Organized in 1833
The History of the First Baptist Church of Chicago
The Oldest Baptist Church, organized, October 19, 1833
Fifteen believers meeting in a two-story frame building owned by the Methodists at Wacker Drive and Franklin Street organized the First Baptist Church of Chicago on October 19, 1833. It was not Chicago’s first Protestant Church; the Presbyterians had organized in June of that year and the Methodist had organized in Old Fort Dearborn along South Water Street in 1831.
Approximately ten years after its founding, thirty-two members of First Baptist left to form Tabernacle Baptist Church. In 1844 Tabernacle resolved that, “Slavery is a great sin in the sight of God, and while we view it as such, we will not invite into our communion or pulpit those who advocate or justify from civil policy or the Bible, the principle or practice of slavery.” By the 1850’s First Baptist and Tabernacle were reconciled and they welcomed each other’s ministers and members in worship.
During its first forty years First Baptist moved several times, one of our buildings is located at what is now the corner of 31st and King Drive, the church home of Olivet Baptist Church.
First Baptist is the mother church of ministries throughout the city of Chicago. Many churches were created out of its membership and its efforts, including the Calvary Baptist Church in the South Shore community. The rise and growth of the Chicago Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) movement, the Baptist Missionary Training School on the north side, the old University of Chicago and the Baptist Theological Union (now the University of Chicago Divinity School) were the fruits of the work of the pastors and members of First Baptist.
First Baptist played a significant role in the resettlement of Japanese Americans in the Hyde Park-Kenwood area at the conclusion of World War II. Rev. Jitsuo Morikawa was called to serve as Assistant Pastor and later became the first Japanese American to serve a Euro-American congregation as pastor. Rev. Morikawa also welcomed the first African-American members of First Baptist. He left First Baptist in 1955 to serve as Director of Evangelism of the American Baptist Church USA from 1956-1966.
The same winds of change that swept First Baptist and America during and after WWII came in the 1960’s as the church that was predominately Euro-American and Japanese became predominately African-American by the 1970’s. By 1979, FBCC’s first African American pastor Rev. Landis McAlpin had resigned and the pulpit was filled by various ministers, including our own Rev. Randall Pittman.
On December 10, 1980, a call was extended to the Rev. Jesse M. Brown to become the 27th pastor of the historic First Baptist Church of Chicago. Rev. Brown accepted the call and began working at FBCC immediately.
First Baptist has always been a training center for new church leaders, Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield; former president of Colgate-Rochester Seminary and now Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago was ordained at FBCC in 1967. From 1986-2005, eleven of our members were licensed to preach the gospel: Matthew Baldwin, Kirstin Boswell-Ford, Rev. Alice Brown, Carol Jamieson Brown, Stella Gaines Taylor, Mayme George, William Goss, James J. Harris, Kimberly Haynes, Joanne Lindstrom and Annette Thornburg. Ordained during this period were Matthew Baldwin, Kirstin Boswell-Ford, Sung Hoi Choi, James Harris, Carol Jamieson Brown, Joanne Lindstrom, Mang Tiak and Alice Brown.
2005 was the first time in recent church history that one of our members was installed as a pastor. Rev. Carol Jamieson Brown became the 19th pastor of the First Baptist Church of Park Forest, Illinois and has served longer than anyone in the history of the church.
First Baptist has long been recognized as a church dedicated to children and youth ministries. These programs have included the Guild Girls, Scouting, Summer Music Camp, Vacation Bible School, the Children’s Choir and Youth Bible Studies. One of our current programs that has been very successful continues to be Camp Grow. During the summer, youth from First Baptist and the community at large (Shoesmith and Reavis elementary schools) are afforded the opportunity to spend a week at camp. The seven days spent at camp are often life altering experiences for campers, many of whom return to camp to serve as camp counselors or on the kitchen and the maintenance staff.
One of the most anticipated events of each year is our Annual Youth Mission Trip. Our young people and their adult chaperons have traveled to Charleston, West Virginia, Fairbanks, Alaska, Estes Park, Colorado, Santiago, Cuba, and Junction, Jamaica. In 2009, 17 members of the church partnered with the First Baptist Church, Limon, Costa Rica to do three days of Vacation Bible School and a clean up project at the Caribbean Theological Center.
One of the newest children’s and youth ministries is the Praise Dance Team, under the direction of Karen Green and Gina Lewis. They were invited to dance at Avalon Park United Church of Christ for their 114th Anniversary Celebration. In 2011, an Adult Praise Dance Team was organized.
The Prison Ministry team under the direction of Reverends Alex and Alice Brown, ministers at the Metropolitan Correctional Facility in Chicago and Cook County Jail. First Baptist along with fraternities, sororities and other community groups make Christmas just a little brighter for the children of men and women in our state prison system by supporting our Angel Tree Holiday Gift Giving Ministry.
The Dawson Home Ministry and Assisted Living Committee have given us a two-pronged program of care for seniors and the chronically ill. The Dawson Home Ministry has been reshaped to reflect the generational shift in our ministry. Susie Catchings, Sharon Dill Gibson and Lester Sanders now lead the team. Services for the residents of the All Faiths Pavilion, former known as the Dawson Home, ended in 2012, after many years of services on the fourth Sunday of the month. The Dawson Ministry now serves the Kenwood Healthcare Center. The Assisted Living Committee continues to have its smooth Jazz fundraising concerts as it seeks the Lord’s direction for building an assisted living facility.
In 2004, significant progress was made on upgrading the physical plant of the church. A new heating and air conditioning system for the sanctuary was installed and a second unit was installed to heat the rest of our complex. We could not have accomplished so much without the leadership of the Board of Trustees, which at that time was chaired by Velma Chiles.
The American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago partnership agreement with the Ghana Baptist Convention was signed at the Hyde Park Union Church in November of 2003. Initially, FBCC was partnering with the Ghana Baptist Vocational Center, a ministry dedicated to educating girls and young women who were the slaves of fetish priests. Several agencies, however, have stepped in to build a new dormitory for GBVC. The Ghana Baptist Convention asked First Baptist to identify a new ministry partner and we chose the Resurrection Baptist Church. Rev. Joanne Lindstrom, Ms. Diane Glenn, Rev. Alice Brown and Pastor Brown have represented First Baptist in meetings with the pastors and lay leaders of the church in Takorida, Ghana.
In 2008, we celebrated our 175th Church Anniversary, Dr. Michael Thomas; the director the Doctor of Ministry Program at Northern Baptist Seminary was the morning speaker. In the afternoon, Rev. Reginald Bacchus and the Friendship Baptist Church help us to conclude our celebration. First Baptist also published its first complete history of the church since 1956.
2009 was another significant milestone in the history of our church. First Baptist, which has always been a church, dedicated to mission; saw the end of the ministries of two of our mission groups, the Catherine Mabie and Sarah Noyes Circles. We thank God for the witness of faith of the women of these wonderful circles who supported the ministry of our church and our Baptist witness around the corner and across the world.
On Sunday, June 27, 2010, we celebrated Pastor Brown’s 30th Anniversary at the First Baptist Church of Chicago. Anniversary Chairperson Tishika Townsend and her committee organized an incredible Sunday afternoon cookout and program highlighted by the performance of the “Little Funny People”.
Rev. Joanne Lindstrom, the Director of Experiential Education and Field Studies at McCormick Seminary was asked to organize a lay committee to review a new translation of the book of Judges for the Common English Bible. On Sunday, September 17th, members of that committee, Jontay Darko, Tiffani and Chalmus English, Jr., Sharon Gibson and Sharon Laing were presented copies of the Common English Bible New Testament. This was the first time in the history of First Baptist that members of our church had served on a committee to review a new Bible translation. The first printing of this new translation, which was the work of 120 scholars representing 24 denominations, was completed in 2010.
In 2010, we also began the renovation of the exterior of our entire building. In June of 2011, we shut down the historic sanctuary of our church for remodeling; the work was completed at the end of the month. On Sunday, August 7, 2011, the pastor, ministers, officers and members of First Baptist marched into our remodeled sanctuary and rededicated the sanctuary and ourselves to the glory of God.
We give thanks to God for our pastor, ministers, members, boards, committees and ministries who have lived out our 2014 Theme, “Transformed by the Spirit”, Acts 2:1-4a.