The history of First Baptist Church of Marion dates back to January of 1843 when six persons met in a one-room log cabin to organize the church. Meetings of the church were held in three other buildings until the current spacious brick building on the east side of Marion was occupied in 1958.
An indication of the young congregation’s vitality is seen in the growth from just six charter members in 1843 to one hundred-nine members by 1857. For the first five years they met in a log cabin located five miles east of Marion. Then they gathered in a rented room in the A. Daniels & Brothers Building on 7th Avenue and 11th Street. After two years of the rental arrangement, they decided to build their own house of worship on the northeast side of 11th Street at 6th Avenue (begun in 1851 and completed in 1855).
From the beginning of its history the First Baptist Church has been affiliated with the Iowa Baptist Convention (hosting its annual meeting in 1852), the old Dubuque Association, and was a charter member of the Linn Baptist Association in 1856. It has also been affiliated with the American Baptist Home and Foreign Mission societies, and the Northern Baptist Convention. These affiliations have continued through the years, though the names have changed. The name of the present national denominational organization is the American Baptist Churches USA.
One of the early members whose spirit represented the Baptists was Rachel Ives Booth, later known as Grandma Booth. A daughter of a charter member, she was baptized in 1856. It was said that in times of discouragement, her words of conviction and encouragement would strengthen the whole church. She taught a Bible class for many years and greatly encouraged missionary support. The present educational wing of the church building is dedicated in her name, with heirs giving substantially as a memorial for her.
One of the best remembered characteristics of the old Baptist church at 11th Street and 6th Avenue in Marion was that it was “the church by the tracks”. Each Sunday morning, one of the trains would come through during the worship services, blowing its whistle loudly especially at Tenth Street. When a train came by, the services would break often with a song. After the train had passed, the service would take up where they had left off. Many sermons were delivered in two or more parts. It was reluctantly admitted that once in a while the train was a welcome relief from a dull sermon.
In 1874 the city of Marion, wanting to build a courthouse square, bought the church building at 11th Street and 6th Avenue. So the Baptists moved into the red brick building, just a block away at 6th Avenue and 10th Street, that the Methodists had outgrown. The Baptists would call it “home” for the next eighty-five years.
Over the years, starting in 1916, there were discussions about finding a new place to worship since the red brick building was no longer big enough to accommodate church activities and was in poor condition. It was not until 1955 that the congregation finally voted to build both a new sanctuary and parsonage on two acres of land “on Marion’s east side”. The red brick building was sold to the Y.M.C.A. [now it houses the Marion Heritage Center.] The new parsonage at 1210 29th Street was occupied in 1958. The 1260 29th Street sanctuary was opened a year later. The parsonage was enlarged in 1960. The educational wing of the sanctuary was added in 1967. In the 1980’s the building was updated to be accessible to the handicapped.
In 2009, the congregation took up the challenge of creating The 29th Street Mission to provide food and other goods to persons/families. In the first year we had 524 visits. Nine years later it met needs during the year of 2018 through more than 4,500 visits.
Many elders/pastors have served the church over the years. More than a dozen were “interim” pastors—some who served as long as “called” ministers.
The following elders/pastors have served over the years.
Elder Williams 1850-1852
Elder J.C. Ward 1852-1854
Elder J.V. DeWitt 1854-1874
Elder Sawin 1862
Bro. Bills 1863
Pastor Amos Pratt 1865
Rev. G.D. Simmons 1874-1876
Rev. D.N. Mason 1876-1881
Rev. A.M. Duboe 1881-1884
Rev. H.E. Fuller 1884-1887
Rev. J.G. Johnson 1887-1889
Rev. A.S. Fowler 1890-1891
Rev. W.J. Eyles 1892-1893
Rev. E.F. Perry 1894-1894
Rev. J.B. Lee 1894-1896
Rev. Charles Lemon 1896-1897
Rev. F.M. Smith 1897-1902
Rev. Lester Williams 1903-1903
Rev. Ezra Temple 1904-1904
Rev. S.P. Shaw 1904-1907
Rev. H.F. McDonnell 1907-1909
Rev. D.P. Odell 1910-1911
Rev. James W. Lee 1911-1912
Rev. O.P. Silvara 1912-1913
Rev. E.A. Seymour 1913-1915
Rev. James M. Wilson 1915-1917
Rev. Charles E. Bryden 1917-1918
Rev. George Gelvin 1918-1919
Rev. Frank H. Ward 1920-1922
Rev. Joel E. Brunner 1922-1925
Rev. Willis J. Robinson 1925-1929
Rev. C. Winfred Clemo 1929-1931
Rev. William H. Bridwell 1931-1935
Rev. Lauren Inman 1936-1941
Rev. Ben Shaw 1942-1944
Rev. Charles Moore 1945-1959
Rev. William Dykuzien 1959-1960
Rev. William McKee 1960-1963
Rev. Edward Rustio 1963-1964
Rev. Lawrence Sprankle 1964-1971
Rev. Dr. Lyle Lee 1972-1984
Rev. Leon Nelson 1984-1985
Rev. Dr. William Hendricks 1985-1988
Rev. Harold Schlink 1988-1989
Rev. Robert Nelson 1989-1995
Rev. Dr. Forrest Cornelius 1996-2000
Rev. John L. Huffaker 2000-2000
Rev. Randy Bobzien 2001-2017
Rev. Dr. Jerry Springston 2017-2019
Rev. Dr. Dondrea Walker 2019-
* Bold type indicates pastors serving a decade or more
* Italics indicates interim ministers
The 140th Anniversary Celebration was held on Oct 16, 1983, during the term of Rev. Lyle Lee. The 150th Anniversary Celebration was held on June 6, 1993, during the term of Rev. Robert Nelson. The 175th Anniversary Celebration was held on September 15-16, 2018, during the term of Rev. Dr. Jerry Springston.