First Baptist Church
By Kenneth Hammann
Broadway and Waugh Streets
Columbia, Missouri, 65203
Founded: Saturday, November 22, 1823 (Original name Columbia Church)
Founding members: William Jewell, George Jewell, Mary Jewell, Hannah Hardin (Jewell), Charles Hardin, Hutchins Barnett, William Ridgeway, Harriet Goodloe, Abraham Foley, Henry Cave, Hiram Phillips
On Saturday, November 22, 1823, Dr. William Jewell and ten others met in the home of Charles Hardin, located on the southeast corner of Broadway and 4th Street, to form the Columbia Church, to be known later as First Baptist. First Baptist was the third Baptist church to be organized in Boone County, after Little Bonne Femme Baptist and Bethel Baptist, and the first of any denomination in the City of Columbia. From 1823-1828, meetings were held in private homes and from 1828-1836 they were held in the Boone County Courthouse. In 1837, the Baptists and the Methodists, represented by Moses U. Payne, erected a meetinghouse jointly used by both congregations for nearly 20 years, an early sign of the ecumenism that has marked the character of this church through the years. In 1891, First Baptist moved to its current location at Broadway and Waugh with the building of its new sanctuary at a cost of $30,000. That church was razed and replaced with the current structure, with the distinctive spire, in 1957.
From the beginning, First Baptist would distinguish itself as a welcoming and progressive church. In 1824, First Baptist admitted slaves to full membership, including baptism. In 1837, First Baptist chose to become a missions-supportive church causing it to withdraw in 1839 from a major denominational group. In 1840, a black man named James Hudson was admitted to membership and ‘licensed’ to preach. As early as 1866, 64 years before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, First Baptist recognized that the church could not survive without the presence, power and persistence of women. In that year, according to historical records, Susan Duncan and Julia Branham chaired a five-member committee to oversee improvements to the church building. In 1912, a woman was elected as chair of the Board of Trustees. In 1975, three women were elected to the Board of Deacons and women were ordained into the ministry in 1968, 1989 and 2019. In 2001, First Baptist severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention based on the overly conservative views of that group. Our facility has been shared with the Jewish community for services while their facility was being built, 2nd Baptist Missionary Church of Columbia used our church during their renovation, and we shared with a Congolese community for their worship services. In 2012, the first women senior pastor was called to serve. In 2015, First Baptist affirmed its long-term support of the LGBTQ community.
Education, the arts and community outreach have long been hallmarks of First Baptist. Members of the Church participated in the formation of at least four colleges, including the University of Missouri, William Jewell College and Stephens College. In the early years of Stephens College, the president of the college and the senior pastor of the church were served by the same person. The Church has been a long-time sponsor of the Laubach Literacy Program. In 1968, the Child Development Center, a pre-school, was opened as a community mission effort. For several years, First Baptist has been a major sponsor and leader for the Odyssey Chamber Music Series, The Plowman Chamber Music Competition and the Columbia Handbell Ensemble. Our facilities are used for more than 20 concerts per year. First Baptist was one of the original sponsors of the Room-at-the-Inn ministry.
As we approach our county and city’s 200th anniversary First Baptist has engaged the congregation to find ways to strengthen our ties to the community, promote intergenerational collaboration and to spread its message of inclusiveness that all are welcome to share in God’s love. Our mission statement is ‘Unity Without Uniformity.’