First Baptist Church is steeped with history within its walls. The church, located at the corner of North Spring and Donnell streets, is celebrating 175 years of ministry.
Early church records show in 1831 a small group of women formed what was called Bethlehem Sewing Society in order to “raise money to build a house of worship.” The society was led by Mrs. Philo Lyon and her daughter, Mrs. Eliza J. Cotton Mitchell.
Mitchell died in 1896 at the age of 96, and this was recorded: “Through her and her mother’s effort and energy, the first Baptist Church house in McMinnville was erected, and the little brick Baptist Church house was built on a lot she gave for this purpose.”
The lot was located on Lyon Street. On June 9, 1838, the church constitution was formed with nine women and one man as members.
Elder Noah Cates was the first pastor. The first collection was recorded as 75 cents.
The first Lord’s Supper was administered on Sunday, Sept. 30, 1839.
It was proposed to sell the old church house in 1886. Three trustees were authorized to sell the old property and apply the proceeds to the new building project.
In February 1887, members were appointed to select a suitable location and undertake the building of a new house of worship.
The old building was sold to W.S. Lively on March 25, 1888 for $300, and a building committee was formed.
With Bro. A.D. Phillips as pastor, McMinnville Baptist Church met in a new house of worship located on North Spring Street on June 30, 1889. The building was finished except for new seating and a pulpit. The church purchased an organ in November 1903.
Sometime between 1931 and 1935, the Baptists purchased from the Presbyterians a building located on the present sight. At some point, the McMinnville Baptist Church was renamed Magness Memorial Baptist Church after a donation from the Magness family.
Under the leadership of Rev. H. Curtis Erwin, who served as pastor from 1952 to 1960, many of the church members felt a need for more Southern Baptist churches in and around McMinnville to reach more people. They launched a mission program. It was decided to locate a mission in the Northside area. A lot was purchased with the mission soon becoming a reality.
On June 13, 1954, Rev. Erwin conducted the first preaching service in the new mission building. Later, another mission church was organized in the Forest Park area, and a mission was begun at West Riverside.
At a business meeting on Oct. 11, 1967, the members agreed to sell the property formerly used as a pastorium at 300 North Chancery Street, empowered the trustees to execute, acknowledge and deliver all necessary documents to consummate the sale.
On March 17, 1968, the church voted to purchase property located at 113 Westwood 6th Avenue for the use of the pastor of Magness Memorial Baptist Church. On May 12, 1968, Rev, Harold White began his duties as the new minister of Magness Memorial.
An annual church letter from 1970 showed a total membership of 1,046, including resident and non-resident members.
Church members and McMinnville residents were devastated when, in the early morning hours of April 16, 1973, their beloved sanctuary and 31 classrooms of the historic Magness Memorial Baptist Church burned. The fire burst through the roof at approximately 5:30 a.m. A decision was made to demolish the standing shell and ruins as a safety precaution.
Destroyed in the main sanctuary was the massive stained glass window described as being one of the most beautiful to be seen anywhere. The window, obtained from an earlier Cumberland Presbyterian church, had just been releaded. It was said to date back to antebellum days.
According to church records, the last sermon preached by Rev. White in that sanctuary before the fire was taken from 1 Kings 18 and was titled “Let the Fire Fall.”
During reconstruction, the congregation voted to change the church’s name from Magness Memorial Baptist Church to First Baptist Church. A Great Day and Open House was held June 20, 1976 followed by a week of dedication services.
The sanctuary was renovated in 2006-2007. New stained glass windows are a focal point as well as the new tile cross in the baptistry. The renovation included new radius pews and a new sound system.
John May presently serves as senior pastor. He has been pastor for over three years.
Wayne Moore serves as minister of worship.
Administrator and financial director Jeff Womack said First Baptist is very mission-minded today. “Several members of the church, both adults and youth, have already gone on three mission trips this year. We have missions nationally and internationally. We also have a street ministry locally at West Riverside called the Backyard Bible Club.”
Church librarian Barbara Jaco said several members have served as missionaries including Ruth and Mildred Womack, who retired from mission work with the church. The two were significant in foreign mission work in Africa.
Recently, an Eagle Scout project named “He Is Risen” which pays homage to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection was erected by Ryan Mellons. Three wooden crosses were placed outside the front corner of the church building. An elevated path was added to signify the path Jesus walked on the day of his crucifixion, as well as in-ground lighting to illuminate the area at night.
The church has two worship services on Sundays. The first beginning at 8 a.m. and the second at 10:30 a.m.
Fellowship and Sunday School begin at 9:15 a.m.
Evening service, children’s Bible study, and youth services all begin at 6:30 p.m. on Sundays.