THE BAPTIST DENOMINATION IN NEBRASKA -- CATHOLIC CHURCH IN OMAHA AND NEBRASKA -- SOUTH PLATTE CATHOLICISM AND THE LINCOLN DIOCESE -- CHURCHES OF CHRIST (DISCIPLES) -- PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH -- UNITED BRETHREN CHURCH -- REFORMED CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES -- UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH -- UNITED DANISH EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH OF AMERICA -- LUTHERAN CHURCH -- EPISCOPAL CHURCH -- EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYNOD OF MISSOURI, OHIO, AND OTHER STATES -- SEVENTH DAY ADVENTISTS -- GERMAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH -- METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH AMONG THE SWEDISH PEOPLE OF NEBRASKA - EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYNOD OF NEBRASKA -- METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH -- CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH.
BY REV. R. R. COON
"One soweth and another reapeth. First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear." These two recorded words of the Master very properly are expressive of the work of Baptists in Nebraska. The first refers to the workers, in order; the second refers to the work, in order. The early workers were permitted to see but scant results of the labor it was given others to know; and the growth of that work is equally true and applicable to efforts in a larger field. Judson labored in Burmah six years before Christnu Paul became the first Burman convert. Moses Merrill preached in Nebraska from 1833 to 1840, the time of his death, and other missionaries toiled for years before the first Baptist church was organized in 1855. Like foundations of a great building the work is slow, unseen but fundamental.
Pursuant to a call originating in a
ministerial conference at Bellevue, January 30, 1867,
delegates of Baptist churches met at Plattsmouth September
16 to consider the propriety of organizing a Baptist general
association. The following brethren were duly accredited
delegates from the churches, ministers: J. W. Taylor, E. D.
Thomas, I. C. Jones, L. B. Wharton, W. J. Kermot, E. W.
Hall, D. R. Goff and A. C. Miller; and laymen: I. Hickey, J.
W. Caruthers and John Jackson. The name of Rev. J. M.
Taggart is not in this list but evidently he was present as
he "moved that a committee be appointed to revise the
constitution and report at an adjourned meeting to be held
at Bellevue November 12; at which time and place the general
association (now state convention) was fully organized, with
Rev. W. J. Kermot, president, and Rev. E. W. Hall,
secretary." The above is taken from printed minutes of these
meetings in the files of the convention historian; perhaps
the only one available.
"First the blade, then the ear, then
the full grain in the ear." In the sixty years of the
endeavors of Nebraska Baptists we see first a few bold pioneers blazing the way in the prairies primeval, the unsettled plains of the territory. Later years show organized effort and steady active growth, with the widening field and increase of laborers and magnificent and permanent results following. This appears clearly as, decade by decade, we review the three score years of Baptist history. Considering the work as beginning in 1856, we have at the end of the first ten years in 1866 -- estimated -- 14 churches, 16 ministers, 40 baptisms (that year) and 400 members; in 1876: 125 churches, 55 ministers, 243 baptisms and 3500 members; in 1886; 157 churches, 106 ministers, 662 baptisms and 6835 members; in 1896: 240 churches, 111 ministers, 1230 baptisms and 14,600 members; in 1906: 223 churches, 126 ministers, 1206 baptisms and 17,384 members; in 1916: 195 churches, 129 mimisters (sic), 1998 baptisms and 19,300 members. The work started, at the forming of the first association, with 7 churches, 3 ministers and 79 members. "The little one has become a thousand."
"The object of the Baptist Convention," as its constitution states, "shall be to conduct missionary work in Nebraska . . . and in all legitimate ways promote the interests of Christ's kingdom." In the denominational polity the state missionary is the leading and active executive officer of the state convention. His position and influence are somewhat similar to that of the pastor of a church. The state board of directors are his advisers and supporters, as deacons and trustees for the pastor. Thirteen have served as state missionaries. We give their names, with the years they served: G. W. Freeman, 1869, J. N. Webb 1870-79, E. H. E. Jameson 1878-80, W. R. Connelly 1881-82, J. W. Osborn 1883-87, J. J. Keeler 1887-94, A. W. Clark 1895-97, F. M. Williams 1898-99, C. W. Brinstad 1900-05, C. J. Pope 1906-08, Wilson Mills 1909-10, Fred Berry 1911-15 and Ray E. York 1916.
During the missionary leadership of
Rev. J. N. Webb and Rev. J. J. Keeler rapid growth and solid
prosperity marked the progress of
the denomination. Not only were they eminently qualified for the position but able and willing. They continued in office longer than any others, and this gave added weight and value to their services. This fact in part explains their success. Thirteen held that office in the fifty years of state convention work; of that time these two were in charge nearly one-third of the time. Here, as often, it is true, "permanence is a virtue." The administration of Rev. J. J. Keeler is worthy of special mention in any history of Nebraska Baptists. During this time -- from 1887 to 1894 -- the work of the denomination passed from the formative period and became more thoroughly established. It was a time of real advance in almost every respect. The records indicate this notable progress: increase of churches, (during his administration) thirty-five percent; of pastors, forty percent; "the years of his service as state missionary have been the most important in the history of the convention." Mr. Keeler came to Nebraska in 1880 directly after his graduation from Morgan Park, Ill., Theological Seminary, and his entire ministry of twenty years was in this state. He died in Grand Island in 1899.
Several gatherings of historical
significance have been held by Nebraska Baptists. The
twentieth anniversary of the First Nebraska Association was
celebrated at Nebraska City, June 25-27, 1878; a large
gathering of Baptists in the state and of leading ministers
from other states. The Rev. J. M. Taggart presided, the only
minister present who had membership ninety percent; of
missionary contributions, 100 percent; of baptisms, 175
percent. The number of baptisms the last year of his work
was 1568, a number not equaled in the history of Nebraska
Baptists until the year 1916. His work will be remembered as
one of faithfulness, wisdom and self-sacrifice. In the
report of every year we find the expression, "fifty-two
weeks of service." In resolutions of high appreciation
passed by the state convention it is stated: helped the
organization twenty years before.
In the records of the earliest Baptist
associations may be found a resolution something like this:
"Resolved that every Baptist family should take some
this statement to show that the resolution was not far from being realized: "I have found in my visits throughout the state, a Baptist paper in nearly every Baptist family"; a statement quite as remarkable as commendable. Several denominational papers have been published depending chiefly on Nebraska for patronage and support. The first of these as far as appears, was the Nebraska Visitor, edited by Rev. George Sutherland and published at Gibbon from 1880 to 1882. In matter and form it was all that could be expected or desired. It had a circulation of eleven hundred when Baptists in the state numbered only four thousand five hundred. In this paper was published perhaps the best record of the early history of Nebraska Baptists, prepared by Rev. J. M. Taggart; a series of twelve articles on "First Things in Nebraska." Mr. Sutherland moved to Kansas in 1882 at which time the paper merged with the Western Baptist, Rev. L. H. Holt, editor, who continued the circulation in Nebraska for some time. In October, 1906, at the state convention at Friend appeared the Inter-State Christian Herald, a paper having strong editors at Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis, R. R. Coon being editor for Nebraska. This was energetically pushed, the state generally was canvassed by the editor and his helpers and about fourteen hundred subscribers were secured, continuing four years. This and the
Nebraska Visitor in earlier years, gave ample opportunity for state news and announcements; either could have helped materially in advancing denominational interests in the state. At present this demand must be supplied from Pella, Iowa, Chicago and the far east. All are unable by distance or other causes to give the best service; and perhaps all have less circulation in the state than had either paper referred to above. The monthly Bulletin, now in its seventh year, answers a good purpose, chiefly as a monthly exponent of the State Board. The matter of denomination weeklies, with all denominations, is a problem yet in the solving.
Among the events in the Christian world
that marked the close of the nineteenth century the young
people's movement is prominent. The Christian Endeavor
Society, founded in 1881, was opportunity for the young
people of the church; it gave wise direction to their
activities, It was a call, a summons from above, and it fell
upon waiting ears and responding, multitudes of youth awoke
to duty "for Christ and the Church." The young people's day
began to dawn. The best possible plan is for young people to
work under and in their respective denomiantions (sic), and
so it is natural that organizations for them should there be
formed. In Nebraska the
first Baptist Young People's state organization was formed, at the time of the regular state convention, on October 29, 1889, at Grand Island. After a suggestive program on the topic: "Our Denominational Need of Young People," Rev. L. W. Terry, pastor of the entertaining church, offered a plan for the organization of a Baptist Young People's state convention. It was accepted with enthusiasm and a permanent organization was at once effected; the first in existence. The Rev. T. B. Hughes was made president, Rev. J. O. Staples, vice-president, and Miss Lottie Zediker, secretary. Forty-eight delegates were present from thirty-two churches. A constitution was then adopted that seemed to serve as a model for those after-ward accepted for church, state, and nation. This meeting was held six months before the informal meeting in connection with the national anniversaries in Chicago, in May, 1890; a year before the founding of the young people's paper The Loyalist, and nearly two years before the first B.Y.P.U. national gathering in Chicago in July, 1891. At the first anniversary of this convention, in October, 1890, nearly forty societies were reported. Two resolutions were passed at that time: one recognizing "The Loyalist the first Baptist Young People's paper published in the country," just founded in Chicago, and one "favoring young people's organizations in church, association, state, and nation." With this beginning the Baptist Young People's Society has had a growth most remarkable, comparable to that of the Christian Endeavor Society.
Nebraska Baptists have led in stimulating systematic beneficence. They have formulated and put into successful operation what is called the "Nebraska Plan," the "Single Collecting Agency" for various denominational interests. Formerly too often soliciting for a cause would be by an appeal from some agent annually and a chance collection. Then the "Wheel Plan" came, a decided improvement but imperfect as a system. On October 5, 1910, in connection with the state convention that met in Grand Island a committee met and worked out a plan since known as the "Single Collection Agency." Its object is to unify all missionary work of beneficence, to give more time for missionary instruction and to push the "every member canvass." It recognizes the great fact that all missions are one; and aims to build up permanently a system of unified proportionate giving in all our churches. It also saves expense by combining the missionary and budget interests in one
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, OMAHA
office and under one secretary. This was in every way a
new scheme in the matter of Christian beneficence. Its
promoters traveled a way before untrodden. They blazed a
path through an untried field where no marks of pioneers
were to be seen to guide. The Rev. John W. Merrill is said
to have first advanced the thought of such a plan, seconded
by Drs. Sutherland and Pope. It was left, however, for Dr.
Wilson Mills to put it into actual working order. He was the
first state secretary for unified beneficence, serving from
November, 1910, to April, 1916; he was succeeded by Rev. C.
H. Bancroft. Has the plan
been successful? We quote from a recent statement furnished us by the first secretary, Dr. Mills: "This new plan from the very first struck the right note with almost all of our churches, and from that day on has been remarkably successful in advancing all the contributions of the churches for the cause of Christ. We had enough criticisms to make the work interesting and permanent. It was not long before Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois adopted the plan, and at present it would seem that some such plan will be recommended by the Northern Baptist Convention for all states." To this we add this word from Mr. Bancroft, the present secretary: "The contributions of our churches have increased between four and five hundred percent since this plan has been in operation, very largely owing to the new method of work." The states and the nation are adopting the "Nebraska Plan."
This state has been preëminently a Baptist missionary field, and is yet, to a great extent. It has not been, however, indifferent to world-wide calls for Christian service; it has become a missionary force. Thirty-eight years ago, in 1881, the first foreign missionary was sent abroad front Nebraska, and up to this time thirty-eight have gone to labor beyond the seas; a few were compelled to return, a few have changed earthly toil for heavenly rest, but the large majority are at work. Among the first to go were Rev. and Mrs. E. A. Carson, of Gibbon. They labored in Burma with little interruption from 1885 until Mr. Carson offered up his life on the field April 7, 1908. Now she alone, with true missionary spirit, is bringing the Light of the world to those in darkness. In the stately copy of the state minutes for 1917 one page is given to a mere list of our missionaries abroad headed: "Nebraska Baptist Honor Roll; our Contribution in Life to Missionary Service beyond the Seas." The page closes with this statement: "Nebraska Baptists, fifty years ago, contributed $13.00 to Foreign Missions, last year's contribution was $13,000.00." In the list there given one has gone to the Philippines, three to China, four to Africa, five to India, six each to Assam and Japan, and thirteen to Burma, the original Baptist mission field in the East. The total of years of service given by these thirty-eight missionaries is 350 to 375 years; the result of their labors is known above.
Thomas Carlyle made this statement: "History is condensed biography in its last analysis, being only men and women disclosing themselves through action." In that history of the church, at once of greatest antiquity and of greatest authority, the Book of Acts, that "continuous rolling scroll of human life," we have a record of only a generation of years, and without a comparison for brevity. But in those twenty-eight short chapters that could be read at a sitting are mentioned hundreds of names of men and women; actors in those early years. In these pages it is permitted to mention names that shine as bright, having wrought for the evangelization of the mighty West, of which Nebraska is a part.
In the ranks of Nebraska Baptists have
been men high in position and of strong influence. President
E. B. Andrews as educator and author, was well known
throughout the country; he was for eight years chancellor of
the State University. Thomas J. Morgan, D. D., was president
of the State Normal School at Peru in early years. Later he
served a number of years as secretary of the American
Baptist Home Mission Society. Hon. William O. Hasting, since
1876, has been prominent as author and instructor in the
legal profession. He is dean of the law school of the State
University. The Rev. Julius A. Leavitt, D.D., educator and
lecturer, is state superintendent for the Society of the
Friendless. As lawyers may be mentioned the names of H. H.
Baldridge, L. D. Holmes, John R. Webster, of Omaha, and Hon.
G. M. Lambertson, of Lincoln; business men, I. W. and J. V.
Carpenter, M. G. McLeod, of Omaha; C. A. Schappel, of Pawnee
City, nine years president of the state convention; William
Edgar, ten years treasurer of the convention; and D. M. Amsberry, of Broken Bow, recently elected secretary of state. Active in temperance and other reform work have been Rev. C. E. Bentley, of Surprise, H. F. Carson and Rev. S. Z. Batten, D.D., of Lincoln, the latter author of several critical works and chairman of the social service committee of Northern Baptist Convention and the same of the Baptist World Alliance. He is now leading a strenuous reform work in Philadelphia. Rev. J. W. Conley, D.D., eight years pastor of the First Church, Omaha, now of Fresno, California, is the author of several popular and critical volumes. The Rev. H. O. Rowlands, D.D., nine years pastor at Lincoln of the First Church, is prominent as a thinker and writer. Rev. E. V. Jorden, Ph.D., was pastor at Grand Island, seat of the denominational college, for ten years, a strong pastorate. During this time he solicited large amounts for the college, a gratuitous work. He also returned to Grand Island in 1916, becoming president of the college there. Some workers will be well remembered because of their long years of service in the state. Of these, Rev. F. K. Tyson must be mentioned. For twenty-five years his labors bore rich fruit in many fields, familiarly known as the pioneer home missionary. Of his biography, recently published, Dr. Bruce Kinney says: "No man is more worthy to have his deeds preserved to posterity." One who knew him well said: "Like Abraham Lincoln he was called from the common walks of life and was a self-made man." The Rev. O. A. Buzzell began his work here in 1873. A faithful toiler in the home field for a generation, he gave two daughters as foreign missionaries. Rev. B. Bedell was for nearly twenty years pastor at the educational center, Peru; the longest regular pastorate of our churches in the state, we believe. Rev. I. D. Newell was pioneer worker, organizer of churches, pastor, missionary director, and finally recorder of events as convention historian. We are tempted to linger here a little and quote a few lines from a printed sketch of his work; they will be as interesting to the reader as they are typical of pioneer life in the seventies: "Mr. Newell, educated in Shurtleff College and Crozer Theological Seminary, located a pioneer missionary in Glenville in 1872, driving from Upper Alton, Ill., in a spring wagon. His field was Clay and Adams counties, from Sutton on the east to Juniata on the west. For a year he traveled on foot, often walking 26 miles to an appointment; and at times the shades of night closed in on him far from any house and he slept in his blanket on the ground. In these years of service he organized several churches; Juniata in '72, Hastings in '73, Glenville in '79 among them. School houses, railroad depots, new store rooms and private homes furnished preaching places . . . Because of her prominence and efficiency as a worker and her early experiences and sacrifices Mrs. Newell may be mentioned. Often, with her young babe, she stayed alone night and day while her husband was away on a preaching trip, during which time she would see no living person except her child." Mr. and Mrs. Newell were both children of pioneer preachers in Illinois. They seemed to inherit the missionary spirit, and transmit it to their children, one of whom is now president of the state convention and another associational secretary of woman's home mission work.
At the first organized gathering of
Baptists in Nebraska, May 28, 1858, a resolution was passed
looking to the establishment of an institution of higher
learning. More than thirty years passed before definite
action was taken, when the offer of the city of Grand Island
was accepted. For a quarter of a century this institution
has been the most valuable asset, the most efficient factor,
the most uplifting force for public welfare the denomination
has possessed in the state. Thousands of young men and women
have gathered in its halls; its determining influence for
good on this large body of youth, who have gone out to make
society, is beyond estimate. Its scholarship has been of a
high grade. The first year the Rhodes scholarships were
offered this institution was the only college or university
in Nebraska that passed all the candidates who took the
Oxford examination. Its