It has been an interesting week. Last Sunday, for those of you who were not with us, we were out at the Hoggatt School, with 25 mph winds. A tent flew away, with one small injury. I discovered mid-sermon that half of it had apparently blown away in the frenzy. And a good portion of the communion bread went blowing in the wind. You should always be in church because you never know what might happen.
And then a lot has happened since Sunday. On Tuesday we welcomed the newest member of our First Baptist family, Fern Maureen Grauman. Now, let me tell you something about Fern. She may be less than a week old, but she already holds an all-time First Baptist Church record. We have been here 150 years, and Fern hold the all-time record attendance record. She is 1 for 1. Perfect attendance. Every Sunday of her entire life, she has been in worship at this church. Nobody even comes close to her record – it will never be surpassed.
OK, so Fern arrived on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Manatts poured the asphalt for our renewed parking lot. Did you notice the lot this morning? It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. OK, that’s a bit much, but it really does look great.
Late Wednesday afternoon, they had almost finished pouring asphalt when the rain came. And then the hail. A bolt of lightning struck a tree in our yard, literally blowing roots out of the ground, with an open trench left behind. Numerous electronic devices were fried, including, interestingly, the garage door opener. The internet was knocked out. Maybe worst of all, our tree won’t make it. And our pets were terrified.
The point is: you just never know what is going to happen. Life is full of changes, not all of them good, and it takes a certain amount of faith to face the future, even on a good day.
This month we are thinking about our history as a church as we look ahead to our 150th anniversary celebration at the end of the month. We have seen more than a few changes over these 150 years – some planned, some welcomed, some wonderful, and some thrust upon us whether we like it or not.
Last week we considered the theme of “Roots” as we remembered and celebrated that frontier congregation, the Squaw Creek Church, that persevered amid the hardships of the Civil War and eventually became the First Baptist Church of Ames. This morning we will be thinking together on the theme of “Faith,” remembering those who built this congregation and eventually made the move to Lynn Avenue.
Last week we mentioned Captain Kendrick Brown. He was the key layperson and driving force behind the beginning of our church. The son of a Baptist minister and who fought in the Civil War, he was the grandfather of Farwell Brown.
Immediately after the war, Capt. Brown and his new bride, Lydia, moved to the frontier of Ames. Not exactly Abraham and Sarah setting out to a land that God would show them, but not that far from it, either. When they arrived Ames Station had a population of around 40. “The town had not a tree or a foot of sidewalk, and in rainy times the Main Street was nearly impassable.” The Browns ran the first grocery store in town. Capt. Brown was the first person in Ames to have a telephone and he twice ran for governor as candidate of the Prohibition Party.
Brown helped gather folks to begin the church. For its first two years, the new church had no settled pastor. The half-time pastor in Boone would occasionally preach here, and Henry Barden was an interim for several months. If there were no preacher available they would hold a service and Capt. Brown, the church clerk, would read one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons. But in 1870, Rev. Samuel Mitchell accepted the call as the first pastor of the church.
Like Ira Rees of the Squaw Creek Church, Mitchell had come to Iowa from Indiana. When he came to Ames, he turned down an appointment with the Northern Baptist Home Mission Society to serve as a Railroad Missionary.
(Some of you have been to Green Lake and seen the chapel car on the grounds there. The Northern Baptists had a number of “chapel cars,” railroad cars that served as mission churches in frontier areas and moved from city to city.)
When Rev. Mitchell told J.F. Childs, president of the convention that instead of becoming a railroad missionary, he was going to serve as pastor of the church at Ames, Rev. Childs replied, “Well enough, an important field - but how are you going to live?”
The people who started this church were not sure what they were getting themselves into. But with things that prove to be really worthwhile, that is often the way it works. When you have a child, you don’t have any idea of what it is going to involve, no idea what the future will hold. It takes faith.
The writer of Hebrews describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Which sounds a little bit odd – how can you be sure about things you have not seen? How is faith different from just wishful thinking? Well, faith is not the same thing as optimism. Faith is a deep belief that God’s power and presence and love will be with us, whatever comes to pass. And that belief, that hope, is so strong that it is more like an assurance.
How can we have such a belief, such a conviction, such an assurance? We can have faith in God because God is faithful toward us. This conviction is stated over and over again in scripture, especially in the Hebrew scriptures. Our reading from Psalm 85 says, “Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and the Lord will give what is good.”
Faith involves a certain amount of unsettledness, a certain amount of “to be continued” and “to be determined.” If we already knew everything, had everything figured out, had no questions and no uncertainty whatsoever, then we wouldn’t need faith. But because we live in an uncertain world, because we do not know everything, because life can take wild turns at a moment’s notice, faith is required. It is essential.
And there is a difference between faith and mere belief. Faith is not a neutral matter – it demands something of us. Believing that LeBron is a great player, for example, doesn’t really change my life. But true faith involves commitment and leads to action – it changes the way we live.
I look at some of the folks who built this church over the years, and their faith led them to take action. It made a huge difference in their lives.
Lydia Brown died in 1885. In 1886, Kendrick Brown married Margaret Mitchell, daughter of Rev. Samuel and Mary Mitchell, so Rev. Mitchell became Capt. Brown’s father-in-law. These families in a sense became one big connected family and their faith was passed on to succeeding generations.
After he had served as pastor here, Rev. Mitchell went to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, and worked with Chief Charles Journeycake, chief of the Delaware Indians and a Baptist preacher and missionary. Minnie Mitchell Lucas, the granddaughter of Rev. Mitchell and the niece of Kendrick and Margaret Mitchell Brown, went to teach at what was then called Bacone Indian College, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, the same place where we sent a mission team to work this year, 129 years later.
Capt. Brown’s children included Daisy Brown, who went as a missionary to China in 1912, to the Women’s Bible Training School in Fouchow. She was the first person from our church to go as a missionary overseas, the first of a great number who went from the teens into the 1930’s and 40’s.
After graduating from Oberlin College in 1917, Lydia Brown went as a missionary to Nanking, China to organize and lead the music department at Ginling College. She was the daughter of Kendrick Brown and his second wife, Margaret Mitchell Brown. In China, Lydia she met another missionary named J.B. Hipps. They were married at our church when home on furlough and returned to China, where Lydia died three years later in 1924, with a 2 year old son. She was buried in China, and there is a memorial stone in the Ames cemetery. When her son Robert grew up, he inherited the desk that had belonged to Rev. Mitchell, and Robert’s wife Donna Westlic Hipps donated that desk to our church last year.
Students from First Baptist went as missionaries to India, to Burma, to Assam, to Albania, to South Africa, to numerous places in the United States. Many others became pastors. Out of a desire to use their gifts in serving God, others became doctors and nurses and teachers and social workers and more. Their faith led them to action.
I think especially of the faith of the church in making ministry to students a priority. Starting in 1920 with Rev. Davidson, the pastor had a dual calling as pastor and minister to students. The church chose to invest its energy and resources in work with college students – a group that as it turns out, doesn’t have a lot of money to contribute, and doesn’t stay in the community very long. But the church ministered to students anyway, out of faith that investment in the lives of young people is valuable and important and makes a great difference – even if the difference is often ultimately seen in other places.
By the late 30’s and into the 40’s, student made up a big percentage of the church, with a bus running every Sunday morning from the Roger Williams House to the church downtown. When it came time to build a new church building, the church moved to Campustown. And it was not easy. Pastor Ron Wells and others, in fact some of you here, went around the state raising money from churches and alumni. The church wandered in the wilderness for awhile, worshiping at the Memorial Union while the building was being built. There was enough money to build the church but not enough for all of the furnishings, or for the parsonage so Dr. Wells and his family lived on the second floor of the church. David Wells said that it was kind of an adventure, but the bad part was that he had to clean up his bedroom so they could use it for a Sunday School class on Sunday morning.
There are those times we are called to set out in new directions, knowing it won’t necessarily be easy, knowing there will be obstacles, unsure of what is exactly will happen – but we move forward out of a conviction, out of faith, that God is leading us and that God has a future awaiting ahead. And I’m not talking about history now; I am talking about us.
I have been discovering all kinds of historical materials and artifacts. A while back, I saw a shallow box that said Groundbreaking Service Records. What kind of records could there have been related to a groundbreaking service? I looked in the box, and I found records, as in actual records, 78 rpm vinyl records recorded by WOI Recording Service.
Larry Schrag kindly transferred the records to CDs. I doubt they have been listened to in nearly 70 years, and don’t know when they might be listened to again, so I want to share a brief portion of the Groundbreaking Service for this church building held in 1949. It speaks to the faith of those who moved out here to Campustown, and perhaps as inspiration to us as we seek to move forward in faith today.
The recording is a little scratchy, as you might expect. Dr. Wells introduces Dr. Walter Halbert, secretary of the Iowa Baptist Convention who offers the prayer.
Now, as then, we are building in faith, unsure of what tomorrow brings but sure that God is with us each step of the way. Amen.