First Baptist Church History

A lot has changed since 1903

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.

The beginning of FBC

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.

Church was important

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. 

On August 6, 1903...

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. 

On September 30, 1903...

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. 

The first winter the pulpit...

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.

First Baptist Church moves


A few years after the first building was established in 1906...

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.

In September of 1924...


The Convention sent Pastor and Mrs. Earl Sims to take over...

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.

1948 to 1957

Pastor William Shroyer


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.     

Henry Weins


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 Moody Stewart


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. 

1960 to 1985

Pastor Arno Weniger II


 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


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 1965 - A new parsonage was purchased.
  • August 1967 - First Baptist Church voted to withdraw from the Conservative Baptist Convention and become an Independent  Baptist Church.     
  • December 1972 - The church voted to purchase a new organ. 
  • September 1974 - Sale of the 900 Third Street property.
  • Spring 1975 - A new sound system is installed and the  Christmas 1975 offering was for a spire on the new building.
  • May 1976 - Money was pledged for another Sunday School bus. The cross on the east wall was donated by Eva Frank in memory of  her husband William. 

1965 to 1985 continued


  • February 1978 - Church voted to buy a mimeograph machine.
  • May 1978 - Voted to buy pews and matching choir screen.     
  • August 1978 - 75th Anniversary celebration of First Baptist Church, International Falls. August 1979 - Church voted to convert to gas heating.   
  • November 1979 - The church voted to begin a Christian School
  • November 1980 - Church voted to purchase a 1977 12 passenger van.
  • January 1981 - Church voted to call David Deedrick to assist pastor.  He was ordained in August 1984 and served in this  capacity until November 1985.

Building 115 Shorewood Drive



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.   

1985 to 2019


Pastor and Mrs. Robert Crane were called in November 1985

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:  

  • "The Friends" ministry began as a Sunday School class. 
  • AWANA - this program continued to grow under the leadership of many Christian layman leaders and directors until May of 2002.
  • Care Group Fellowships - This ministry began in 1990. Groups met one Sunday a month in homes. Groups would fellowship, pray, sing, have Bible study and seek to bring others into the church through natural friendship contacts.
  • Building Expansion - The 6,000 square foot building expansion began in 1991 and was completed in 1992. The cost was in excess of $250,000. God's people raised $200,000 so only $50,000 would need to be borrowed to complete the project.
  • Baby Day - One of the enjoyable ministries at First Baptist Church is the nursery. Many teens and adults take turns caring for babies and toddlers. The nursery is normally coordinated by the nursery Sunday School teacher and a deaconess, keeping the nursery staffed and provisioned. One Sunday a year was set aside as Baby Day to honor the little ones and their parents.
  • First Baptist Christian School - The school began in 1979 and continued to grow in numbers during the Crane's ministry. The school participated in many programs including soccer,  basketball, and cheer-leading, and the ACE Awards Competitions.  Graduation ceremonies for high school seniors as well as kindergarten  were held each year. The school closed its doors in June of 1998 serving the church and community for almost twenty years.
  • Missions - One credit of First Baptist Church is the heart of its people to reach the lost where its people cannot go.  The annual "Faith Promise" conference brought in additional support each year. In 1993 there were 25 missionaries/missions projects supported by First Baptist Church. Jim, Darlene and Jackie Ireland were sent out by  First Baptist Church as church planting missionaries to New South Wales, Australia. 
  • Burnie Ecklund led missions trips with members of First Baptist into remote mountain villages of Mexico and the tropical Island of Jamaica. He was instrumental in setting up a printing plant for  Bearing Precious Seed ministry in Guerrero, Mexico in 1993. For the first publication 5000 books of the Gospel of John/Romans were printed.
  • Staff Evangelist - In June of 1993 Ross Crowe was called as staff evangelist by First Baptist Church. He held this position until he resigned in December of 1997.  

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:    

  • Purchase of a new church van and donation of the old van to Church Planting Missionary Brad Turner in Colorado.
  • Pastor's trip to Romania and the Ukraine to teach Bible courses to men training for the ministry to their own people.
  • Becoming an independent printing ministry and changing the name from Bearing Precious Seed to Morning Star Press.  Burnie Ecklund had been able to be used of God to start printing  ministries in countries such as Burma, Mexico, Canada and Jamaica. 
  • Growth of "Shine Forth" Drama Team Ministry. Production of "A Christmas Carol" as well as short skits and Bible School programs.
  • Introduction of Kings Kids as a new children's ministry program for midweek service.
  • Pastor Nolan Hargis accepted the call to Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church working with the youth and children's ministries.

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: 

  • Delivered a trailer full of Hope boxes for the Katrina relief effort
  • Organized and participated in two mission trips to Baptist Youth Missions in Wyoming
  • Established a weekly Men's Bible Study
  • Implemented reading through the Bible in a year including personal accountability 
  • Route 66 Ministry, reading and preaching through the entire Bible
  • Developed a summer intern program
  • Presented a citywide concert with the Peter Wright family
  • Oversaw the installation of the lift and kitchen addition 
  • Oversaw the installation of a new sound system
  • Oversaw building improvements including but not limited to a new furnace, re-carpeting the fellowship hall and hallways

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