The First Baptist Church of North Vernon began in the summer of 1834 when a group of people living about six miles northeast of Vernon near St. Anne Catholic Church started meeting at the home of John H. Wagner. The nearest Baptist church was at Vernon.
After meeting for several months, they called a council from sister churches to meet with them on the fourth Saturday of July 1835 to assist in becoming an organized church. Constituent members of this new church were: Mary Baughn, Patrick D. Baughn. William and Maheila Groom. Tabitha Guess. Margaret Parks. John and Elizabeth Vawter Stott, Frances Underwood. William and Frances Vawter, Elizabeth Wagner, John H. and Maria J. Wagner. Sarah Wagner and John and Mary Whitsitt.
The members unanimously adopted a church covenant, articles of faith and rules of decorum. To be distinguished from other Baptist churches, the new church was named “Zoar.” Early minutes state that “William Vawter was chosen Moderator, and Patrick D. Baughn talked for the remainder of the day.” William Vawter was also named the first pastor and would serve until 1863 when ill health forced his resignation. Serving with William Vawter until 1840 was Chesley Woodard. In December 1836. William Vawter. John Whitsitt and Patrick Baughn were appointed to select a site on which to build a meeting house. This decision was postponed for a time, because not until February 1839 was it reported that a site had been chosen. John Stott had replaced John Whitsitt on the committee, and the three men had been elected as the first trustees of Zoar Church. The site chosen was six acres of land owned by Allen Parks near the Wagner home On this site, the members began to build a log house. They continued to hold meetings at the Wagner home until May 1839, at which time they met in the new log meeting house.
From March until July 1839, the question of the ordination of William Vawter for the ministry was discussed and planned. The ordination service began on the last Saturday of July and was completed the following Monday. By this time the Zoar Church was becoming quite prominent. The Sand Creek Baptist Association was organized there on Christmas Day 1844
In 1847 it was decided to look for a different location for the meeting house. Six acres of land owned by Allen Parks about a mile and a quarter southwest of the log house was traded by him for the old site. This site is now a part of Selmier State Forest. A frame building, measuring 30 X28 feet was erected.
The church organized a Sunday School in 1849 with Charles Lewis as Superintendent. Mr. Lewis recorded in his diary: “In May 1849, an effort was made to get up a Sunday School at the Zoar Meeting House for the purpose of instructing the children of the neighborhood in Scriptural knowledge. Though I doubled the success of such an undertaking in a place where the children would have to go some distance to reach the school. I attended a meeting which was held for the purpose of organizing and selecting officers for the school.”
A few years later the Church again talked about changing their location and began looking for a site in North Vernon The Church met for the first time in North Vernon on the last Sunday of December 1866. Their new building measured 36 x 50 feet and had a tall tapering spire.
A Ladies Aid Society was organized in 1886. The Society met weekly for many years and was always very generous in contributing to the needs of the church. They earned money by quilting and sewing. serving lunches and selling produce. In the early years, the ladies paid dues of five cents per week. Minutes of the Society show that in February 1900 the ladies started talking about whether to remodel the existing church building or build a new one. By March they had appointed a Committee to talk to the deacons and trustees about purchasing a lot. At the April meeting it was noted the deacons recommended “the question be dropped and ceased to be discussed at present.” However, the ladies were given the authority to purchase lots on State Street for $800.
On March 5 1902, what was by then the First Baptist Church of North Vernon voted to build a new home on the corner of State and Chestnut Streets. This was the site that had been purchased by the Ladies Aid Society.
The new building was completed in 1905 at a cost of $12,730.36, and in addition in buying the lots, the Ladies Aid Society paid $2,500 on the cost of the building.
In 1927, the Rev W. H. Dillard was called to become pastor of the church and continued until his retirement in July 1961. He and his wife, Margaret had served the church for 34 years. Under his leadership, the church made several major improvements, including an educational building and installing the first pipe organ.
As an outreach of the Church, the radio ministry was begun in 1952. Today, the morning service continues to be broadcast on local cable television and short radio spots called “Reality Check” plays on local FM radio weekly.
In 1996 the congregation was faced with both parking lots being filled each Sunday morning, all classrooms being used, the Fellowship Hall not large enough to hold the congregation, and no way to expand the sanctuary, the people of First Baptist voted again to step out in faith. Property was purchased on Hayden Pike where the current facility opened in 2002. In 2014, the first phase of the Fellowship Center was completed.
First Baptist Church was built on a firm foundation; the faith of those pioneer Christians was strong. In a note written in May 1843, the first pastor, Rev. William Vawter penned these words; “I planted some corn in the garden. Come thou Font of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise.”
As we think back how First Baptist Church has grown from those seventeen Christians meeting in a little log house in the woods to what we have today, we say, “To God Be the Glory.”
Adapted from historical account submitted by Bonita Welch: Jennings County, Indiana, 1816-1999 Jennings Co. Historical Society