But, in our corner of the world, International Falls, Minnesota, one item has remained true. First Baptist Church of International Falls has endeavored to shine the light of the Gospel to this community and around the world. It is our hope that the sharing of our history will be an encouragement to the current congregation as well as those who are just visiting us on the World Wide Web.
In the years prior to the time when a church building was made available, meetings were held on the banks of the Rainy River. Missionaries of any denomination who happened to be in the vicinity would call a meeting and everyone attended.
For a while meetings were held in the new log school house. People of all denominations would gather, each with his own hymn book. Mrs. Anna Fraser who resided across the street from the 900 Third Street building recalled in a 1974 Daily Journal article, "At one of the meetings the group decided to sing 'Nearer My God To Thee.' All agreed on the first verse, but when we begun to sing the second verse the words in the Catholic hymnals were different and I found myself finishing the hymn all alone," she said.
Some of the meetings were held in the evening - by lantern light - with one person holding the hymnal and the other the lantern.
The church was the hub of this border town's social life, then known as Koochiching, and pioneer residents say the stores and saloons alike closed for church suppers.
God brought together men, women and children to form First Baptist Church.
The first building was built on lots along the Rainy River now occupied by Boise. As the mill town of International Falls grew, other church denominations were established and many of the original church members moved away. Everyone was eager to help make the building of a church a reality and gave of their time and money.
The new edifice was dedicated. A sermon was preached by Dr. O A Williams of the Home Mission Society, Minnesota Baptist Convention.
Of the total cost of the building and furnishings ($1,250), $600 was contributed by the state convention and the Home Missions Society. The balance was raised locally.
Was supplied by the Pastors Steinhoff and Walker from the Minnesota Baptist Convention and Pastor Charles Segworth of Fort Frances, Ontario.
The first full time pastor was James Steeson who came in May 1904. One of the first items purchased by the church was a bell to call the people to worship. Pastor Steeson left in May 1905 and the church services were conducted by Joe Biddesar, a layman from Fort Frances.
Lots were purchased at the 900 Third Street site and the building was moved to that location. In August 1906, H. H. Fuller became pastor, staying until 1909. In December 1907 the church voted to buy an organ. They had $25 in the treasury. In 1910 John Oliver became pastor. The first Ladies Aid Society was organized and begun two major projects in that year - a new brick chimney for the church and building a parsonage. For the next several months the pulpit was supplied by Pastors Reisinger, Hulett, Kinsbury, Veits, Pape, Sundstrom, Hiltin and Ballbach.
From 1911 to 1914, Walter Duff from Ireland took over the pastorate. He was ordained to the Gospel ministry on November 21, 1911. In 1914 the church purchased their first communion service set at a cost of $7.97. The set was to be paid for by offerings received at each communion service. Several months later the church still owed $3.89 with only a nickel in the treasury with which to pay the bill.
Pastors from 1915 to 1922 included: William Gross (1915-1916), C.L. Kingsbury (1917-1919) and A.M. Whitby (1922-1923). The church became progressively weaker from 1922 to 1924 when no records were kept. In the spring of 1924 the Minnesota Baptist Convention sent Pastor and Mrs. Fernlund to International Falls hoping they could stimulate the work. They served the area people for six months.
The task of rebuilding the work. Pastor Sims remodeled the parsonage to "... make it livable," and also added a glassed in front porch. He then began an extensive program in the church.
When the project was complete, the church had a 40 x 72 foot basement, the auditorium was enlarged, new pews installed and many new classrooms were added. The cost was about $1,000. Dr. Sims raised almost the entire amount while here on the field. The church was rededicated on June 21, 1926.
When Pastor Sims began his ministry to First Baptist Church, there was a membership of 29. When he left in July 1926, the membership had increased to 68. E. L. True served as interim pastor for the balance of 1926.
Pastor Steward Bain served from 1927 to 1929 with a large number of young people being saved. In May 1929 Pastor and Mrs. E.M. Roberts, Jr took over the ministry. Pastor Roberts instituted Sunday School teacher training and awards for perfect attendance in Sunday School. About this time, Pastor Rasmussen, Executive Secretary of the Minnesota Baptist Convention suggested the Littlefork and International Falls churches share a pastor so as to lesson the financial burden on the convention. The Littlefork congregation chose to call their own pastor. Churches at Bemidji, Parkers Prairie and Austin helped pay the International Falls pastor's salary with monthly gifts totaling $250.
When Pastor Roberts resigned in 1931, Pastor Roy McGregor of Fort Frances served on a part time basis. Until spring of 1936 he preached once on Sunday, held a midweek service and did pastoral work two days a week. Pastor Charles Davis came in May 1936 and served until September 1939. James Austin came in 1941 and stayed about a year. Pastor Olaf Palm served from 1942 to 1944. In 1944 Russell Wood accepted the pastorate of First Baptist Church.
He began a "Joy Club" for girls, a radio ministry on Sunday morning and let the church to adopt a constitution. Fire damaged the church building November 27, 1945, and it underwent extensive repair.
Pastor Wood resigned in April 1946 and was succeeded by William Collier who stayed from November 1946 to October 1947.
Pastor William Shroyer and family came the winter of 1948. During his ministry there was a parsonage fire. The church voted to incorporate but did not follow through on the vote. Bibles were placed in the pew racks and a five year plan for making the church financially independent from the Baptist Convention was worked out. The church adopted the plan and discontinued the radio broadcast in 1949. Pastor Shroyer resigned that same year.
From August 1949 to April 1951, Mark Hauseman pastored the Falls congregation.
The Henry Weins family came in 1951. During his ministry, the church revised the constitution, voted to incorporate (and did), laid a new concrete floor in the basement and built a fireplace. The area was dedicated as a youth chapel and the fireplace was donated in memory of Kenneth Carew, one of the church's young people who died of leukemia. The fireplace was built of native stones by Andrew Simons, a local stone mason and member of the church. A bus ministry was, established in 1951.
Pastor Weins left in 1956.
Pastor and Mrs. Moody Stewart came in 1957.
During the Stewart's ministry much repair and remodeling was completed in the building.
They led strong youth and evangelism programs until they moved on in 1960.
Pastor Arno Weniger II and family came that year and in four years led the church to send $500 to the Baptist Home Mission Society to help retire the church mortgage, tile the basement floor, celebrate its 60th Anniversary, license two of its young people to preach (Ron Simons and Gerald Dahlvang), and become part of the Conservative Baptist Convention.
Pastor Weniger and his family left in 1964 and later became the President of Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, Wisconsin.
Pastor Morris Bender and his family came to minister to First Baptist Church in May of 1965. During the years of his ministry the following events were of significance:
August 1972 - The church voted to build a new building on lots on Shorewood Drive.
July 1974 - Ground breaking for the new building ($42,000 in the building fund).
November 1974 - Contractors finished their work and members began moving the furnishings into new building.
December 1974 - First preaching service in the new building.
In May 1985 Pastor Bender resigned after 20 years of service to the International Falls area. He and his family moved to serve in the Green Bay, Wisconsin area.
The highlight of the year was the mortgage burning for the new building - September 14, 1986. Other special ministries Pastor and Marilyn Crane introduced to the church family were:
Pastor Crane resigned in 1996 to become the President of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, Minnesota.
In April of 1997 Pastor and Mrs. Ken Gardner accepted the pastorate of First Baptist Church and served until December of 1998. One highlight of their ministry included the purchase of an electronic piano.
The church was struck by lightning twice. The second time was August 16th, 1998, in the afternoon, ten years to the date and nearly to the exact hour after the first time the steeple was struck. Is it any wonder the membership decided not to rebuild the steeple after it was struck the second time? Damage to the church was estimated at about $25,000.
In November of 1999 Pastor and Mrs. Shane Belding accepted the pastorate and served until September 2004. Some highlights of their ministry included:
Pastor James Elkins III was called as pastor in June 2005. Pastor Elkins, his wife Krisann, children James, Jessica and Jacob moved to International Falls and accomplished the following during their time of ministry at First Baptist Church:
Due to personal health reasons, Pastor Elkins and his family wrapped up their ministry in January 2010.
In January 2011 Pastor Ted Clarke and his wife Ginger were called to minister here at First Baptist.
They arrived on a snowy January day with their four children.
Their ministry continued until the Lord called them to another ministry in April 2018. They were a blessing and have been missed.
As the congregation of First Baptist Church has changed over the years, the battle has been the same. Satan has had his attacks on this local church and will continue those attacks until the Lord returns. The Lord has been and will continue to be faithful. Our prayer is that God will continue to empower this generation as we prepare the next to fight the battles for the Word of God May this church continue to be a beacon in International Falls and around the world for another 100 years and beyond... or until His return.
And let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. Galations 6:9-10
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