History of the First Baptist Church of Long Beach
The word History is actually two words – His story. The history of the First Baptist Church is God’s story of how He works through and uses men to accomplish His work. As we learn of the great accomplishments of the pastors and people of our church, may we ever keep in mind it is only through God’s power that anything is accomplished for Him.
Every great work of God starts with the burden of a man. In the case of the First Baptist Church of Long Beach, that man was J.C. Alair. Mr. Alair and his wife came to Long Beach in 1894 and found no Baptist organization of any kind in the city. In fact, out of the 654 people in town, they found only six other Baptists.
Desiring to have a Baptist church in Long Beach, the Alairs invited those six people to their home for a prayer meeting. This prayer meeting was the seed from which the First Baptist Church of Long Beach was to be developed.
The prayer meetings turned into a Sunday School. Matthew Pickle’s Hall was rented for $5 per month for one year. After one year, another hall above the Steven’s Hardware Store became home for the Sunday School.
Then on May 20, 1894, fifteen people organized the First Baptist Church of Long Beach.
In March, 1895, under the direction of Pastor S.S. Fisk, the church built their first building (Pastor Fisk being the head carpenter).
Five years later, Pastor Brooks led the church to purchase a larger building from the Methodists.
Then in 1906, Pastor J. Lewis Smith boldly led the church to build a building on the corner of 4th & Locust which would become the home for the church for the next 44 years.
In February, 1912, Dr. George Knights became the pastor and for the next 15 years the church increased both numerically and spiritually.
Dr. Knights led the church to greater heights in many areas:
- The West Side Mission was started
- The East Side Mission was started and became Immanuel Baptist Church
- A Sunday School building was built in 1921
- A dream of Dr. Knights was to balance the church budget with the Missions budget. In 1913, for example, the total church budget was $11,000: $6000 was for the church and the Missions giving was $5000
- He led in starting the Virginia City church in 1924
- When he resigned after fifteen fruitful years:
The church membership had grown from 564 to 1483
The Sunday school attendance grew from 447 to 746
The missions giving increased from $3100 to $25,000
The next pastor was Dr. Ralph Jensen from Chicago. He would lead the church for the next ten years. These were very difficult and trying years for the church and the nation. He held the church steadily during the Great Depression. He also was the pastor during the terrible Long Beach earthquake of 1933, which did much damage to the church building - so much that the church could not use the building for over 7 weeks afterwards. God truly sent this strong, steady man to lead during those tough times.
On March 1, 1939, the beloved Dr. Winfield Edson was extended a unanimous call to become the pastor of First Baptist Church. His ministry was marked by keen fiscal management and a sharp spiritual desire for growth in the church.
He led the church to retire the mortgage, freeing up the church for future growth. His desire was like that of Dr. Knights in that he wanted to see the church budget and the missions budget balanced.
The church grew quickly under Dr. Edson’s leadership, and people were being turned away from a full building on Sunday mornings. Soon, an architect was hired to draw up plans for a new building on the 4th & Locust location. A building fund was started and grew to $200,000 in two short years. City building restrictions and the shortage of parking availability, however, led the church to abandon the plans for the new building and look for a new location.
A survey was taken concerning how people came to the church. It was discovered that:
656 people came in cars
475 people rode city buses
291 people walked
These facts lead the church to stay in the downtown area of Long Beach. With money already in the building fund, a large piece of property on the corner of 10th & Pine was purchased for $137,000 cash on May 13, 1948.
The church hired an architect and decided that when the money on hand reached $250,000 then the work would begin.
In May, 1949, the church building on 4th & Locust was sold for $225,000 with the agreement that the church could continue to meet at that location for one year rent free.
Construction was completed one year after the architect’s plans were drawn. The First Baptist Church of Long Beach met in its new building for the first time on October 1, 1950. The building was completed at a cost of $967,000 with all the furnishings.
Two services were held:
9:00 AM with 1712 in attendance
11:00 AM with 1648 in attendance
Open house from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM - 5,000 visitors.
Six years later, Dr. Edson made plans for a Sunday School addition and started having fundraising dinners with all the adult classes for pledge commitments. In two short months, they brought in sufficient pledges for the announcement to be made by Dr. Edson on Sunday morning that the pledges were enough to proceed with construction plans. Unfortunately, he suffered a heart attack in his study before that service.
The staff took over immediate duties and the building committee announced the successful completion of the fundraising campaign. Dr. Edson improved from his heart attack, was able to be home within 30 days, and was writing letters to the people through The Beacon, a church newsletter. He announced to the people that he expected to return to the pulpit by May for limited service, and the people were encouraged and approved the building plan.
Their hopes were dashed, however, and shock spread through the church family when Dr. Edson suffered a second heart attack and passed away on April 18, 1956.
Christ Chapel was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Edson in May of that year.
Dr. Frank Kepner was called to be the pastor and the church continued on. Under Dr. Kepner’s ministry there were several highlights:
- Fearing the church was not reaching the youth and desiring that the church not die out due to lack of young people coming up in the church, a gymnasium was built for the enrichment of the teen department.
- January, 1959, the church started having two church services on Sunday morning.
- The first bus was purchased on Sept. 20, 1960.
- The Spanish ministry was started in 1966.
- The West lot was purchased for parking for $125,000.
- In 1968, major remodeling of the auditorium and air conditioning for the entire building were the key projects.
Dr. Kepner’s ministry continued for a total of 23 years, making him the longest tenured pastor to date.
Mark Buebeck was the co-pastor along with Dr. Kepner for three years helping to transition from Dr. Kepner’s 23 years of faithful service to the church.
Hans Finzel was the interim pastor for approximately one year, committing to help the church until another pastor could be found.
September, 1980, Dr. Larry Chappell became pastor, and in 1983, led the church out of the American Baptist Convention, which was becoming liberal. Under Dr. Chappell’s ministry, the church became even more an international ministry.
Dr. Chappell came to Long Beach after serving as a missionary in Korea, and with a heart for the Korean people, he started the Korean ministry by hiring Dr. Kim in 1984, to be the first Korean Pastor of First Baptist Church.
The bus ministry grew rapidly with the church having 13 bus routes.
Dr. Chappell had a vision for growth and led the church to purchase buildings for future parking lots.
A new surge of evangelism was under way with many people saved and baptized during these years.
First Baptist Church School was started in 1987.
Fundamental Baptist Bible Institute began in 1991.
The Filipino ministry was started, as well, during this time.
In 1992, Mark Chappell became the pastor. The church was drawing heavily from the naval bases in Long Beach, but, as part of the downsizing of the military at that time, and with no warning, the church lost many families during his first three years as pastor. Every aspect of the ministry was affected as deacons, choir members, Sunday school teachers, bus workers, and nursery workers were being shipped out to other parts of the world. At one point, almost two families were leaving each week.
Some highlights from these years:
- The Cambodian ministry was started.
- Capital improvements to an aging building were accomplished, including new A/C for the auditorium at a cost of $100,000.
- A Sunday School class for the homeless was started.
James F. Allen became the interim pastor in May, 1999, during a difficult transition. Bro. Allen continued to faithfully preach the Gospel each Sunday and many souls were saved and baptized. The deacons, meanwhile, were searching and praying for God’s will concerning a pastor. Bro. Allen presently serves as an Assistant Pastor, School Administrator, Financial Mananger, and a valuable asset to the Church family and his pastor.
2000 - Present
On June 4, 2000, Pastor John Wilkerson became the 18th pastor of the First Baptist Church of Long Beach. The Sunday School has grown from an average of 849, when he came in 2000, to an average of 1700 for the year 2010.
One Hundred Ten years of history, but that is all in the past. We now look to the future as we seek, pray, and work to do God’s will for us here in Long Beach during our time.
Warren Wiersbe became pastor of the historic Moody Memorial Church in Chicago in 1971. When he was asked how he felt to be the pastor of such a famous church, he made a great statement:
"HATS OFF TO THE PAST; COATS OFF TO THE FUTURE."
He was saying that we honor those who came before us and paved the way - hats off to them. But now it is our turn to serve here at First Baptist Church, and so we take our coats off for the work God has for us now.
May we, the members of First Baptist Church of Long Beach, so live our lives, that when the history is reviewed of “OUR TIME”, future generations will hear of the continued hand of God on this place.
Chronological listing of the pastors of First Baptist Church
C.W. Gregory, April 22, 1894 - December 19, 1894
S.S. Fisk, March 3, 1895 - February 14, 1897
H.M. Bell, June 3, 1897 - August 21, 1898
B.A. Copass, September 7, 1898 - February 1, 1899
E.H. Brooks, October 22, 1899 - January 26, 1901
F.L. Norton, May 29, 1901 - January 31, 1905
J. Lewis Smith, April 19, 1905 - April 13, 1910
George M. Lehigh, August 10, 1910 - October 15, 1911
George D. Knights, February 28, 1912 - January 1, 1927
G. W. Cassidy, February 9, 1927 - March 27, 1928
Ralph A. Jensen, March 28, 1928 - November 1, 1938
Winfield Edson, March 1, 1939 - April 18, 1956
Frank Kepner, August 29, 1956 - April 28, 1977
Mark I. Bubeck, April 29, 1977 - October 7, 1979
Hans Finzell, October 11, 1979 - November 30, 1980
Larry Chappell, December 1, 1980 - January 31, 1992
Mark A. Chappell, Feburary 1, 1992 - May 23, 1999
James F. Allen, June 16, 1999 - June 3, 2000
John Wilkerson, June 4, 2000 - February 10, 2013
James F. Allen, February 11, 2013 - August 11, 2013
Michael Jones, August 11, 2013 - Present