The First Baptist Church of Montana is the oldest Baptist church of Montana. It began November 7, 1879, when 21 Helena Baptists petitioned the Baptist Home Mission Society of New York City to send a missionary to Helena to organize a church. Reverand J.T. Mason arrived and on December 5, 1880 moderated a group of Baptists in the wooden Lewis and Clark Courthouse in organizing the First Baptist Church of Montana. Services were first held in a hall on Broadway Avenue and later in the South Methodist Church in the 100 block of North Warren.
In 1882 our building site was purchased for $1,000 and the cornerstone was laid September 19, 1883. The Montana Baptist Association (Montana Baptist Convention) was organized in the uncompleted church building in 1883.
In 1884 the $11,000 building was dedicated. Soon after a $2,500 parsonage was built at the back of the church. Reverand J.T. Mason preached the first sermon in the new church on April 6, 1884. Among the early members was Territorial govenor Preston Leslie whose daughter, Emily, served as church organist. The fine Barckhoff tracker organ, still in use today, was given in her memory in 1901 which was hand pumped until 1906.
Some of the original features were a spiral stairway from the northwest front vestibule to the parlors over the lecture room (now the balcony). The space now filled with organ pipes was once the choir room. There was a door to the left of the present organ through which the choir entered. The platform under the pulpit opened to reveal the baptistry which was first used on June 25, 1884. The chandelier in the center of the sanctuary had gas light tapers until 1889, when the trustees were empowered to replace coal oil lamps with electricity. In 1936 the clear glass windows were replaced with amber glass. The original pews had perforated backs with comfortable cushions, and extensions at each end when drawn to full length allowed the whole area of the floor to be used.
In 1916 a fire damaged the entire auditorium; the floor, pews, and carpteting were destroyed and there was considerable damage to the organ. The congregation met in the Christian Church until October. The second parsonage at 515 North Rodney was sold and the money used to repair the organ.
In 1935 the red brick veneer finish was damaged in the earthquake so it was covered with stucco, the interior redecorated and the parsonage was reconstructed into an education unit with a kitchen and fellowship room.
A stained glass window is dedicated to Govenor Sam Ford (1941-1949) whose wife, Mary, was a lifetime member of the congregation. In 1956 the spire was rebuilt to look as it does today.
In 1960 the hot air registers in the aisles were replaced with a new heating system and new carpet was laid.
In 1965 the sanctuary was painted a light aqua throughout, the balcony was added, and a doorway was cut into the choir loft. The vestibule was taken out and a ceiling-to-floor drape accented the chancel area. Almost 11,000 square feet were added in a new plant which includes classrooms, kitchen, offices, a new 8th St. entrance, and the fellowship hall seating 250 persons, all at a cost of $77,200. The old parsonage wing then became the Ann Judson Room, baptismal dressing rooms, and classrooms. In addition all the rectangular stained glass windows were installed, thus changing the 8th St. side of the building.
In 1977 the third baptistry was installed replacing the badly deteriorated baptistry and its "floating steps" with a larger fiberglass unit. The wall above it was tiled at this time and a larger opening was created.
In 1979 the Barckhoff tracker organ was completely dismantled and cleaned, and the organ chamber was replastered and painted for the first time since the fire of 1916.
1980 brought the fourth renovation of the sanctuary. The wainscoting was restored to the wood look, the vestibule rebuilt, the baptistry opening exposed again, and the choir rail was replaced with a new oak rail. The chancel area was enlarged and recarpeted, a large cross was added to the west wall, and new doors replaced the former sanctuary doors.
For over 130 years the First Baptist Church of Montana has been a witness for Christ in this community. As we continue to follow where God leads, we will hold dear the foundation our church built on His solid rock. We look forward to making history with you.
Taken from the 1980 Centennial Member Directory published by Pictorial Church Directories of America, Inc. and the National Historical Marker outside the building.
Pastors Who Have Served
Rev. J. T. Mason
Rev. I. L. Wood
Rev. C. B. Allan
Rev. J. F. McNamee
Rev. S. D. Aubuchon
Rev. Harvey Baty
Rev. M. J. McPike
Rev. Henry M. Koslow
Rev. R. D. Merrill
Rev. R. C. King
Rev. H. W. Luebeck
Rev. Gilbert Moore
Rev. John Fischer
Rev. Lou Engle
Rev. Lynn Baker Dooley
Rev. Jay Zaremba
Chaplain Terry Tyler
Rev. Thomas A. James
Rev. Bob Wall
Rev. W. Andrew Young
Rev. Dan Abrams
Original Church Building Drawn by Doris Luebeck 1978
Click the above image for more historical
photographs of First Baptist Church of Montana.
irst Baptist Church of Montana
201 8th Avenue Helena, MT