Nebraska occupies a position near the centre of the republic. Bounded north by Dakota, east by the Missouri River, south by Kansas, and west by Wyoming. It was originally a part of the Louisiana purchase. It was organized as a Territory May 30, 1854, by the Kansas and Nebraska Act. It was admitted into the Union as a sovereign State in March, 1867. The extreme length of the State from east to west is within a fraction of 413 miles, and its extreme width from north to south is 208 miles. In area the State contains nearly 75,995 square miles, or about 48,636,800 acres. The area of Nebraska is 12,359 square miles larger than all the New England States combined.
Emigration into the Territory began in 1849. The first settlements were confined to the neighborhood of the Missouri River and a narrow strip on one side of the Platte. Here were, therefore, laid the foundations of the future churches in Nebraska. For religious enterprises the circumstances were whose stay was transient. But others came to remain. These were poor and scattered, but unity in religious beliefs brought these settlers together, at convenient centres, for the service of God and for mutual edification.
THE BAPTIST ASSOCIATION.
The few Baptists who had come to the Territory to remain formed themselves into churches at various points. On the 28th and 29th of May, 1858, at Nebraska City, the Nebraska Baptist Association was organized by seven churches, which had been previously formed. These were, in the order in which they were constituted, Nebraska City, Peru, Plattsmouth, Fontenelle, Cumming City, Rock Bluff, and Florence.
The First Nebraska City church was recognized August 18, 1855. At the organization of the Nebraska Association the names of only two ordained ministers appear on the minutes, - Rev. J.M. Taggart and Rev. J.G. Bowen, missionaries of the American Baptist Home Mission Society. If the members were few in number, the records of the first. meeting show that they were men of large ideas, strong faith, and a clear insight into the future greatness of the Territory. At this meeting vital questions were discussed, - education, Baptist literature, benevolence, temperance. Among the resolutions passed we find the following, so full of wisdom:"Resolved, That we recommend to the churches of this Association, when practicable, to erect their meeting-houses within the limits of incorporate towns, and that measures be taken at an early day to secure eligible sites for building purposes."The first effort at church-building by the Baptists in Nebraska was at Omaha in 1860. For years the growth of the churches was slow; the faith of the early laborers was severely tested.
At the fifth annual meeting of the Association there was an increase of one church and of 84 members. In 1867 four churches were dismissed with prayers, and the Omaha Association was formed. Since then God has greatly blessed our struggling brethren in Nebraska.
The Nebraska Baptist State Convention was organized in 1868 to take the place of the Domestic Mission Board, which had been organized under a resolution adopted by the original Association September 10, 1864.
The resolution reads as follows: "Resolved, That a missionary board of five members be appointed at each annual meeting of this Association, whose duty it shall be to ascertain the destitution of Baptist preaching as far as possible, and by corresponding with the American Baptist Home Mission Society, and appealing to the churches composing this Association, to make arrangements for its supply; and that we recommend to the churches the penny-a-week system for the purpose of carrying out this resolution."
Article 2d of its constitution states the object of the State Convention: "The object of this body shall be to unite the Baptist churches of the State in the dissemination of the principles of the gospel as understood by them into all parts of the State, and especially, in the prosecution of domestic mission work, to co-operate with the Baptist Home Mission Society." In the revised constitution of 1879 the object is substantially the same.
At the annual meeting in 1872 the following resolution was carried:"Resolved, That for the purpose of carrying out more fully the objects of the Nebraska Baptist State Convention we hereby incorporate ourselves in accordance with the laws of the State, so that we may acquire and hold property with which to educate and sustain ministers, build or aid in building church edifices, make provision for superannuated pastors or preachers, and sustain all other institutions by which the churches may be united in the dissemination of the principles of the gospel as understood by them in all parts of the world."The aim of the Convention has been hitherto to assist and co-operate with the Baptist Home Mission Society. At each of its annual sessions questions of vital importance to the home field have been discussed. At no meeting has the work abroad been forgotten.
At a meeting of the board held in October, 1877, it was resolved to hold a historical meeting in June, 1878, at. Nebraska City. The object of the meeting was to bring the Baptists together and to review the past. An interesting programme was prepared. Eminent men from abroad lent their aid. Rev. J. M. Taggart, the only remaining pioneer missionary, read a historical paper of much interest, in which he reviewed the growth and development of the denomination for twenty years. The meeting resulted in imparting new zeal to the brethren and new life to the State Convention. At the annual meeting in 1879, Rev. H. L. Morehouse, corresponding secretary of the American Baptist Home, Mission Society, submitted to the board of the State Convention a plan for practical co-operation with that society, which was adopted. The third and fourth specifications are as follows:"The Home Mission Society shall appropriate to the mission work in Nebraska a definite sum pro rata to receipts from the State for the fiscal yearof the Convention ending November 1, 1880, four dollars additional to each dollar received from the State; the apportions to be made, so far as possible, at the beginning of the year, upon a reasonable estimate of probable receipts, and to be corrected by actual experience.The existence and growth of the Baptist churches in Nebraska are due largely to the American Baptist Home Mission Society. There is scarcely a church in the State which it has not aided. The number of self-supporting churches as yet is small. The majority of the pastors in active service are sustained in part by this society. The need for enlarged liberality in this field is very great.
"The Convention shall superintend the work in the State, determine fields, nominate missionaries, name their salaries, and determine the time of labor; the Home Mission Society to appoint and pay those nominated so far as they approve such nominations and terms."
Recognizing the need and value of an educated ministry, the question of higher education received attention in the early history of this Territory. We find the following in the minutes of the State Convention for 1870:"Your Executive Board, to which was referred, by a resolution passed at the last annual session, the subject of a denominational educational institution for the State, respectfully report that the duty charged upon them has been fulfilled, as will be seen by referring to the proceedings of the board meeting published in last year's minutes. So far as the members of the Executive Board have knowledge, no definite propositions for the location of a Baptist college have as yet been received which were of such a character as to warrant your committee in recommending a location, as was contemplated in that resolution.This question was considered each subsequent year until the meeting of the Executive Board of the State Convention held in Hastings in May, 1880, when Mr. Eddy, a Baptist of Gibbon, was present to invite the attention of the Educational Committee to an opportunity offered at that place. After correspondence on the subject, the chairman of the committee visited Gibbon, and learned that there was a prospect of obtaining a good donation if we, would locate our Baptist school there. A report was made at the meeting of the Executive Board in Blair, August 4, 1880, and the following resolution was passed:
"Your committee would further add that the subject of the founding of a Baptist college in Nebraska, while it is one of the greatest importance to our interests, is one which should demand and receive the most careful deliberation at our hands. We are warned on every hand by the experience of our brethren in other States, as well as by that of other denominations in our own State, that the attempt to build up at too early a day in the history of a State such an institution as is contemplated in your resolution of last year is not only full of difficulty, but of real danger to the interests it is designed to support. It imposes a pecuniary burden not easily borne even in wealthy communities and with favorable surroundings, a burden which, in our estimation, it would be unwise for us at present to assume.
"Your committee are of opinion that the following are essential to success in a denominational college enterprise in Nebraska:
"1st. That it be located in the midst of earnest and able friends.
"2d. That it have sufficient local subscriptions to erect suitable buildings in which to open the school, and a fair sum towards an endowment.
"3d. Denominational unity in the State in reference to its support as a part of the list of agencies for carrying on the work of this Convention.
"We therefore recommend that further action in this matter be dispensed with until God by his providence shall show us that we are in possession of the conditions which will insure success; and that in the mean time the brethren residing in localities where circumstances are favorable aim at the establishment of local seminaries and academies mainly self-supporting, which may in the future, when our wants and our ability warrant it, become the nuclei of such an institution as shall reflect credit upon our denomination and our State.""Resolved, That we locate our Baptist school at Gibbon, provided the citizens of Gibbon and vicinity will donate a certain brick building, three stories high, 40 by 60 feet, together with five acres of land, and $1000 for repairs and alterations; also $1000 per year for three years as tuition for pupils of the district above the primary department."A request was made by the Executive Board that the Educational Committee proceed at once to secure the property and open a school as soon as possible. A special meeting of the Executive Board was called to meet at Lincoln, August 16, at which resolutions were passed appointing the Rev. G. W. Read as principal of the school, and giving it the name of Nebraska Baptist Seminary. The appointment was accepted, and a meeting arranged between the Educational Committee and the citizens of Gibbon for August 23. At this meeting the citizens agreed to comply with the conditions expressed in the resolution. Papers were drawn and the building transferred to the Nebraska Baptist State Convention. The money promised for repairs was paid, and the building is now undergoing repairs. School will be commenced about November 1, 1880. The property is valued at $15,000.
The following ministers have done noble work in other States, and are at present in active service in Nebraska: Rev. O. A. Buzzell, Juniata; Rev. W. S. Gee, Lincoln; Rev. J. Gunderman, Central City; Rev. N.P. Hotchkiss, Pawnee City; Rev.
J. Lewelling, Weston; Rev. S. B. Mayo, Beaver City; Rev. J. W. Osborn, Fremont; Rev. Amos Pratt, Exeter; Prof. C. C. Bush, St. Edward's; Rev. I. R. Shanafelt, Macon; Rev. G. W. Taylor, Blair; Rev. E. D. Thomas, Liberty; Rev. T. K. Tyson, Wahoo; Rev. A. Weaver, Loup City; Rev. F. M. Williams, Ashland.
[From The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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