A Brief History of the First Baptist Church of Bellingham
This information is provided courtesy of the First Baptist Church of Bellingham, Washington. Photo provided by the Whatcom Museum of History & Art.
The First Baptist Church of Bellingham, Washington was organized on July 21, 1883, when the town site was known as Whatcom. It was incorporated as a congregation on November 25, 1883. Today, it is the oldest, continuous congregation in the City of Bellingham and the oldest corporation in Whatcom County.
The town of Whatcom was a bustling and church-lacking seaport in 1883 when an itinerant Baptist minister focused on organizing a Baptist congregation in the community. The early congregation of six people, including the pastor and his wife, held its first baptism on the shores of Bellingham Bay.
Over the years, the congregation has erected three buildings for worship. The first church was built on a lot donated by a town proprietor along a streetcar route extending west from town. Ten years later the lot was traded for a more central location near the hub of the streetcar system. This church and educational wing served the congregation faithfully for sixty years before growth and age forced its replacement with the present structure across the street.
The First Baptist Church of Bellingham has played a vital force in the lives of its members and in the city of Bellingham: a large number of its young members have chosen careers in ministry; a member was elected mayor of Whatcom and a pastor has served on the Bellingham School Board.
Beginning in 1896, a School of Industries was organized and operated to provide skills and training in many fields, including nursing, dressmaking, cooking, wood carving, carpentry and canoe building. A Bible lesson, scripture and devotions were part of each session. A kindergarten class was added in 1900, the first endeavor of its kind in the city.
In 1903 the Japanese Mission was organized to teach English, geography, reading, history and spelling to immigrants. Many students from these classes became church members and served in the congregation. The church has been an ardent supporter of foreign missions with cash and activities sponsored by the active women’s groups.
Now approaching fifty years in its third building, the congregation has established a committee to locate a new site for its expanding program. Time has brought change — the demise of the streetcar, curtailment of public transportation on Sunday and evenings, improved roads, dependence on the private automobile and unprecedented population growth. No longer is the city core the center of population. Topography and improved roads are causing the center of population to shift northward. An influx of new residents arriving without a local church base is creating new developments north of the original business core. The historic downtown is no longer the center of the expanding population. New shopping centers in the suburbs, relocation of traditional retail stores away from the original business district and the closure of a major waterfront employer have created new opportunities for a church congregation which has taken pride in being a central downtown church.