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A History of the Miami Baptist Association - (OH)

(The First One Hundred Years)

     The Miami Baptist Association was formed some twenty-two years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. At the end of the Revolutionary War in 1781, the country was greatly impoverished. Many men, some veterans of the Revolution, began to look to the West as offering a great opportunity to restore their fortunes.

     The Northwest Territory (described as land east of the Mississippi River, south of the Great Lakes, and north of the Ohio River) had a special appeal for many of them. Besides the beauty of the country and richness of the soil, Congress had passed an ordinance July 13, 1787, providing government for the area. Among other things, it forbade the holding of slaves in the territory and supposedly provided fair treatment for the Native Americans. The Indians continued to be a big problem for the settlers whom they saw usurping their land.

     The first permanent settlement in what is now Ohio was made at Marietta, on the 7th day of April, 1788. Other groups of colonists pushed on west and several communities were soon established along the banks of the Ohio River between the Little Miami and the Big (Great) Miami Rivers where John Cleves Symmes (a New Jersey judge) had purchased a large tract for development.

      On the 18th of November in 1788, a group of twenty-six colonists from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, led by Captain Benjamin Stites, landed near the mouth of the Little Miami River at a place they named Columbia. A January flood on the 'bottoms' near the Ohio River drove many of them to build on higher land. A few other individuals landed about ten miles downriver on December 28, 1788, and laid out the town called "Losantiville" (afterward changed to Cincinnati at the suggestion of Gov. St. Clair). Judge Symmes reached North Bend some sixteen miles below Cincinnati with fourteen colonists about the first of January 1789, and there established the third settlement between the two Miami Rivers.

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      There were now four points: Marietta, Columbia, Losantiville (Cincinnati) and North Bend where white settlements had been made within the present limits of Ohio. In 1789, in order to provide more adequate protection against the Indians, Fort Washington was built at Losantiville and garrisoned by 140 men. A year later 330 men were added.

The First Baptist Church in Ohio
     Among those who had settled at Columbia, were several of the Baptist faith. On January 20, 1790, they met for the purpose of organizing a church with the help of the Rev. Stephen Gano of Rhode Island who was visiting his brother. The meeting was held at the home of Benjamin Davis. Davis, together with his wife Mary; Isaac, Elizabeth and John Ferris; Joshua and Amy Reynolds; John S. Gano and Thomas C. Wade became the first members of the Columbia Baptist Church. Three more people were soon received on profession of faith and three by letter a short time later. Two moved away, making a total of thirteen members by the end of the first year.

     Rev. John Smith had been called from Pennsylvania to become their pastor, but he did not arrive for a year. In the meantime, a Daniel Clark had moved to Columbia and supplied the pulpit. After Smith arrived, Clark was retained as assistant pastor, and was ordained in September 1792 by Smith and Rev. Dr. John Gano from Elkhorn, KY A church building was erected and occupied in 1793 on a lot donated by (now) Major Benjamin Stites. It served the church and the town as a meeting house and a safe haven during Indian encounters. The site of this meeting house and its burial ground is now marked by a Corinthian column located in the Pioneer Cemetery Park near Lunken Airport.

      The old Columbia church holds the honor of three historical "firsts" - it was the first Protestant church to be organized; it erected the first church building; and was the first church in the Northwest Territory (Ohio) to ordain a pastor - all within five years.

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      In 1808, the church moved to a new meeting house located at Duck Creek and Edwards Road, holding services for a time at both locations before abandoning the original meeting house. It was renamed the Duck Creek church in 1827. Later moves were made to Mt. Lookout (1875) and eventually to Michigan & Erie Avenues (1904) where it remains as the Hyde Park Baptist Church. In 1865, four Columbia-area families, descendents of original founders, left the Duck Creek church to re-establish the Columbia church and located it on Eastern Avenue.

The First Baptist Association in Ohio
     After the end of the Indian wars in 1794, folks began moving away from the original settlement into the higher surrounding ground. As new settlements increased, other churches were started so that by 1797, Miami Island, Carpenter's Run and Clear Creek had been added. As these churches were in good fellowship with each other, often sharing the services of a pastor, they began to plan for a Miami Baptist Association.

      Two dates (June 3rd and October 20, 1798) are mentioned as the birth date of the Miami Baptist Association It appears that rules of order and decorum for the government of the Association were adopted at the October meeting. Quarterly meetings, which were 'appointed' in 1799, prevailed for many years. These were often open-air services with large audiences, listening to the best preaching of the times. Most business was done at the annual meetings by the delegates from member churches. At the annual meeting in 1800, they resolved "that in future the title of'reverend' as applied to ministers be laid aside and that of 'elder' be substituted in its place."

      A great revival took place at the turn of the century. The records show that baptisms in the churches jumped five-fold (131) in 1801 and another 100 in 1802. By the end of its first decade, the Association had grown from four churches (185 members) to thirty-one churches (1123 members). These churches were scattered over nine counties in Ohio and two in Indiana. Five churches had withdrawn to form the Scioto Association (1805).

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     The Association continued to grow. Other churches requested admission, new churches and missions were spun off from earlier congregations. At the same time, groups of churches were also being dismissed to form new associations - Mad River in 1811; Strait Creek in 1813; Whitewater (Indiana) in 1814; East Fork in 1817.

     The early activities of the Association consisted of quarterly and annual meetings. Annual Meetings were a several day occasion for preaching and hearing from missionary speakers, sharing correspondence from other associations and societies; and reading the churches' annual letters. Member churches also made an annual report of membership and other data which was printed in the Annual Report.

      Churches often would address questions about theology and practices, or problems in the church or between churches to the Association leaders. It was the practice to appoint a small committee which would then advise the parties what to do. For example, following an investigation in 1817, the Association delegates voted to send a circular letter informing the churches that "The Society calling themselves the First church, of which Alexander Dennison is pastor, is considered by the Association a disorderly body and not in union with it."

Ohio Baptists and Missions
     The history of Baptists starting churches and organizing associations was repeated all over the state. At the same time, Baptists in Ohio were also organizing Societies (in which individuals and churches were members) to support education, foreign or home mission work.

      Baptists in America were drawn into overseas missions. Adoniram Judson of Salem, MA was on his way to India in 1812 with his wife Ann to be a missionary for the Congregationalists. While on board ship, they studied the Scriptures and finding no support for the practice of infant baptism, declared themselves Baptists. On landing in Calcutta, they were baptized by immersion. On recommendation of British Baptist missionary

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William Carey, the Judsons sailed to Rangoon, Burma to start a mission there. Their friend, Luther Rice (who had joined them in Calcutta) returned to America to secure support from the Baptist churches there.

      Through Rice's efforts, the Baptists responded by forming a General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the USA for Foreign Missions in May 1814. Rice became its first agent. ("Tales of Baptist Daring", Browne).

      Baptists in Ohio enthusiastically supported the Triennial Convention (as it was called) and also various efforts in home missions. As early as 1815, the Miami Association voted "to form ourselves into a society called a Domestic Missionary Society", to correspond with the mission board. Association meetings thereafter regularly included information and speakers about the various efforts in the 'West.'

      On August 24, 1824, some Baptists of Cincinnati met and organized the Cincinnati Baptist Missionary Society with 118 charter members. Its object was to "promote Gospel Missions and the Education of Ministers," and to "aid the general effort of the denomination to spread the Gospel". Within one year, this organization took steps toward the organization of a State Convention. On May 22, 1826, there assembled in Zanesville, a group of delegates representing 17 associations and 52 churches. Out of this beginning, the Ohio Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches of Ohio) emerged. Aware of concerns about local church autonomy, the relationship to the Convention was spelled out in the constitution, "It (the Convention) specifically and forever disclaims any right or prerogative of this kind, thereby avowing that cardinal principle that every church is sovereign and independent and capable of managing its own internal concerns without the least interferences or assistance from any body of men on earth". ("A History of the Ohio Baptist Convention," Clossen)

      Baptists from the Cincinnati area were active and influential in other efforts across the state. The Baptist Weekly Journal of the Mississippi Valley first appeared July 6, 1831. Also known as The Cross and

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Baptist Journal, it became the Journal and Messenger. Several reports indicate that this weekly paper 'steadily and vigorously promoted Baptist interests in Ohio as late as 1898', though often operating 'at a pecuniary loss.' It was founded by Cincinnati leader Noble S. Johnson, with the help of Ephraim Robins and Henry Miller (Johnson was president of the OBC from 1827-1835.) John Stevens (graduate of the Newton Theological In­stitute) became its first editor.

      Local leaders wanted a seminary near Cincinnati, but the Ohio Baptist Education Society, organized in 1830 at the state convention, decided to locate a college in Granville. The school opened in 1831 as the Granville Literacy and Theological Institute. In 1833, another society known as the General Convention of Western Baptists, met in Cincinnati to discuss a variety of efforts - benevolence, missions, religious periodicals, and ministerial education. This body succeeded in starting the Western Baptist Theological Institute in 1840, located first in Covington KY, then moved to the Fairmount area of Cincinnati.

      Both schools struggled for funds. John Stevens noted that "perhaps one third of our denomination is hostile to institutions and perhaps another third is quite indifferent" (quoted by Clossen). The divisions of cash commitment between Granville and Cincinnati meant extreme hardship for both schools. The Western seminary graduated only four classes, then closed in 1858. Granville rallied after 1863 and went on to become on of the denomination's quality colleges known as Denison University. The school is now independent of Baptist connections. The Ohio Baptist Education Society continues to exist as a Foundation granting scholarships to Baptist ministerial students.

Facing Controversies
      "Two theological controversies shook and threatened Ohio Baptist in the 1820' and 1830's more than at any time in their history until the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the 20th century shattered the basic unity among Convention member churches." (Clossen)
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      The emergence of Campbellite theology and its crusaders led many churches and associations to withdraw to join the Disciples Reformation. (Alexander Campbell, founder of the "Christian" church movement was originally a Baptist pastor in nearby West Virginia.) The Miami Associa­tion was also affected, largely through the influence of one David Burnet who was a gifted pastor in Dayton who 'defected'. Burnet had popular support in Cincinnati through his family connections (Mayor Isaac Burnet was his father, his wife was a Gano), but only three Miami churches actually left the Baptist fold.

      A second controversy exploded over the matter of missions and missionary tactics. The objections grew out of a strict Calvinism which held a 'particular' atonement: "God will save his elect; (therefore) no means or use of effort should interfere with God's work". Other leaders espoused a view of 'general' atonement and a 'progressive' approach, making "direct appeals and exhortation to those whose conversions they desired". This group approved the use of various societies. (Clossen)

     Seeds of division were sown in the Association by two books of Elder [Wilson] Thompson: "Simple Truths" and "Triumphs of Truth", which expressed opposition to benevolent societies, such as missions, Bible educa­tion, Sabbath schools and temperance societies (the anti-mission position). For several years, letters and resolutions toward disfellowshipping churches on one side or the other were being considered at Association meetings. Finally, in 1836, four churches were dropped for supporting benevolent societies - Sixth Street (later Ninth Street), Middletown, Lebanon and Dayton.

      Later that same year, messengers from those churches met together with others from Fairfield and Muddy Creek and organized as "The Miami Association". They reported 6 member-churches with a total membership of 441. The same year's report of the (anti-mission) Association listed 19 churches with 706 members.

      For at least the next 20 years, there were two Miami associations. In some cases individual congregations also split, with members affiliating

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with both associations. Dunlevy reported that by 1856, most of the anti-mission churches had become supportive of missions and Sabbath schools. The Miami Association had 16 churches, with 1,964 members; while the other Association listed 10 churches with 343 members. "The four churches thus dropped from the Association in 1836 have all been evidently blessed." ("History of the Miami Baptist Association," A. H. Dunlevy)

      While Dunlevy's account indicates "The Miami Association" as a new organization, the annual reports of the Miami Association of Regular Baptists for the years 1841 on show a continuing record of annual meetings of the original organization. The anti-mission group apparently existed as the "Old School" Miami Baptist Association. ("A Condensed History of the Old School Miami Baptist Association" - 1797-1879)

The Issue of Slavery
      The abolition movement in the early 1800s created much public discussion. The State of Ohio, from its inception as part of the Northwest Territory, had disallowed the practice of slavery, but many were divided on how to achieve emancipation. Baptists clearly approved abolition. Dunlevy reported that the Miami Association had declined to engage in correspondence with the North Bend (KY) Association in 1804, and asserted that there never was any regular correspondence (i.e. fellowship or recognition) between the Miami Association and any other in the 'Slave States.'

      In 1807, the Association delegates advised one of its churches that "caution be used in admitting among them those who held the sentiment and practice of hereditary slavery". The Association received the Union Baptist Church (African) in Cincinnati into membership in 1842.

      A Resolution in 1847 spelled out the concern - "We regard American slavery as in opposition to the revealed will of God, against the law of nature, inimical to the principles of social organization and alike destructive to national prosperity, individual rights and the prosperity of our free institutions. We therefore pledge ourselves. . . to see all lawful and prudent

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measures used effectually to remove an evil of such magnitude from our country."

      During the Civil War, resolutions pointed out the duty of all "Christian Patriots" to uphold the Government in 'this most atrocious rebellion' and to pray for the removal of the evil of slavery. In 1865, they concluded that the providence of God had "finally settled the question" "therefore we are ready to extend the hand of fellowship to those who heartily accept" the abolition of slavery and reunification of North and South. (Minutes of the MBA). By 1871, the Association was willing to receive the Ludlow, KY church into membership.

1840's - 1890's
      Association rosters indicate that 14 new churches affiliated between 1841 and 1860: First; Fifth Street; Walnut Street; Welsh church; High Street; First German and Mt. Auburn church in Cincinnati; along with Franklin, West Alexandria, Hamilton and Cheviot; and in Dayton - Wayne Street, German Church, and Jefferson Street. Jonah's Run, Sugar Creek and Little Miami transferred to a new Caesars Creek Assn. (Clinton Co.) Later (1855), four Dayton churches were dismissed to the Miami Union Association.

      Baptists in this area continued to organize themselves for various purposes. The Miami Regular Baptist Sabbath School Convention was organized in 1858, as a sub-unit of an Ohio convention. The Sabbath School convention proceeded to meet annually on the day preceding the Associations annual meeting. The agenda included the presentation of an annual essay, a children's session and reports from the churches. The minutes of their meeting and statistics were regularly included in the published Minutes of the Miami Association. The organization subsequently changed its name to the Sunday School Convention. After 1902, the Convention dissolved itself and the work continued as a committee for Christian Education of the Miami Association.

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      A Cincinnati Branch of the Women's Baptist Missionary Society of the West in Ohio was organized in 1877. However, a Stanton Female Society in the Miami Association was sending money and supplies for American Baptist missions to OBC as early 1826, and many churches already had active women's mission circles. Beginning in 1878, the Women's Mission Circle (or Hour) was listed as a regular part of the Associations annual meeting agenda. The 1880 report listed 12 churches with organized circles. By 1893, there were 19 women's societies, reporting mission contributions amounting to $1,583. The Woman's Mission Hour in later years expanded to a half-day session, where the work of the Women's Home and Foreign Mission Societies were addressed with reports, offerings and missionary speakers.

      The 'May Anniversaries' of the national mission societies were held in Cincinnati in 1890 at the invitation of the Cincinnati Baptist Church Union, and it was reported that "a large gathering enjoyed the Baptists' hospitality."

      Youth groups and their advisers of the Miami Association organized the Baptist Young People's Union in 1892. They held an annual meeting on the evening preceding the Association's annual sessions. A few years later, the BYPU asked to be included in the regular two-day Association session. A banquet and youth-related program on the second evening became the pattern.

      In 1893, the Association incorporated a board of trustees "to manage, invest and dispose of any property given, bequested, devised and / or deeded to Miami Baptist Association" (or) of any property of any Association church "which by death or dispersion of its members shall become extinct". This action was probably in response to the example of the Cincinnati Baptist Church Union's activities. Subsequent minutes show occasions where the Trustees dealt with the latter circumstance - mostly churches in outlying areas, but this resulted in little financial gain.

      Association rules from its early years called for a committee to determine the amount of money needed for expenses for the coming year,

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ask the churches for their 'apportionment' of the needed funds. Offerings taken at annual meetings were designated for missions, the OBC or other specific purposes. This practice continued well into its second century.

      The One Hundreth Anniversary of the Miami Association of Regular Baptists was celebrated at the Lincoln Park Baptist Church , September 20-22, 1898. A special anniversary booklet was published which included a history of the Association, minutes of Association meetings and statistics from the churches.

Cincinnati Baptist Church Union (1869-1965)
     The story of the Miami Baptist Association would not be complete without an account of the work of the Cincinnati Baptist Church Union.

      On March 30, 1869 a group of Cincinnati Baptists met at the Ninth Street Baptist Church "to consult in reference to the interests of the denomination and to take steps to form a Union of the Baptists of Cincinnati and Vicinity, the aim of which should be the promotion of the Baptist cause in this quarter." A Constitution was adopted and on Tuesday, April 20, 1869, the Cincinnati Baptist Church Union (later referred to as The Union) was organized and elected four officers and ten Trustees. Eight other trustees were appointed by the member churches. The initial member churches were: First, Second, Ninth Street, Mt. Auburn, Freeman St. (Lincoln Park), Columbia, Ludlow (KY), and Milford. Additional churches joined later, eventually reaching twenty.

      The Union was incorporated as a State of Ohio Non-Profit Corporation. Its organization depended on its Board of Trustees, which met quarterly. Much of its work was that of granting financial aid to churches, particularly for the maintenance of their 'houses of worship'; and aid in developing new churches, church schools and other missions. Ways and Means was an important committee. The first projects of The Union were financed by private subscription. Public Meetings and social events were used for fund-raising in its early life, and its member churches were expected to provide regular contributions.

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      The Freeman Street church and the German church received financial aid from the Union almost immediately. The list of churches aided continued to grow. At least twenty churches received help in retaining and maintaining their facilities and/or ministry. The Union gave assistance to the Zion Baptist church several times, even though it was not a member church.

When the Union was only four years old, a full-time woman missionary was employed to work among the German immigrants. She visited homes, jails and the House of Refuge, distributed Bibles, Testaments and thousands of tracts. She held a sewing school for girls in which religious instruction figured prominently. German work was a pet project of the Union. "However, Germans were not the only foreign group in which the Union was interested. At the 42nd Annual Meeting in 1911, reports in the native tongues were given by representatives of the following Baptist groups: German, Rumanian, Hungarian, Italian and Armenian." (90th Anniversary Program, 1959)

      Churches have been established which probably would never have come into being without help from the Union. The Fields of Labor committee worked to find potential locations for new churches. The first of these was Walnut Hills, established in 1870, followed by Madisonville (1875), Dayton St. (1880-1901), and Evanston (1911).

      During the Depression, the Union Trustees often assisted churches with salary support for their pastors in order to keep the church doors open. It was the practice to ask those churches and pastors receiving help to give regular account of their work. The Union was helpful with loans and grants for churches in the 'maintenance of their buildings,' but careful to obtain reversionary liens on their property deeds.

      The Union helped finance the purchase of a parsonage for the Oakley church, new buildings at Evanston and Price Hill, a new sanctuary at Ninth Street, educational facilities for Linwood, Columbia and Oakley, relocation of Lincoln Park, and of Evanston to Kenwood. The Union gave impetus for starting new congregations in Roselawn (1942), Mt. Washingington

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(1953 and Brentwood (1959), and assisted in acquiring their first buildings. The Union was also instrumental in establishing the Baptist Home and Center in 1946.

      In this century, the Union was recognized in the denominational structure as a 'city (mission) society', which encouraged churches to contribute "mission giving" to the Union. Later, through agreements with the Ohio Baptist Convention, a certain percentage of the mission giving of all Union member churches was returned to the Union, providing a solid basic operating budget.

      The Cincinnati Baptist Church Union existed in parallel cooperation with the broader Miami Association until the 1960s, but as early as 1925, there was mention of discussing merger. The two organizations merged under the name of the Miami Baptist Association in 1965.


[From A Bicentennial History of the Miami Baptist Association, 1998, pp. 1-13. This document was provided by Susan Rice and used with permission. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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