It made me glad to hear them say, "Let's go to the house of the LORD!"
In the fall of 1948, a faithful group of believers established the First Baptist Church of Highland. Although there was already a small American Baptist church in the vicinity - Bethany Baptist Church, located about 5 miles outside the city limits in the rural area of Sebastopol - the founders of our church felt that an additional American Baptist church was needed in town to serve the needs of the growing community.
The fledgling church with its charter membership of 34 dedicated souls, held its first service on January 2, 1949 in rented space in the Kuhnen-Siegrist building near the Highland town square. Dr. Eldon Dittemore, a professor at Shurtleff College in Alton had agreed to serve as their first pastor on a part-time basis for a weekly salary of $25. Later, they hired the Rev. Jack Brown to be their first full time pastor.
In May of 1950, the growing congregation purchased a tract of land in the 13th block of Poplar Street, and there built their first building, laying the cornerstone on the completed project in May of 1953. The church offered Sunday morning and evening worship services, Sunday School classes for all ages, Baptist Youth Fellowship for the younger ones each week, an adult choir, Wednesday Family Night and prayer time, and an assortment of activities and fellowship opportunities to allow their members to grow closer to one another. From the outset, they were mission minded, supporting homeland and overseas missionaries in any way possible--through prayer, special offerings, personal contacts, and invitations to missionaries to visit the church to speak about their work. Their ABWM women's missionary group met monthly to roll bandages, make quilts, sew baby clothing, and generally provide whatever their overseas missionaries needed for their work. During one period, the ABW men even raised some cattle to sell, the proceeds of which were used to support missionary work both at home and abroad.
They began an outreach into the community, offering monthly worship services at Highland Home and other nursing facilities. For a time, their Sunday morning services were broadcast on the local radio station. They supported local charitable ministries, such as HACSM (the Highland area food bank), the Relevant Pregnancy Options Center, and the Shurtleff Foundation at SIUE. They handed out holiday food baskets to the needy and supported the work of the people at Hudelson Baptist Children's Home in Centralia IL by giving donations of cash and goods to the children housed there. They held Vacation Bible School each year, partnering with the people at Bethany Baptist to best serve the children of both congregations as well as those in the community at large.
Finally, they realized that their current building was simply not large enough, nor was it designed properly, to serve the growing needs of the congregation and the town in general. So they began planning for a renovation of the structure. However, God had something else in mind for them.
In February of 1997, an electrical malfunction caused a fire, and the church burned to the ground, luckily causing no harm to individuals, but completely destroying the building and its contents. The congregation was devastated. However, despite their shock and dismay, they quickly met to assess the situation. The congregation unanimously voted to rebuild the church building, and quickly formed committees to start work on this project. They chose Korte Construction to build the building in a different, much more spacious location which would allow for future expansion. As a tribute to the hard work and dedication of its members, the church itself continued to function as before throughout the time of planning and building, fully ministering to the needs of its members and the community from its temporary headquarters in the Highland High School commons area.
In May of 1998, our church held its first worship service in the new building. Since that time, we have continued to strive to follow the same path set by our founders over sixty years ago: To serve our members and their spiritual needs to the best of our ability; to seek out opportunities to minister to the needs of the community at large; to support our missions programs at home and abroad in every way possible; and to preach the Gospel of Christ and His saving grace to all who will hear. We prayerfully ask God's intercession in all that we do so that we can best serve him, according to his will for us.
We invite you to come and join us on our spiritual journey, begun in faith so many years ago and continuing on into a future whose only certainty is Christ's love and redeeming grace. You will find Him in us and among us. Come and accept Him into your heart and let us share His joy with you!