The First Baptist story began on an Easter Sunday, April 28, 1909, when a group of 6 women and one man met in the First Methodist Church to organize the First Baptist Church of Casper, Wyoming. Filled with a deep sense of humility, a love for mankind, and combining breadth of vision with courage and endurance, truly launching out on an uncharted course, those seven were the first witnesses to a congregation whose chief characteristic was to be an invincible, surging spirit that has ever sought new growth in greater service.
Guiding the destiny of the early church the Reverend George L. White, Missionary for Utah and Wyoming, nourished the spirit and strengthened the little band of witnesses: Edith M. Culton, Mrs. John W. Walker, Mrs. Hannah Demorest, Mrs. H.O. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. L.R. Ness and Mrs. M.V. William.
In September of that year, our Sunday School was organized with membership of 22 under the able leadership of Brother W.R. Howell. A store building was secured as a house of worship and fifty chairs were borrowed from the town hall. A small organ was donated by the Galilee Baptist Church of Denver. These furnishings, with a few song books provided by the Pastor, constituted the furnishings with which the work began for Christ.
At the first business meeting of the church, Sept. 9, 1909, action was taken to call Bro. W.R. Howell to serve as Pastor until a permanent pastor was appointed.
Reverend E.P. Hoyt of Manhattan, Montana, was called as the first pastor and reached Casper, November 27, 1909. In January, 1910, Reverend Hoyt led the first business meeting of his pastorate with three members present. Our first new member of record was received. Sister Jessie Kelper came on experience from Boise, Idaho. The first bills presented were: electric light meter - $5.00, electric lights - $1.50, and sign for building - $3.00. We found the following note in the old minutes: “As we had no money in the church treasury, we agreed to ask the Ladies’ Mission Circle to pay the bills and the January rent from the proceeds of a bake sale held January 15, 1910.”
In February, the church became a legal body, and the trustees were authorized to file Articles of Incorporation in both Casper and Cheyenne. Reverend Hoyt died Feb. 25th, 1910, as a result of pneumonia following surgery.
The Reverend R.R. Hopton, Pastor of the first Baptist Church of Danville, Iowa, accepted the call extended by the church and arrived on the field, July 6th, 1910. Under the pastoral leadership of Reverend Hopton, work was begun on a new building which was erected on lots purchased by the Church on the corner of 5th and Beech Street. The first services were held in the new building Nov.20, 1910. On Dec.18, 1910, the new building was dedicated. Brother and Sister Dismuke were received by letter from the First Baptist Church of Brownwood, Texas, Oct.4, 1911.
Slowly, but steadily the spirit grew stronger and took new heart in its purpose under the leadership of Reverend A.J. Hanson, Jan.1915-1917; Reverend R.H. Moorman, Aug.1918-July 1919.
Our next pastor Dr. R.L. Lemons, remained on the field for a period of nine months. The “basement”, as we once knew it, was built during the ministry of our next pastor, the Reverend C.M. Thompson, (1920-1923). In 1923 the second unit of the basement of the church was built, the original frame building which housed the church was given to a group of Baptists in the southwest side of the city and a church was organized through the work of the chapel car evangelist, F.I. Blanchard, and named the Emmanuel Baptist Church. However, the Refineries closed up and Casper had many men looking for work and large numbers of families moved away. Of course, our church suffered with the rest. Emmanuel closed its doors and even the church building for the Evansville mission was stolen. Reverend L.S. Bowerman (1924-1926) and Reverend C.F. Acree (1927-1929) were our Pastors during these trying times. Ed Moyle remembers one scary night shortly after the basement structure was erected. “It was during a Sunday evening service,” he says, “and I was ushering. Without warning the doors burst open and half a dozen Ku Klux Klansmen came in. I didn’t know what to do. They didn’t say a word. One of them marched down the aisle, handed the pastor a contribution to the building fund, then they all left. It was during that period that Waco Hill remembers a significant commitment on the part of several members. The church had mortgage payments to make and money was tight. Several of the members took out bank loans on their own homes to help with the church’s indebtedness. “And we did not know where the money was going to come from to pay off our personal loans,” said Wace, “it was an act of faith.”
When Dr. Austin came to be our pastor in 1930, a paving debt was long overdue and was not paid in full until 1935. Reverend Emmanuel Payne came to the field in 1936 and served until the year of World War II in 1941.
This led to the calling, in 1942, of Reverend H. Allison McHenry of Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Plans were made immediately to continue the building program. The church made great strides in membership, spiritual growth and material wealth. Miss Jimmie Bichner was added to the church staff to work in the capacity of Director of Education and Recreation. An extensive youth program was inaugurated in the program of the church to emphasize the over-all-needs-of youth. During this pastorate many improvements were made. The old parsonage was sold and the property at 522 South Beech was purchased for a pastor’s home. A new Hammond Organ was purchased in 1945. The tremendous growth of our church in those years necessitated the outreach into another area of town. The Bethel Baptist Church was organized in 1945, in the Westridge area of Casper. In 1948 a temporary children’s building was erected on the back of the church lots. In 1950 a dream was realized and a new Sanctuary, built at a cost of $125,000.00, was dedicated on June 4, 1950. The growth of the physical plant was not the only mark of this latest surge of the spirit. The First Baptist Church blossomed out into one of the leading churches of Casper exhibiting a largeness of spirit beyond its physical size.
An energetic young man, the Reverend W. Berkeley Ormond, from Colgate Rochester Divinity School, came to the pastorate in 1952. Further improvements were made on the present Sanctuary with the installation of an air-conditioned unit. His youthful enthusiasm inspired several young people to dedicate their lives to church-related vocations. He moved to Oregon in 1956.
But the Lord who had multiplied the initial blessing of the Spirit continued to guide and protect as He led the Reverend Heinz H. Grabia to become the fourteenth pastor to the First Baptist Church in 1957. Under his ministry the church constructed its present Christian Education facility. Pastor Grabia organized the Downtown Men’s Bible Class held at the Petroleum Club for many years. An active participant with the Y.M.C.A., he made a world tour as an international director. During this turbulent era of the sixties he helped the congregation enlarge their vision in opening its arms to members of the black church in north Casper which was closing its doors. At the business meeting when integration was considered, Silas Jones stated that “I grew up in Tennessee. This action goes against everything I have been taught. But it is right and it is Christian, so I will have to change my ways.” Change his ways, he did, and Si Jones continues to be a loyal member of the church, being the first one to be elected as Deacon Emeritus. Rev. Grabia ended his ministry in 1965.
It was the Reverend Dr. Clifford G. Hansen who became the next pastor. He came from pasturages and denominational work. Most remembered about his ministry were a very sensitive pastoral heart and the diligent calling he did among members and newcomers alike. A ministry to Job corps personnel was begun. It was under his leadership that the church went victoriously through the World Mission Campaign. During his tenure the church also paid off the mortgage on the Christian education wing—ahead of schedule.
Canadian born Roy Pitts was called to be pastor in 1969. His bubbling optimistic personality was manifest in sparkling sermons. He made a strong impression on the children in his ministry with them. Concerned about community outreach he was active in the Alcoholic Anonymous program. He led the church in acquiring the two lots on the south end of the property which then gave the congregation the complete half block between Fifth and Sixth, Beech and the alley. His ministry ended in 1973.
Coming as an assistant minister to Mr. Pitts in 1970, current Pastor Dwayne Axworthy was called to that position in October 1973. Under his leadership, the Jesus Generation, a youth singing group, was formed. In 1971 he began a tradition that still continues in the annual pack trip, a significant ministry for many of our youth. There was an explosive mission’s emphasis which saw the church increase its mission giving from 10% to 22% of its budget. The overall budget tripled. The church opened its doors to Casper’s Senior Citizens for three years for daily luncheons until they could secure a facility of their own. Launched were a number of small group home Bible studies. A monthly Men’s Luncheon was started in an attempt to reach out to the community. The church graciously allowed time and money for Pastor Axworthy to secure his Doctor of Ministry degree which he received in 1982. “One of the better things about my ministry here,” he states. “is the calling of Dick Stratford as Associate Pastor in 1981. With his vibrant family a new dimension has been added, especially to young adult ministry.”
In 1989, Dwayne Axworthy stepped down as Senior Pastor and will be remembered for his strengths in organization and shepherding the flock at First Baptist church.
While the church looked for someone to pastor the church, Scotty Walker served as the Interim pastor. His strength was in relationship building.
In 1991, Pastor James O. Tinzmann, and his strong ability to communicate in his writings was the Pastor until 1998 when Soozi Ford served as Interim Pastor. Soozi was strong in teaching and women’s ministries.
The relationship between pastor and the church membership during the period from 1973 to 1998 was strong and supportive. Both the congregation and the pastors were traditional so during those years there was very little conflict. The pastors during this time exhibited strengths in organization, shepherding, teaching, relationship building communication and women’s ministries.
In the late 1990’s, it became evident that the dynamics of our congregation was changing. Pastor Wes Connell was hired to guide us through the transformation of worship style from a traditional church to a more contemporary church. It was during this period that many of our members who were deeply rooted in the traditional worship heritage left the church to join with other churches that worshipped in the style in which they were accustomed.
In 1998, Wes Connell was called to be the pastor. Wes was strong in his ability to change and reorganize as well as his strength in preaching. During the ministry of Wes Connell, our church moved from a traditional church to a contemporary style. Key individuals helped toward this movement like, Bill Mitchell, who helped spearhead the rewriting of the constitution and bylaws from a legalistic corporate type of procedure and structure to what we believe to be a more Biblical approach. Worship leader, Kent Neubert, implemented contemporary music to the worship service enhancing our time of worship and he continues to lead and be an incredible blessing to many.
During these transitions, the development and implementation of the Elders board occurred which now takes responsibility for church operations and ministries. The Elders of First Baptist Church work with the Teaching Elder, which is the Pastor to Shepherd and serve the church to fulfill the purpose God has given to our church. The Elders along with the Trustees and ministry Council serve as a governing body based more on grace and love than laws and rules.
Another significant change during these years is our move to become a purpose driven church and the establishment of our mission statement; To glorify and exalt God in all that we do through the ministries of Worship; Discipleship; Evangelism; Fellowship; Missions.
We can see even today how this mission statement has enhanced the purpose of First Baptist Church. In the area of worship, a vibrant music ministry has been established that reflects God’s grace and redemption. They call themselves, Prisoners of Hope. A dynamic dance team, drama team and audio/visual team contributes greatly to what God is doing in our time of worship. The worship has become an incredible part of the life of our church as grace is freely given and a sense of family is firmly established.
In the area of Discipleship, our church seeks to meet the need for spiritual growth through classes offered on Sunday Mornings, as well as through our CARE groups and Women and Men’s ministries. Spiritual growth is a necessary part of our journey with Christ and the result is that many lives are being changed.
We have a heart and a burden for those seeking the love of God and in the area of Evangelism our church led in an evangelistic endeavor called “Praise in the Park.” This event went beyond the walls of the church and united the body of Christ in Casper, as well as witnessed to our community. It was attended by 800-1000 people. There is also an openness to new members as we seek to be relevant and sensitive to our community and those seeking what only Christ can provide; significance through a relationship with Him and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
In the area of Fellowship, a strong bond has been developed among those that chose to stay at First Baptist. There is a real sense of love for one another and a desire to do life together. A strong small group ministry has also been developed that creates a place for fellowship and Bible Study and establishes a strong sense of community.
Missions has always been an emphasis of First Baptist Church and in the last five years going on Short-term mission trips to Romania, Brazil, Costa Rica, as well as different locations in the USA has taken on a significant role. Our mission giving has been maintained as we support both national and international mission offerings of the American Baptist Church as well as many ministries locally.
In May of 2006, John Marshall was called to be the twentieth pastor of First Baptist Church. After serving 10 years in Brazil as a missionary John and his family became more than just ministers but part of the family. John brought a unique combination of Biblical understanding coupled with a creative practical approach to preaching and counseling. With an emphasis on building relationships and keeping everything real and authentic we have seen a significant growth bringing young families and young people to our church.
In June of 2011, Trevor Schubert was called to First Baptist Church as the Associate Pastor/Youth Pastor. Prior to his calling to First Baptist, Trevor served in the Air Force for 6 years and then completed a Bachelors degree from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Trevor and his family have been called to serve the local church and they have a particular love for the students.
In January of 2012, John Marshall resigned from the position of Pastor of First Baptist Church. During this time, the Elders served as a plurality, spreading pastoral responsibilities among themselves and delegating other vital responsibilities to strong Christian leaders within the church. We were so blessed to have such a strong biblical model of leadership set in place.
In May, 2012 FBC called Pastor Don and his wife Marlen Young to be our Interim Senior Pastor. We are excited about what God is doing in us and through us to bring glory to Himself. We look forward to all that God will accomplish through this time of transition.
In March of 2013, the Elders asked John Marshall to return to First Baptist Church as pastor. Until May of 2013, Don Young and John Marshall shared the responsibilities of senior pastor until Don's time as interim came to an end.
We see today after over 100 years that God has been involved in our church from the very beginning, shaping and molding us to be the family of God that he desires us to be. God is preparing us to reach the next generations with the message and hope that only Jesus Christ can bring. When the seven that began our church in 1909, on that Easter Morning, I don’t think they ever envisioned what God would have in store through the next 100 years but there is no question that what God began he will also see it come to fruition.
When they launched out into uncharted waters they launched with an invincible surging spirit. It was God calling them out to follow them. It was God who has charted the course through the years. It was God and God alone who has led us to this place. From the seeds more than a 100 years ago, we who call ourselves members of First Baptist Church, are part of that fruit. We are part of that vision that God placed in the hearts of the first seven members and has been carried by the many that came through this family. We, as a church, are here to be apart of what God is going to do in the years ahead - until Jesus Christ returns.