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Protestants raise new voices

In 2004, a 40-foot steeple was installed at First Baptist Church at Illinois 161 and Frank Scott Parkway West.
In 2004, a 40-foot steeple was installed at First Baptist Church at Illinois 161 and Frank Scott Parkway West.

White settlers in the metro-east brought their religious convictions with them.

Although Catholics were here in force early, Protestant circuit riders were spreading the gospel in the early 1870s as well.

One of the early Baptists in the area was James Lehmen Sr., a Revolutionary War soldier who came to the region with friends seeking a new home.

In "A History of St. Clair County, Illinois -- 1881" it is reported that "They camped for the Sabbath in a grove near the present city of Belleville; songs and prayers were offered and the Scriptures read. This was probably the first act of associated worship performed by the Baptists in what now is St. Clair County."

Lehman later would be part of what is thought to be the first Baptist baptism in the state, also described in the 1881 book:

"The baptismal scene occurred at Fountain Creek, Monroe County, Feb. 1794. The neighbors, far and near, collected on this occasion. The ice had to be cut and removed. When this was done, the Rev. Mr. Dodge and James Lehmen entered the water, and amid the profoundest feeling of the spectators, the minister in the words of the beautiful sentence in the rite which invokes the Triune God as a witness baptized by immersion the first subject in Illinois."

Four of Lehman's sons became ministers and, according to which source you read, of his eight children either seven or eight became Baptists.

Lehmen was well-known and once rejected an offer to participate in Aaron Burr's scheme to conquer the Southwest and make it an independent country.

He was part of the group that formed Richland Creek Baptist Church in 1806. In a sermon in 1809, he denounced slavery, which led to arguments among the congregation and a split.

It was a friendly separation and all the Lehmans helped form Bethel Baptist, which took a strong antislavery stand and later was said to have helped escaped slaves along their way.

Not all Protestants had places to worship. Often congregations met in the home of one of the members and afterward feasted. The meetings were open to all, even to some considered great pests.

"Here and there was an old camp follower who worried the good people with his native and uncultured rhymes and dreadful music, tried the patience of the real preachers by following their sermons with wild, windy and unprofitable harangues, and consumed their chickens and beef with the avidity of a roman emperor or a hyena, but these harmless old fellows were tolerated in Christian charity."

The Methodist Episcopal Church came to the area in 1795 and soon had a great number of members.

"A class was organized for a short time a short distance from what has been known for many years as Shiloh and this became the Shiloh Church."

An actual log church was erected in 1806. Madison County claims that a Methodist church was built in 1805 in the Goshen settlement near the present-day Edwardsville.

The religion soon had a large number of churches, and even today some of the largest and most active churches in the area are Methodist.

The Presbyterian organization took surveys in 1812 and 1814 and found that there were a few Presbyterians in St. Clair and Madison counties, but none south of there.

"We were informed a majority of the heads of families are professors (meaning they professed not that they were college teachers) of religion. A Methodist preacher told us that these professors were almost all of them Presbyterian. And they would have been so still, he said, had they not been neglected by their Eastern brethren. Now they are Methodists and Baptists."

Presbyterian Salmon Geddys from Connecticut came and settled in St. Louis and is credited with establishing 15 churches in the metro-east.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Missouri Synod got its start in 1839 in the area with Saxon immigrants deploring the decay of the Lutheran Church in Germany "where from most pulpits the pure doctrine was no longer preached but instead unbelief and skepticism."

They loaded up five ships and set out for New Orleans. One of the ships disappeared on the way, but the other people arrived and made their way up the Mississippi to St. Louis.

There were a number of early black churches, known as African churches, in the Brooklyn area. Both an African Methodist and African Baptist church were listed in the churches of Belleville as early as 1862.

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