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First Baptist Church in DeKalb celebrates 170 years

hen Joan Mosher was a child, she gave herself over to God in the church her ancestors founded more than 100 years earlier.

“I felt him in my heart,” Mosher said. “So, I went to the alter and accepted him. I just knew I wanted to serve the Lord.”

Mosher will help that church, DeKalb’s First Baptist Church, celebrate its 170th anniversary this month.

The church will mark the occasion on Oct. 12 by honoring 16 people who have been members for more than 50 years and the Revs. John and Ruth Peterson, who served the church and the Judson Campus Ministry for years.

The church’s roots trace back to 1844 when 10 people met in Dorcus Goodell’s log cabin for a prayer meeting and to discuss establishing a church. At the time, church member Elaine Goodwin said, DeKalb didn’t have any churches.

Goodell, the woman who offered her log cabin for the first prayer meeting, was Mosher’s great-great-great-grandmother. Mosher said her family has been part of the church since, and continues on with her children being members.

“You do feel a sense of heritage and legacy,” Mosher said. “There’s a real sense of belonging.”

The church officially started on Oct. 15, 1844. For the first 10 years, the congregation met at a school near Route 23 and Barber Greene Road.

As DeKalb continued to grow, church leaders decided to build a wood frame church at the corner of Third and Prospect streets in 1855. The congregation also grew, pushing leaders to demolish the wooden structure and replace it with a two-story brick building in 1884. The current sanctuary is part of the 1884 building, which has been expanded several times.

Compassion from the community has been key to the past 170 years, Goodwin said. Barbed wire legend Jacob Haish donated the church’s first organ. One of the congregation’s favorite stories comes from the 1930s when members roasted and sold peanuts in the church kitchen to pay off building debt.

Church members also fill the church with their personal memories. Goodwin came to the church the first Sunday she moved to DeKalb in 1958. She and her late husband saw their three daughters baptized and married in the church.

“We personally have found our nearest and dearest friends within the church membership,” Goodwin said.

The people are what keeps interim pastor Bob Edwards at the First Baptist Church. He served as the youth pastor for a dozen years before becoming the interim pastor last year.

While he’s admittedly still learning the best method for preaching, he feels comfortable among the 85-or-so members who attend services each Sunday morning. He also loves the service, which blends contemporary and traditional aspects of worship.

“When we make mistakes, I don’t feel like people are judging each other,” Edwards said. “They love people here.”

Among the loving people are the Petersons, who served as pastors for the Judson Campus Ministry, the church’s college arm, from 1962 to 1999. During the Sunday service on Oct. 12, the Rev. John Peterson will deliver the sermon.

Over the years, John Peterson said, they baptized a number of people in the sanctuary. Under the Baptist tradition, people are baptized after they become believers. They said it’s a privilege to be able to be a part of someone ushering in a new life through baptism. They also cherish bonding with other members in different walks of life.

“There have been a lot of people who have a legacy here,” Ruth Peterson said. “People are committed to the kingdom and helping others.”


If you go:

WHAT: First Baptist Church's 170th Anniversary Celebration

WHERE: 349 S. Third St., DeKalb

WHEN: 9:30 a.m. Oct. 12


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