The First Baptist Church, Bowling Green, was constituted in 1818. The exact date is not known. The church was organized under the leadership of William Warder, who was the first pastor, and who served one fourth time in connection with the pastorate at Russellville, until his death, August, 1836. He received a salary of one hundred dollars a year. In January, 1837, J. M. Pendleton entered upon a pastorate of twenty years for full time, preaching twice on Sunday, with a weekly prayer meeting at a salary of $400 a year. This was the largest remuneration received by any pastor in all that section of Kentucky. The new pastor was married to Miss Catherine Garnett, Glasgow, Kentucky, March 13, 1838, and they took their honeymoon on horse-back to Louisville, Kentucky.
The old meeting house became inadequate to accommodate the growing congregation, and a lot was bought on Main Street at $7.00 per foot on which was erected a new building. The new house was occupied in 1854. Dr. Pendleton closed his pastorate, January 1, 1857, and moved to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. From 1857 to 1866, the following pastors served in succession: Thomas M. Vaughan, Thomas H. Storts, and Henry Ray. In 1866, George Hunt, a former president of Bethel College, served three years, and was succeeded by James M. Bent, who served three years. C. E. W. Dobbs was pastor, 1874-1880; J. F. Hardwick, 1881-1883; M. M. Riley, 1883-1891; W. A. Mason, 1891-1893; and E. V. Baldy, 1893-1899. William Lunsford, who was pastor, 1899-1903, resigned to promote the Old Ministers Relief Program of the Southern Baptist Convention.
J. S. Dill was pastor from 1903 to 1911, and was succeeded by L. W. Doolan, who served from 1911 to 1915, and under his pastorate, the present commodious church building was erected at a cost of about $125,000, and dedicated on June 13, 1915. Dr. E. Y. Mullins, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, preached the dedicatory sermon before an audience of 2454 people by actual count. Finley F. Gibson became pastor in 1916, but closed his services in 1918 to become pastor of the Grace Street Church, Richmond, Virginia. Charles L. Greaves was pastor, 1918-1922; J. E. Hampton, 1923-1928, and H. B. Cross, 1928-1931.
Jerome O. Williams began his pastorate in 1932 and resigned in 1934 to become Business Manager of the Sunday School Board, Nashville, Tennessee. R. T. Skinner succeeded Dr. Williams and continued until 1946, when he was elected editor of the Western Recorder. Harold J. Purdy, the present pastor, is in his third year (1949). The church numbers 2470 members.19
Some additional historical data concerning the early history of the church at Bowling Green was found in an old manuscript written in long hand by Brother John Burnam, who came to Bowling Green in young manhood and lived there as a member of the Baptist church the rest of his life. Dr. W. C. Boone, General Secretary of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, who furnished the author with this old document, is the great-grandson of John Burnam.
This manuscript is the only record that gives the names of some of the charter members of the First Baptist Church, Bowling Green, including the following: "Daniel Smith and wife, Thomas McNeal, mother, sister; Woody Grub and wife, John Moorman and wife, John Thompson and wife, Brother Burgs and wife, and old Brother Keel, a superannuated-preacher and wife - and some others not recollected." He thus writes of Elder William Warder, the first pastor of the Bowling Green Church, who served eighteen years: "No preacher was more beloved than Brother William Warder as pastor. For efficiency, he was not surpassed, as a gospel preacher, he was in the first rank, as a good man, unequalled."
Deacon Burnam writes concerning Philip S. Fall, who turned so many Baptists to Alexander Campbell, while he was pastor in Louisville. He says: "This young man Some 20 years old professed to be converted and was Baptized in 1818 or 19 by Elder Isaac Hodgens, and Very Soon commenced preaching (and was called the boy Preacher). The writer recollects to have heard him preach Several times in the year 1820 in Bowling Green. His youthful appearance, (21 years old), his ability to preach was attracting large crowds to hear him." He was extraordinarily accomplished, as to education and scholarship, being a native of England. Brother Burnam thus writes of Elder Jeremiah Vardeman the well known pioneer preacher in Kentucky: "In the year 1820, When Elder Vardeman was expected, There being no Hous of Worship, (The wether being warm) a brush Arbor was made on what (is known as the Tom Barnett lot,) where the People by hundreds assembled to hear the Great Revivalist - Vardeman, (Great in more ways than one, whose stature and weight was 275 to 300 pounds)."
An account of calling a pastor in 1836, after the death of Elder William Warder, is given in this valuable manuscript: The writer says, "Daniel Smith, the oldest male member in the church was called to the chair, as Moderator, who opened by prayer, after which he stated the object, of the meeting was to call a pastor. There were several aged members present, and silence seemed to prevail for a time, when a young member arose and read a resolution, the purport of which was that Brother J. M. Pendleton be called as a permanent pastor at a salary of $400 per annum. A 'damper' seemed to prevail, the amount, being beyond the reach of the church, as stated by the Moderator. At length the question was taken by rising, when the result was unanimous - an effort was at once made, when the pledges of the brethern and sisters was equal to the task. Brother Pendleton entered upon his duties as pastor on the first day of January 1837 and labored faithfully and zealously for 20 years."
The writer also gives accounts of some of the meetings held in those years. He says "During the Stay of Brother Pendleton with the Bowling Green Church, There was Several very interesting Meetings . . . . To wit, in the months of March & April, 1840, Elders John L. Burrows, & Alfred Taylor came to B. Green, (stopped at the home of the writer), and Bro. Burrows did all the Preaching and Bro. Taylor with the Pastor did the Mixing, Visiting and Instructions - Bro. Burrow's Labors in the Pulpit was owned and blessed of God. The result being on the Second week at the close, 26 were added by Baptism, on the 3rd Lord's day 26 more were received by Baptism. . . . Many others professed conversion. This was a meeting never to be forgotten by the members."
This writer tells of another meeting: "Then a meeting long to be remembered (in Several respects) was held by Elder J. R. Graves in April 1852. As a preacher, Rev. J. R. Graves was at that time rarely equalled, he could hold a congregation spellbound for two hours & a half, a number were added to the church during this meeting. --"
There were many other interesting events recorded in this manuscript concerning pastors and evangelists connected with the Bowling Green Church, but space forbids giving further consideration.
[From A History of Baptists in Kentucky, 1953, pp. 115-117. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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