History in Focus: First Baptist Church holds place in local history
March 7, 2019
In 1911, a small group of homesteaders from different faith backgrounds met with Reverend W.C. Lindsey, a Baptist minister and homesteader near Cedar Mountain, to start a new church. This meeting marked the start of the First Baptist Church of Craig.
But before a church could be established, the four interested charter members had to undergo a full immersion baptism, a key tenet of Baptist theology. On April 23, Lindsey dunked Ernest Kline and three others in the freezing, swollen, and muddy Yampa (a far cry from the Jordan River), and the First Baptist Church of Craig was born! Kline was ordained minister in 1917 and became a pillar of stability in the church by serving in varying capacities until 1982.
In those early years, the congregation met at the home of Levi and Amy Johnson, originally located on the 500 Block of Breeze Street. About 1915, the church started services at the Elkhead School amidst a growing homesteading community. Mission services were also held in a variety of locations as "sagebrush" preachers such as Kline rode on horseback to bring the Baptist message to isolated homesteaders.
By the early 1920s, the Baptists decided to build a permanent structure. In June 1924, the American Baptist Publication Society sent out the Emmanuel Chapel Car to build a congregation in growing Craig. At 85 feet long, the converted train passenger car was a unique mobile church, replete with 100-person seating capacity, full heat, and a small apartment at the back for missionary minister F.I. Blanchard and his wife. It was one of only seven chapel cars in the United States.
In July, the charter of the First Baptist Church of Craig was established. By Sept. 3, the Craig Empire reported in a headline, "Church for Craig Assured When Pledges are Made at Enthusiastic Meeting of Local Members." Five thousand dollars was raised in only a couple of weeks, and in a little more than a year, on Sept, 13, 1925, the new church at 700 School Street was dedicated.
As the church grew, it also had to confront one of the major political controversies of the 20th century. In 1942, in the midst of World War II, the emerging Cold War entered the life of First Baptist Church. Rev. George Hooper arrived and quickly steered the congregation toward the guidelines of the Federal Council of Churches. This umbrella organization of Protestant denominations supported left-leaning politics and trends of socialism that were growing more popular since the onset of the Great Depression.
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A small blurb in the Steamboat Pilot of Sept, 7, 1934, reported the FCC declared New Deal programs "… of human origin and therefore fallible, but the purposes sought are divine." However, a tract published by Baptists opposed to the FCC declared it represented liberal protestantism not evangelical protestantism, and decried the council as communist, internationalist, and unpatriotic.
The church was split, and long-time Rev. Ernest Kline wisely led the congregation through the crisis. Kline insisted the church stick to its evangelical roots, and the congregation agreed. In January 1944, church members voted to dismiss Hooper, steer clear of the FCC, and maintain its evangelical identity.
During the boom years of the 1970s, it was clear a new church was necessary. In 1975, groundbreaking took place for a new church at 1150 W. Ninth Street. In 2009, the church expanded again to create a new and spacious worship space and today goes by the name The Journey at First Baptist.
From an icy baptism in the Yampa River, through the trials of the mid 20th century, and the boom years of the 1970s, the First Baptist Church has been a driving force for good in the development of Moffat County.
Special thanks to LuAnn Kline and Pastor Len Browning for access to church records, documents, and histories of First Baptist Church. Email James Neton at firstname.lastname@example.org.