It was a century and a half ago that the stone and wood of the original First Baptist Church in O’Fallon was mortared together with the sweat of the devoted. Today, a modern place of worship stands as the gathering place for the congregation. But while the structures of these two houses of God were very different, their foundations are very much the same — both built on a bedrock of faith.
“We started in O’Fallon 150 years ago. When we first started, they met in some just borrowed space, and then built on Washington and Cherry streets in 1867, on the corner there in downtown O’Fallon,” said the Rev. Doug Munton, who has been with the church for more than 20 years.
The current location of the church, 1111 E. U.S. Highway 50, has been its home since 1979.
The church draws more than 1,700 to worship each Sunday. Still more attend other services and events throughout the week.
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“On any given day, we have hundreds who are in the building for various programs, like Bible study groups and other ministry efforts,” Munton said.
The church also supports an adjoining school, First Baptist Academy, which too is celebrating a milestone. Founded in 2002, the school is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.
“The school has another several hundred students and staff from preschool, with Creation Corner, up to 12th grade,” Munton said.
First Baptist’s is a dynamic congregation. With O’Fallon’s proximity to Scott Air Force Base, there is a consistent influx of new members.
“The nature of suburbia is that people tend to move some, but Scott Air Force Base means there’s always people moving in and out, back and forth — and we love that. We love that the military types come and go, and we are grateful for the opportunity to participate in the their lives, but we are also thankful we have some long-term stability here, too, that allows us to have good, strong, faithful ministry to people — even if they’re only here, in some cases, for a short period of time,” Munton said.
But then, some stay, too.
Bill Malec said he and his family have felt “welcomed and valued” since becoming members in 2004 when he was transferred to Scott Air Force Base from Texas.
“Over the years, we’ve been blessed by the many, many ministries, events and activities that (the church) offers. We attend the blended service at 9:40 a.m. on Sunday mornings, because it fits best for us, followed by our life group,” Malec said.
Malec’s daughter Heather also attended First Baptist Academy in her early years, and now her nephew, Landon, attends the fourth grade there.
“We love both groups,” Munton said, referring to the lifelong and newer members.
The Baptist community has a long history in the area, with roots that predate the founding of O’Fallon itself.
“It was, and still is not, unusual for older churches to spawn newer ones, just like with the First Baptist Church of O’Fallon. It wasn’t the only Baptist church to exist in this area over the years, but it certainly was one of the oldest and has not only survived, but thrives to this day,” said Brian Keller, president of the O’Fallon Historical Society.
In 1796, New Design (Baptist) Church near Waterloo, with David Badgley at the helm, was established. It is known as the first Baptist congregation in Illinois.
New Design went on to start Richland Creek Church, which then began Bethel Baptist Church, which later initiated First Baptist Church, Munton said.
“Badgley’s great-great-granddaughters — two sisters with the Badgley name who never married — still attended well into my tenure here. They’ve long since passed, but I knew them,” Munton said. “So we are fourth-generation church in O’Fallon from the first Baptist church that started in the state.”
To honor the church’s long history in the area, 12 large stones remain in a memorial near the front entrance of the church’s current location.
“The New Design Church is where the 12 foundation stones came from, which was in Monroe County, near Waterloo, Ill. That church is considered the first Baptist congregation in Illinois. Rev. David Badgley later ended up settling just southwest of O’Fallon,” Keller said.
Some of the stones also form a non-traditional bench. The stones, Munton said, help remind members and visitors of its church’s origin.
The church today
The church has three services every Sunday. All have the same message, but the music varies.
“I preach the same sermon in all three services, but the music is traditional, or blended, or modern. So, as it goes, it gets a little louder, and a little bit more contemporary, but all those words mean different things to different people,” Munton said.
Munton said the church has many different types of ministries, for all types of people.
“We have woman’s Bible study going on, and there’s no telling what else, because there’s just so much going on all the time here,” Munton said.
Upward Sports — basketball, flag football, volleyball, cheer leading and soccer — are also offered.
“We do those seasons and use it to teach sports and connect them to character traits with a spiritual component to encourage sportsmanship,” Munton said.
More than 1,300 kids also attend vacation Bible school over the summer, which will begin in June.
“It’s just huge, really. There’s just a lot of stuff going on, and we’ve done it for a long, long time. So every year, we get better with planning,” Munton said.
The congregation held a special anniversary service Jan. 29, but will be celebrating its special birthday all year — and celebrating their faith for a long time after that.
“You know, 150 years of existence is fine, but we really want to make an impact, and we hope we (continue) to do that for the long term,” Munton said.