CAPE GIRARDEAU — Since banding together on Aug. 13, 1834, members of First Baptist Church, Cape Girardeau, have been bold enough to stand, sometimes against its denomination, to lead theological change.
To be mission-minded in 1834 meant leaving Missouri's oldest Baptist work — Old Bethel. First Baptist characterizes its beginning as an "off-shoot" rather than as a mission of Old Bethel's, which disbanded well over a century ago.
On Nov. 1, the church climaxed its year of celebration of the 175th anniversary with special services featuring guest speaker Bob Terry, former editor of Word&Way and current editor of The Alabama Baptist.
Through the years, the congregation's members "have responded to all sorts of challenges and needs," pastor Mike Shupert wrote in a 175th anniversary challenge statement. "They have stood strong for missions and have been champions for the basic Baptist notions of separation of church and state, priesthood of the believer, and local church autonomy.
"On this special day, our hearts are filled with gratitude for those who have gone before us, who worked and sacrificed and remained faithful to the call," the pastor said. "Plus, we look ahead with hope towards the future."
During its anniversary celebration on Nov. 1, the church recognized 61 people who have been members at least 30 years, beginning with Maxine Deimund (1926).
In the spring, on Earth Day, the congregation planted a 175th anniversary tree. Later in the year, the congregation collected recipes for the 175th anniversary cookbook. On Aug. 23, Tony Campolo, noted Baptist pastor, speaker, author and sociologist, brought the message.
Fire destroyed many of the congregation's early records in 1874, but it is believed the congregation met in the Lorimer School building before moving into its own church building in 1839, the first Protestant church building in Cape. Shortly thereafter, Sunday School was begun.
Following the Civil War, First Baptist assisted its black members in organizing their own church, Second Baptist, still in operation today.
The church planted three missions that became churches — Red Star, Southside and Bethany. In the mid-1960s, First Baptist adopted Lynnwood Baptist Church and assisted the congregation over the next several years until it could operate on its own.
By 1927, membership had increased to 719, with a net gain of 258 in 1926. That was the year a Billy Sunday revival came to Cape Girardeau. And it was the year that the church moved into its third building. A new education building was constructed in 1960, and an activities center in 1986.
The congregation took a leading role in 1939 in establishing the Missouri Baptist Foundation and its Baptist Student Center on the Southeast Missouri State University campus. First Baptist remains a principal supporter.
The congregation sold its campus to the university in 2003 and moved on Jan. 1, 2006 to its current location.
Thirty-eight pastors have served the church.