A Tale of Two Churches. . .
Slips of paper rustled slightly as deacons walked
slowly around the room, collecting votes. The congregation sat in hushed silence. The measure under
consideration involved merging two churches:
“First Baptist Church would combine with Grace
Baptist Church’s membership and care on December 31, 2013. The combined congregation would
continue under Grace Baptist Church’s constitution, by-laws, covenant, and pastoral leadership.
First Baptist Church’s assets would be combined
with Grace Baptist Church’s, pending approval by
both congregations. Effective December 31, 2013,
all active members of First Baptist Church will be
added to the membership of Grace Baptist Church,
unless they previously decline on an individual
At last, the final count was in. The measure had passed with
over 90 percent approval. No one had expected this level of
unity, but nearly everyone had hoped for it. And it happened
again at the second church.
Two churches merging is not unique, but in this case, the
two churches carried individual and combined history. They
had at one time been one church!
First Baptist Church, Austin, Minn., is older than the state
itself. The church was established in 1857; the state, in 1858.
In January 1933 the first issue of what is now the Baptist Bulletin reported First Baptist’s 75th anniversary and announced
that the church had taken on support of the new General
Association of Regular Baptist Churches. The church’s legacy
and reach over its first 100 years cannot be overstated.
By the early ’50s, growth had outpaced space, and the
church sought to relocate with a new facility. A number of
members, for many different reasons, believed that the church
should remain in the downtown area. Sadly, this caused a split,
creating a new entity, Grace Baptist Church, and a rift that
some thought would never heal.
For the next 60 years, both churches were led by many gifted
pastors and filled with wonderful people, greatly impacting
their communities for Christ. God clearly glorified Himself
through these two ministries.
In the ebb and flow of years that followed the split, generations joined hands in combined ministry but also sparked
new disputes. Some decades saw peace. Some decades witnessed fighting. Every decade saw members leaving one of the
churches to go to the other. Ministry happened, as well as mistrust. In many ways it was both the best and the worst of times.
Several years ago both churches experienced pastoral
turmoil, and many members lost trust in leadership. As with
every tale, things could have ended badly for both churches.
First Baptist Church of Austin, Minn., founded in 1858.