This summer, archivist Rachel Dworkin, assigned me the task of sorting and cataloging the United Baptist Church Collection. While sorting the collection I came across the First Baptist Church Meeting Minutes for the years 1829-1859. Although the book looked ancient, once I got past my fear of touching it and having to explain to the staff how exactly the book turned into a pile of dust on the research table, I became completely engrossed. The detailed accounts of every meeting, written out in beautiful penmanship, going back to the early days of settlement in the Chemung Valley were by far my favorite part of the collection.
|Page from the First Baptist Church Ledger|
For me, the most interesting meetings dealt with problem members of First Baptist Church. Members of the newly formed church were expected to abide by a strict moral code of conduct. As in any community though, there were a few rebellious types who neglected to uphold the church imposed standards of the day. In the records, I came across members who were accused of heresy, using foul language, and a certain female supposedly dressed in men’s clothing and attended a gentlemen’s lecture (shocking!).
These rebellious members were all paid a visit by a committee of elders and, if the offense was bad enough, faced exclusion from the church. It seems the offender, or her husband, was usually given a chance to publically apologize to the church and ask forgiveness for their behavior. If the church elders felt an honest apology was made, the member would be allowed to resume their relationship with the church. I did come across an occasion when a female church member was denied reacceptance because her apology was deemed insincere. Regardless of the outcome, the church always prayed for the offender’s soul.
The early First Baptist Church was also quite charitable. If any church family was in need, the elders would discuss it at the church meeting. From there, a delegate from the church would pay a visit to the head of the family to determine why they were experiencing hardship. Were they just down on their luck, or was there a misappropriation of money? From there, the delegate would report back to the church at the next meeting. If the family was deemed to have a legitimate need, the church would provide them with financial assistance. If the need was due to gambling… well, see the previous paragraph… Once the family had regained financial security, repayment of the money was expected.
This book was just one of many treasures I found in the United Baptist Church Collection. After scouring it, I became completely enamored with the project and learned more than I ever imagined about First Baptist Church and Southside Baptist Church. I am very grateful to Rachel for her help and the opportunity to work with this incredible collection.
|Original First Baptist Church|