a church organization. He accepted the invitation and came bringing with him his brother to assist in the singing. Meetings were called for three weeks with excellent preaching and good singing. Calls were made and everything done to create an interest but did not succeed as well as was hoped for or expected. The meetings were not largely attended and the Baptists that were confidently expected to come out and represent themselves in the meetings failed to do so with the few exceptions. It was learned afterwards some of them were waiting to see what the Baptists were going to do.
The meetings continued as long as it seemed profitable and when they closed the time was set for a meeting to organize a church. When the evening came, there were just six persons present besides, Rev. Carrol and his brother. The outlook did not seem very encouraging, and Rev. Carrol and the others present, hesitated over the advisability of trying to organize with so few in numbers. When one of the sisters arose and said, “when the children of Israel passed over the Jordan, the feet of the priests that bore the Ark touched the water before the waters were parted for them to cross over. And so if we like them take this step, it should be by faith and not by sight trusting God to open the way.” After further deliberation and prayer, it was decided to go ahead and organize, Rev. Carrol presiding.
Those present were Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Clagg, Miss Mable Kinney, Mrs. Eliza Riffle, Mrs. Kale Garton, and Mr. E. R. Thomas. Officers elected were Mr. Thomas, deacon; Mr. Clagg, treasurer; Miss Kinney, church clerk. Trustees were Mr. Clagg and Mr. Thomas.
It was decided to call the organization the First Regular Baptist Church of Le Mars, as the Freewill Baptist had preceded this organization.
Although few in numbers and representing very little financially, they had courage and faith in the undertaking and were equipped for the work. Soon the work of raising the money to purchase the church building was started. Mr. Clagg went to Sioux City and solicited from some of the well-to-do members of the First Baptist Church there whom he knew well and were in sympathy with the work. He raised $300 in one day. Mr. Thomas proved very efficient in soliciting as he was favorably known here. The members gave as freely as they could and soon the amount of $400 was raised and the church was paid for. In the meantime, it had been thoroughly cleaned and put in good condition for services.
The pews had been taken by the Congregationalists, but there was a promiscuous lot of chairs left that had been used by a singing school and convention. These were purchased, each member furnishing their own chair. The kerosene lamp in the big chandeliers were all cleaned and put in good order so when all was done that church looked very cheerful and inviting.
While this was being done one of the sisters of the new organization was working at the church when a lady who had formerly been a member of a large Baptist church elsewhere, but had joined the Congregational Church here in Le Mars, came in and noting the general appearance with chairs stacked high in the middle of the floor said, “What a pity there isn't a Baptist Church here.” The sister answered, “There is a Baptist Church here.” The Baptist visitor had failed to recognize the existence of the new organization.
The Baptists did not meet with much sympathy or encouragement from some of the other denominations. The prevailing sentiment being that there were too many churches already. But the few Baptists thought differently, because the Lord had opened the way for them and they were willing to work for the cause that to then seemed true as to the teaching of the Word.
The church had finally started when one night a terrible rain and electrical storm came and the church spire was struck by the lightning and almost demolished, spoiling the paper on the walls inside and doing other damage.
When Mr. Clagg was on his way to work the next morning, he met a little boy that said, “You had better go and look at your church.” He went and found it in the condition mentioned. To say he was discouraged with the outlook would hardly express it, and the others felt the same. In that spirit, he wrote a despondent letter to Rev. Carrol and received an inspiring and cheering letter which proved a great help. It was learned, the Congregationalists had storm insurance on the building and this was enough to repair the tower, repaper the church and put it in better condition than before. So all things work together for the good of the little church and all felt greatly encouraged. For a while it was thought best not to call a pastor on account of the expense, but prayer meetings were kept up with earnest devotion to God and His cause. Occasionally a minister was invited to visit the church and preach. In this way the interest was retained for some time and gradually the numbers increased. Finally a call was extended to Rev. Howard M. Jones to become the first pastor.
He was ably assisted by his capable wife who helped in many ways to promote the work. Through her efforts enough money was solicited and raised to build a brick foundation under the church, install a baptistery and paint the church. The pastor's son in Minneapolis, presented the church with a beautiful silver communion set, part of which is still in use. .
Soon after the church was organized, some very worthy and substantial members joined. They were Mr. and Mrs. John Atwood and Mr. and Mrs. Norman Williams. Mrs. Williams was the efficient organist during the years they lived in the city.
Mr. John Atwood was a deacon in this church for many years and his simple and sincere life of devotion to this church will always be a pleasant memory of all who knew him.
Mr. W. B. Moore, although not a member was a faithful attendant in the early days of the church and showed much interest in the success of it. He presented the church with a nice organ which was used for many years in the services.
After Rev. H. Jones resigned and left, Mr. Clagg was elected superintendent of the Sunday School, a position he held the remainder of his life. Mr. Spurgeon said, in choosing a friend “Give me the man around whom the children come like flies around a honey pot. They are the first-class judges of a good man.” All who knew Mr. Clagg knew him to be a lover of children and they loved him. For some time the church was supplied by a Mr. Hunter of Waterloo, Iowa. His eloquent preaching of the Word increased the interest and attendance and a number of efficient loyal helpers were added to the church. Among them were the three public school teachers, Margaret Fenner, Olive Shadle, and Kate McDuffie. Words are insufficient to describe the spiritual influence of these consecrated, efficient young women upon the young people and especially the boys and girls. Through the leadership of Margaret Fenner the B.Y.P.U. was organized, she acting as president. She was ably assisted by the other teachers. Olive Shadle was the devoted and much beloved teacher of the Young People's class for many years. She passed away in 1907. Many of the members of her class are now leaders in this church and other places. Miss McDuffie and Miss Fenner also taught Sunday school classes and became converted and joined the church. They also led the meetings of the Junior Union and it was in these meetings that some became interested in mission work and received training in church leadership. Three years after the church was organize, Mr. E. E. Jones and his family moved to Le Mars and united with the church and for 47 years, some member of this family has been identified with the work of this church. Mr. Jones was a deacon for 25 years, and Mrs. Jones taught a Bible class and their son Leon was Sunday school superintendent for 10 years. Under his leadership the Sunday school grew to be the largest in membership it has ever had. He was ably assisted by his wife. Another son, Homer, contributed much to the music of the church by using his beautiful voice in song. About this time another faithful member was added to the church, Mrs. Emily Thompson, who is still with us. Rev. G. R. Bisby was the next pastor called and he remained with the church for three years. During his pastorate a parsonage was built under his supervision and in the spiritual life of the church he was always a leader. Although Mrs. Bisby was in poor health, she was instrumental in organizing the first Missionary Society and was its first president.
During this time Minnie Vandermeer a member of the Sunday school joined the church and much could be said of her faithfulness and her loyalty to the work of this church. She and her sister Gertrude have always been associated with the early days of the church and its success because they contributed a great deal to make this possible. Today they are loyal and efficient members.
Another outstanding member in this pastorate was Mr. William Eibel who was a generous giver and presented the church with their first substantial seats, the new opera chairs.
On account of his wife's ill health, Rev. Bisby resigned and Rev. Charles Braithwaite of Chicago was called as pastor. He and his capable and very lovable wife soon won the hearts of the people and the church prospered under their leadership. They were especially successful with the young people and a strong B.Y.P.U. was maintained during their pastorate. At this time a sister of Margaret Fenner, Miss Edith, joined the church and was a great help with the music. Her beautiful voice, contributed much to the success of the choir work in the services.
Rev. Braithwaite resigned and the church called Rev. Ernest Wood. He remained only a short time for he was called to a church in Sioux City. Rev. C. H. Moore became our pastor and did splendid work for three years. During this time he was married to Kate McDuffie, one of the much beloved teachers of our church. They left to take up missionary work in the West, where they still reside. For some time, a college student, Rev. Hedges from Western Union College acted as our pastor and did a very worthwhile work for us.
Rev. Parker Smith was called, November 1, 1903. Rev. and Mrs. Smith were especially popular with the young people and many were started in useful and spiritual work for the Lord.
Rev. J. L. Ayrault followed Rev. Smith and remained one year. Rev. L.H. Steinhoff came to take the work. Having been in missionary work for some time, he was very missionary in spirit and led the young people all along that way.
Rev. J. C. Hoover who had just graduated from Moody Bible Institute was called to be our next pastor and remained with the church for five years. His pastorate was one of the most outstanding for it was largely due to his great faith and untiring efforts that the new church building was erected and dedicated. Rev. Hoover was an outstanding spiritual leader. While he was our pastor, he married Miss Maybell Jones, one of our faithful workers. They closed their work with us, October 1915, and accepted a call to the First Baptist Church of Englewood, Colo. The following ministers served the church as pastors and each contributed largely to the success and prosperity of this congregation: Rev. Geo. R. Lewis, Rev. E. L. James, Rev. N. L. Haney and Rev. J.W. Case.
Another outstanding ministry was that of Rev. and Mrs. Pickett. All departments were strengthened and advanced under their leadership. During this time the Ladies Aid assumed the responsibility of replacing the opera chairs in the auditorium with new modern pews, which greatly dignified the room and transformed it into one of the most attractive churches of the city. Much could be said of the worthwhile and splendid things this society has done for the church under the able leadership of Mrs. Ward Lamb, Mrs. W.O. Collins, Mrs. A. Coppock. Mrs. Pickett was the one who organized the C.W.C. and W.W.G. After the resignation of Rev. Pickett, Rev. T.P. Potter was called and he remained for eight years, the longest pastorate ever held.
Rev. and Mrs. Potter had endeared themselves to the membership of the church and with the capable and efficient help of their daughter, Mrs. Hunter, the church was able to take its place in the community as always standing for the cause of righteousness. It was with regret the church voted to accept their resignation.
Our present pastor, Rev. S. A. Jones, came soon after Rev. Potter left us and has kept alive the good work begun and helped the church to grow spiritually. His talented and consecrated wife is a valuable helper in all places she is asked to fill.
It is quite significant that the first pastor was Rev. Jones and our present pastor is Rev. S. A. Jones. This added to the fact that for 47 years a Jones has been identified with the work of his church, places the name Jones in the unusual list. In 1923 this church received a bequest of $5,000 from the estate of Mr. Frank Wilmerton, who though not a member had been a faithful attendant for many years. The money was used on the church building and for missions.
Because each member has not been especially mentioned does not make them less important to the value of this work in God's kingdom. It has been each one assuming his or her responsibility in the fine spirit of cooperation that has kept this small but worthy work alive and a blessing to the city of Le Mars. God alone has a complete record of the faithfulness of each member.
The missionary work of the church has for many years been one of the strongest in our Association. The interest has been sustained by the able leadership of Mrs. J.D. Shumway and Mrs. M. B. O’Banion.
The history of this church would not be complete without mention of the number who have been called to special Christian work. Miss Florence Tindall, Miss Genevieve Phipps, Miss Dorothy O’Banion are all graduates of the Baptist Missionary Training School of Chicago. Florence Tindall now Mrs. Johnson has been financial secretary of the Oak Park Baptist Church in Chicago the past five years. Dorothy O’Banion is Assist. to the Supt. of the Baptist Neighborhood House in Dayton, Ohio. In August 1938, Miss Evalyn Clagg graduated from Moody Bible Institute and has been a capable and devoted leader in this church work. She received a call to teach in Junior Bible School of Highland Park, Michigan, but did not accept because she wanted to complete her college here at Western Union College. Mr. and Mrs. George Jennings are now students at Northwestern Bible School of Minneapolis. They expect to enter the ministry when their course is completed.
Many other young people whose lives have been influenced by the spirit of this church have gone out into churches in other cities and have been proven as loyal and efficient workers. This church has always been blessed with capable singers. Not enough can be said of their faithful devotion to their talent and the use of it to promote the musical part of the service. The music of this church choir ranks well with the others in our city.
The 50 year history of this church in Le Mars has been of great value to all who have been influenced by it and to the community it has sought to serve. We have as a church always recognize God as our unseen guide and source of direction of strength in all our work and to Him belongs all the glory. In trials and triumphs He has been always with us. All our pastors have preached the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and have been fundamental in their teachings.
This church intends to move forward in the truest faith until Christ comes to take us to Himself.
Author: Ben T. Clagg, Historian