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The history of the First Baptist Church of Mattoon is connected to the establishment of Mattoon as a city. The city began in May of 1855. Though the Predestinarian Baptist Church existed in 1856, it did not continue. It was not until 1863 that the First Missionary Baptist Church, from which we have our roots, began its existence.
The minutes from an organizational meeting held on December 25, 1863 state, “At a meeting of the Baptists of this place for the purpose of organizing an independent Church of Christ, the Rev. Jas. Frazer was called to the chair. Bro. H. J. Treat, Secy., Rev. J. W. Riley read the names of the members which were enrolled.....The Articles of Faith were read...The Church Covenant was then read and unanimously adopted. Moved that this company of brethren and sisters invite ministers, deacons and members of other churches to consider the propriety of recognizing us as an independent church of Christ. Moved that on Saturday, January 30th, 1864 be the day set for that purpose...”
Since the organization of the church, several people stand out as having had a particularly strong impact on the congregation. The following paragraphs highlight some of these outstanding people in the life of our church.
Rev. James Lively
was pastor of the church for a total of 31 years from 1916 to 1947. Under his leadership the congregation grew in size, Sunday School flourished, and the church family outgrew the building. A new, larger facility was dedicated in 1925. Though the church grew and flourished, some discontent came about in the 1940's. A group of 120 persons left and formed Faith Baptist Church, which eventually united with another congregation.
Rev. Merris Dice
served the church from 1948 until 1958. In 1949, a radio broadcast was initiated and the church began sponsoring a Kindergarten of more than 50 students. The church started growing and more space was needed. A “Youth House” was added in 1956 and a campaign began the next year to build a new church in order to add space.
Rev. Dice returned to the church in the 1980's to serve as an interim minister.
Rev. Meredith Thomas
, who ministered for five years in the early 1960's, had a great following. The church grew in number under his leadership and another worship service was added at 11 a.m. The congregation voted in 1961 to relocate rather than remodel the church at 19th Street and Richmond Avenue. The “Youth House” was sold and nine acres were purchased on South Ninth Street for a future building site. The old parsonage at 1816 Richmond Avenue was sold the next year and 1017 Annis became the new parsonage. Fundraising and planning were the focus as the church moved closer to beginning construction on the new property. Meredith Thomas was a very friendly man who was described as a great orator and story-teller. He was very active, well known, and well liked in the community.
Rev. Roger Compton
served the church from 1971 until 1979. Along with a contingent of youth, Rev. Compton attended the “Explo '72” evangelism training conference. During the Seventies, an emphasis was placed on evangelism training of individuals with teams sharing the faith. In 1975, Robin Perkins was hired as Director of Christian Education and pastoral assistant. The faithful ministering of the staff and lay people soon led to a healthy enrollment of 917 resident members.
The church even hosted the Great Rivers Region Annual Conference in 1975, a task which required much effort and cooperation by the membership. A Bible Conference was also hosted in 1977, led by a New Testament professor from Central Baptist Seminary.
Dr. Elbert E. Elliott
led the congregation for over 18 years. Under his leadership the church became better equipped in many areas. Emphasis was placed on Bible study and prayer. His Bible studies and messages from the pulpit took the congregation deeper into the scriptures enabling and better equipping us as disciples. Young families were encouraged to attend and become a part of this church body. Several revival meetings, named “Grace Week,” were held during Dr. Elliott's tenure, which resulted in conversions and rededications that further strengthened the membership.
became the Director of Christian Education during Dr. Elliott's tenure after already serving many years as a director of youth and adult choirs. In this new role, Mrs. Carpenter coordinated educational activities for both youth and adults, planned and led worship services, and helped organize the activities of lay people, all while continuing in her role as the director of the adult choir. After faithfully serving the church for almost 40 years, and positively impacting the spiritual lives of many people in the process, Mrs. Carpenter retired in 2007. Even in retirement, Mrs. Carpenter continues to serve the church as a member of the laity.
Due to growth in attendance and limited ability to expand in the existing facility on North 19th, the decision was made in the 1960's to begin a building project and relocate in another area of Mattoon. In 1967, the plot of land at 1804 S. Ninth Street became the new location for First Baptist Church. Though the planning had begun with the ministry of Reverend Meredith Thomas, Reverend Ed Elliott was the pastor during this building campaign. In 1986, new additions including a kitchen, a garage, and offices were completed. A wonderful 125th anniversary celebration was held for the church in 1988 with several of our former ministers and interim pastors returning for the celebration. After experiencing some difficult years and a decline in attendance, the church began to grow again under the leadership of Dr. Elbert Elliott who began his pastorate in 1987. Several evangelistic revivals were held during the summers which added vitality to the church and new members to the Kingdom rolls.
An expanded prayer ministry included corporate prayer meetings, individual prayer partners, retreats and cottage prayer groups for special purposes. Additional facility improvements included adjacent land purchased for possible future uses, a new parking lot, sanctuary renovation, an elevator and equipment for a TV ministry that has broadcast our services for the past 15 years. During this time, mission work took on new importance as many members attended national and regional mission conferences and took part in short term mission and disaster relief trips as well as hosting local outreach events.
The church has adopted a mission statement beginning with the preamble: “Come. Grow. Go.” This truly describes how the church sees itself in the community. Worship and programming work together to instill in the congregation the importance of coming together for worship, growing in a relationship with Jesus Christ, and going in the Spirit into the world to spread God's love and salvation message. The fruit of this mission is seen in the members of the congregation who have gone on to full time ministry, Christian education, or work in a parachurch organization.