Mo. Baptists go back to Bethel - Word&Way

Mo. Baptists go back to Bethel

By Jackie Huffman
Word&Way Correspondent

A large number of people, most Baptists from Southeast Missouri, gathered Saturday, Aug. 18, at the site of the first Protestant church built and used west of the Mississippi River for a dedication service of the reconstruction of the building originally erected in 1806.

The crowd gathered in a large tent adjoining the building to listen to old time hymns, recognize those who helped with the rebuilding and hear from speakers who talked of the reason for Bethel Church, fondly called Old Bethel for most of their lifetime.

David Tolliver, interim executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, spoke about the cooperation of the planners and workers. He told of two boys who found they could walk the length of a railroad rail by joining hands across the ties and balancing each other, and reminded the audience that Baptists should join hands in cooperation in the same manner.

Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, talked about the power of missions and reminded the group that, for many years, Bethel was a missionary church, establishing "arms" of the church throughout Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. This power of mission brought the early Baptists across the Mississippi River to establish Bethel — the house of God.

John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Springfield, recalled purchasing the logs which seem to be from the original building through help from his church. Marshall’s wife, Ruth, is a direct descendent of a charter member of Old Bethel.

Marshall in­tro­­duced Gov­ernor Matt Blunt, who shared the story of Abraham’s experience at Bethel. Because Ab­raham’s spiritual descendants who established Bethel understood the necessity of protecting their religious freedom, Missouri has contributed to maintaining religious freedom.

A commemorative plaque featured Joshua 24: 24-25 and the inscription, “This monument is erected today to serve as a reminder to all future generations of the power of God, the blessings in obedience, the importance of missions, the necessity of prayer, the strength in cooperation, the value of our heritage and the cost of our salvation To God be the glory.”

Bethel church existed from 1806 until 1867. Its demise was linked to  refusal to take part in missions or fellowship with those who did. The building was sold to a local farmer about a mile west, who used it for a corn crib. It was thought the building had later been burned. The land on which the cemetery and church stood became the property of the Missouri Baptist General Association (now the MBC). It remained in disrepair until the 1970's when it was first cleaned and catalogued by directors of missions under the leadership of the late W. Carl Wright.

For many years, Dallas Seabaugh of Jackson mowed and cleaned the cemetery. The Missouri Baptist Historical Commission worked to obtain funds for the restoration of the building.

Adjoining landowners Larry and Shirley Bock donated a large area of land  to be used as a parking lot. The area was cleared and graveled for the dedication service.

In the early 1990's, a developer contacted a member of the commission, stating he found a log barn inside a large metal barn on property he purchased. It was in the exact location the original building had been moved to when the church disbanded.

Marshall worked with former executive director David Clippard to find funds for the rebuilding of the site.

The project was completed this summer, and Baptists now have a memorial of which they can say, “These stones tell the story of how God began to work in Missouri through Baptists of long ago. We have gone back to Bethel.”