The new year brings both peril and promise to Baptists of a divided nation.
In the southern Confederacy, some churches, pressured by the loss of male members, battlefield-wrought devastation, nearness of Union forces, and/or financial struggles, face closure. Such is the case with Tidewater Baptist Church in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
With the Union Navy tightening its control of Mississippi’s coastline, life is disrupted for many coastal residents. This month, Tidewater Baptist, founded in 1832, falls victim to Union pressures. Shuttering its doors, the church remains closed throughout the war years. Church records remain silent until 1872.
Meanwhile, far to the northwest, another Baptist congregation is celebrating new beginnings.
On May 6, 1855, a group of pioneering Baptists had met in the county courtroom at the corner of Front and Salmon Streets in Portland, Oregon. During this meeting, the First Baptist Church of Oregon Territory had been formed. Establishing a Sunday School the following Sunday, two months later the church had been represented in the local Independence Day parade. In the years following, the congregation met in rented facilities.
During 1861, as Civil War disrupted life to the East and South, the First Baptist Portland congregation began construction of their first building. This month, church members hold their first meeting in the building, gathering in the church basement, the only portion of the building thus far completed. In the coming months, the turmoil of the distant war and local problems prevent completion of the facility. Finally, the sanctuary is completed in 1870. The total cost is about $12,500.
Not all Baptists, now or later, are equally affected by the Civil War. Many congregations in early 1862 face a daunting future and some close to never reopen. Others will recover, while still others, physically removed from war-time destruction, even now march forward to a better future.
Sources: History, First Baptist Church Ocean Springs, Mississippi (previously Tidewater Baptist), including illustration (link); see also “A Brief history of First Baptist Church, Ocean Springs, 1832-1985” (link); “A Bit of History,” First Baptist Church Portland, Oregon (link)