Reedley and Religion, Part II: The First Baptist Church

Sep 11, 2010 | Contributors, Hometown History, Jim Bulls, Ministry Musings, Reedley News

by Jim Bulls

This is part two in a series of articles on the history of churches in Reedley.

The second church to be organized in Reedley was the First Baptist. The congregation was organized at Wahtoke School in 1888. They met at the school and then in the vacant United Brethren Church until they opened their doors on the corner of Eleventh and E streets in 1891.

photo submitted by Jim Bulls

First Baptist Church, c. 1895 (corner of 11th & E Streets) – notice the chicken and the dirt roads

The history of the Baptists takes us back to England in 1400 AD, to the decree of Henry the IV to burn heretics at the stake. His first victim was William Santre, described as Lollard and Baptist. His “crime” was refusing infant baptism and rejecting the Catholic Church as being biblical. In all, close to 550 Baptists were executed.

When the Baptists came to America, they fared little better as the established churches in the colonies still had the mindset of an official state church. As heretics, they were put in stocks, tarred, feathered, and run out of town. One such believer, a converted Anglican priest named Roger Williams, was driven out of Salem in the dead of winter. He found refuge among the Indians in Rhode Island and they sold him land for a church. Williams built the first recognized Baptist Church in America in 1638. In 1663, King Charles II wrote the royal charter for the colony and in essence granted freedom of religion to the people. A historic moment, as it was the first time in history that a world power granted religious freedom.

Baptists believe in separation of church and state, as no man or country is more powerful than the Word of God. This impressed early politicians such as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson and was written into our Declaration of Independence. Baptists also believe that the church is made up of saved believers. As a believer, you are your own priesthood to God and you believe in the autonomy of the local church.

The early Reedley congregation grew and in the early 1920s, they again used the empty UB church while renovations were taking place at their building at Eleventh and E streets. The congregation remodeled the building again in 1950, this time by moving the original building across the back of the property and building a new sanctuary. In the 1970s, the congregation bought land on the corner of Reed and Parlier and ended up selling half to the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS).

Construction on the new LDS church started immediately, and the Baptist congregation was inspired to start their own building project as well. Their old church building was sold to the First United Methodist congregation and the two churches met in the same building until the Baptists finished theirs in 1977.

Remodeled church building, mid 1970s—the Methodists installed their stained glass windows from their old church; the two congregations shared the building

Redeemer's Church

After 120 years, some major changes have taken place for the First Baptist congregation. A Baptist Church is not required to have the word “Baptist” in their church name, so recently the First Baptist Church of Reedley became known as the Redeemer’s Church and is a part of the “Growing Healthy Churches” movement initiated by the American Baptist Churches of the West. So it seems, as far as history goes, the second church established in Reedley is also gone.

Jim Bulls is a contributor to our Hometown History section, being a charter member of the Reedley Historical Society; he also restores vintage cars.


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