This Sunday I'm supposed to say something very brief about the beginnings of our church because we are making note, as we do every year, that on Set. 11, 1864, our congregation was originally founded. We won't make as big a deal about it this year as we did for the 140th birthday, but we feel like it's important to remember, each year, that long ago there were folks who didn't have a building, or a pastor, or any of those things we think of when we think of church. All they had was their love for Jesus, each other, and a desire to start a faith community that has grown and flourished for 144 years now.
In looking over some church memorabilia and records, I've come to realize what a tough thing it was to start a church at that time in our history. The slavery issue colored everything. This county was settled, for the most part, from the south. Most early settlers were from southern Ohio, southern Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. They were, in some cases, from a slave-holding background. Others ( like my ancestors, who came here in 1852), were active abolitionists. I'm descended from a family who first freed their slaves, and then made their home a station on the Underground Railroad! So opinions were strong on both sides, and politics was top of the mind for even a backwater like this little railroad junction in the swamps of Illinois.
That made it tricky to start a church. On the frontier, church members were expected to "subscribe" to support the living expenses of a minister. At that time, abolition being a spiritual issue, and the movement coming mostly from church people, every one expected their minister to publicly announce whether he was pro- or anti-slavery. Then, if someone disagreed with the minister's stance, they would often refuse to subscribe to his living! Baptists tried, four different times between 1856 and 1864 to get a congregation off the ground, and each time had to dissolve over their differences about slavery, and their inability to get enough subscribers for a pastor.
Finally, on Sept. 11, 1864, 10 men and 14 women, along with a few others who are not recorded, remained after a preaching and agreed to organize themselves formally into Champaign Baptist Church. They adopted "Articles of Faith and Church Covenant", and called the pastor they had just heard preach to serve them. The emancipation of slaves was now a moot point, and they were able to move forward. They probably had hopes that their little church would last, but they surely had no idea of what it would look like today!
I found it very hopeful to me, personally, as I thought about how strident things can get during an election season, to know that God is still working to bring us together, provided we recognize that it will be in His timing and under His sovereignty, not ours. When believers can put the Gospel first, God can give them a mustard seed revolution. Just look right here! Just think about all the people who have come to know the Lord right here in this congregation over the past 144 years. Just think of all the marriages celebrated. Just think of the ones who have gone on to full time ministry and missionary work from here. Just think of the money poured out for the needy. Just think of the orphanage in Honduras, the clinic in India, the agricultural missions in Congo and Thailand. Just think of the youth groups and Sunday School classes and Small Groups who have bonded in the Bond of Love. Just think of the thousands of worship services, and, gosh, maybe millions of songs sung in praise. Just think of the potlucks!!
All started by a bunch of people who were having a tough time getting along, but set aside their differences to be the Body here on earth. If that doesn't show you the power of the Holy Spirit, I don't know what would.
"All this from is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation..." 2 Corinthians 5:18