“I wonder what sort of tale we have fallen into.” Sam the Hobbit

As my first blog on the FirstB website, I have chosen to offer some thoughts that come directly from a small group study in which I am engaged at the church.  I owe much of the substance of these thoughts to the good people at VantagePoint3 and much gratitude to the members of “The Journey” small group.  At this time in the life of this historic congregation, I find myself asking the same question as was offered to us to consider this past week in group: “What sort of tale have we fallen into?”

J.R.R. Tolkien presents a incredible fantasy of a place called Middle Earth in his epic tale “Lord of the Rings”.  That story offers images of the struggle of humanity in an alternate world of “good and evil, friendship and loyalty, of beauty and darkness, of power and hope.”[1]

            Likely one of the grandest narratives in the modern world, Tolkien’s characters are both wise and curious, naïve and courageous.  The plot invites us to join them on a quest to return a very special ring that has enormous power which ultimately is used for evil.

            Frodo, the bearer of the ring and his steady companion Sam encounter tremendous danger in their adventure.  Facing their most ominous challenge, they discuss the life-narrative into which they have fallen.  Considering that some life stories are intentionally entered into, and other stories have been encountered by accident, they ponder what kind of story they are in, and how it will end:

            “I don’t like anything here at all,” said Frodo, “Step or stone, breath or bone.  Earth, air and water all seem accursed.  But so our path is laid.”

            “Yes, that’s so,” said Sam.  “And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started.  But I suppose it’s often that way.  The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventure, as I used to call them.

            I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport as you might say.  But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind.

            Folk just seem to have landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it.  But I expect they had lots of chances like us, of turning back, only they didn’t.  And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. 

            We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end.  You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same – like Mr. Bilbo.  But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in.  I wonder what sort of tale we fallen into?"[2]

            “What sort of tale have we fallen into?”

            Wow, what a question!  At First B, we have been on a year-long conversation about What’s Next?  It has felt like a journey, with companions and conversations along what has been a mountainous, unknown and undiscovered path. 

What will be in the subsequent chapter of our common story?  Perhaps, like Sam we feel like What’s Next is an adventure, a story that ‘wonderful folk went out and looked for because they wanted it, because it was exciting and life was a bit dull.’ 

But What’s Next for FBC has been less an intentional adventure, and more something we have landed in as a part of God’s story, our story, the life of this 140 year old congregation of Christ-followers.  As we consider What’s Next for First B, let’s acknowledge that we are part of a large, epic tale.  Let’s affirm together that God is not just a part of our story, but that we are a part of God’s story.

Our story is a narrative of a great big God.

As it happened, I encountered a wonderful, public rendering of that story our story this week as I was driving around the city.  I happened to drive past the downtown public library at 8th Street and Dakota Avenue, the location of the first, First Baptist Church building.  I noticed a large brass plaque marking a historic location.  The monument had text on both sides, commemorating that place as the initial house of worship of the Baptists in Sioux Falls. 

Images of the plaque follow as well as the text.  They speak clearly of the story First Baptist Church has fallen into, a story of pioneers and courage, of faith and mission, of risk and passion.  This is the story that we have all fallen into.  Perhaps it gives us a glimpse of What’s Next:

Text of Plaque located at the corner of 8th Street and Dakota Avenue:

In 1872 Baptist services in Sioux Falls were held sporadically as the number of Baptists was too small to form a congregation.  Soon morning services were held on alternative Sundays at Allen’s Hall located at the NE corner of 8th Street and Phillips Ave.  

Finally on July 4, 1875, with 11 charter members, the Rev. Amos W. Hilton organized a Baptist congregation.  Pastor Hilton served the fledgling church for 3 years, sacrificing income and health to do so.

The congregation dedicated its first church building on Nov. 1, 1882.  Wallace L. Dow, the premier architect of Dakota Territory and member of the congregation, designed the structure built on this site.  The 55 by 49 foot building with large arched windows, a sharply pitched roof, and a 60 foot belfry provided “sittings” for 300 worshippers even though the church had only 25 members.  Innovations included a baptistery that was filled with warm water before each use, making outdoor immersion baptisms in the Big Sioux River a ritual of the past.

Early in 1883 the church called Evan B. Meredith as pastor.  His ordination was the first of many to be sponsored by the congregation.  Meredith became a cofounder of the Dakota Collegiate Institute that became the University of Sioux Falls.  In 1893 members William and Elizabeth Sherrard founded the SD Children’s Home, a boarding home for orphaned or abandoned children.

Over the years members of FBC launched six new Baptist congregations and numerous other community service groups providing them financial support, volunteers and encouragement.

After the turn of the twentieth century, a larger church building was needed.  Architect and member Joseph Schwarz was chosen to prepare plans for the new structure.  The construction and dedication in 1910 of “City Temple” at the SW corned or 8th Street and Spring Avenue energized the membership.  With a renewed spirit, missionaries were sent to serve abroad and in the US.  In 1951 the congregation moved to a third church home, located at 22nd and Covell Ave.

The Pastors, missionaries and dedicated congregation of FBC have provided a long history of Christian service to local citizens as well as the unchurched or less fortunate in many foreign countries.  This guidance continues to make a positive imprint on the religious and social conscience of the Sioux Falls community and beyond.

Dedicated in 2000 by the Minnehaha County Historical Society, First Baptist Church and the William and Carol Mashek family.

“What sort of tale have we fallen into?” 

God’s tale of grace, mercy, mission, courage and faith.

[1] The Journey, Stage 1 Biblical Foundations, a Vantage Point 3 Process p. 31

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of the Lord of the Rings, 2nd edition (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1982), 320-321