The story of the First Baptist Church is best described by Psalm 118:23: “This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” It is a testimony of how God works through and uses men to accomplish His work in our world today.
This great work of God started with the burden of a man, J.C. Alair. Mr. Alair and his wife came to Long Beach in 1894 and found no Baptist organization of any kind in the city. In fact, out of the 654 people in town, they found only six other Baptists.
Desiring to have a Baptist church in Long Beach, the Alairs invited those six people to their home for a prayer meeting. Soon, this prayer meeting grew into a Sunday School.
Matthew Pickle’s Hall was rented for $5 per month for one year for the Sunday School. After one year, another hall above the Steven’s Hardware Store became their meeting place.
On May 20, 1894, fifteen people organized the First Baptist Church of Long Beach.
In March, 1895, under the direction of Pastor S.S. Fisk, the church built their first building (Pastor Fisk was the head carpenter).
Five years later, Pastor Brooks led the church to purchase a larger building from the Methodists.
In 1906, Pastor J. Lewis Smith boldly led the church to build a building on the corner of 4th & Locust which would become the home for the church for the next 44 years.
In February, 1912, Dr. George Knights became the pastor. In the following 15 years, the church increased both numerically and spiritually.
Through the leadership of Dr. Knights, the church grew in many areas:
1. The West Side Mission was started
2. The East Side Mission was started and became Immanuel Baptist Church
3. A Sunday School building was built in 1921
4. A dream of Dr. Knights was to balance the church budget with the Missions budget. In 1913, for example, the total church budget was $11,000: $6000 was for the church and the Missions giving was $5000
5. He led in starting the Virginia City church in 1924
6. When he resigned after fifteen fruitful years:
The church also experienced blessings in attendance and giving as well. The membership grew from 564 to 1,483. The Sunday School attendance grew from 447 to 746. The regular missions giving increased from $3,100 to $25,000.
The next pastor, Dr. Ralph Jensen from Chicago, served the church for the next ten years. These were very difficult and trying years for the church and the nation. Under his leadership, Dr. Jensen steadied the church through the Great Depression. He was also the pastor during the Long Beach earthquake of 1933, which did much damage to the church building. The damage was so great that the church could not use the building for over 7 weeks afterwards.
On March 1, 1939, Dr. Winfield Edson was extended a unanimous call to become the next pastor of First Baptist. His ministry was marked by keen fiscal management and a sharp spiritual desire for growth in the church.
Under his direction, Dr. Edson led the church to retire the mortgage, freeing up the church for future growth. His desire was like that of Dr. Knights in that he wanted to see the church budget and the missions budget balanced.
The church grew quickly under Dr. Edson’s leadership, and because of a full building, regrettably people were turned away from attending the services on Sunday mornings.
Because of the maximizing of the facilities, an architect was hired to draw up plans for a new building on the 4th & Locust location. A building fund was started and grew to $200,000 in two short years. City building restrictions and the shortage of parking availability, however, led the church to abandon the plans for the building construction and look for a new location.
During this time, a survey was taken concerning how people made their way to First Baptist Church. It was recorded that:
– 656 people came in cars
– 475 people rode city buses
– 291 people walked
This information led the church to stay in the downtown area of Long Beach. With money already in the building fund, a large piece of property on the corner of 10th & Pine was purchased for $137,000 cash on May 13, 1948.
The church hired an architect and decided that when the money on hand reached $250,000, the work would begin.
In May, 1949, the church building on 4th & Locust was sold for $225,000 with the agreement that the church could continue to meet at that location for one year, rent free.
Construction on the new facility was completed one year after the architect’s plans were drawn. The First Baptist Church of Long Beach met in its new building for the first time on October 1, 1950. The building was completed at a cost of $967,000 with all the furnishings.
Two services were held on that first day in the new building:
9:00 AM with 1,712 in attendance
11:00 AM with 1,648 in attendance
There was also an “Open House” for the new property which saw 5,000 visitors.
Six years later, Dr. Edson made plans for a Sunday School addition and started having fundraising dinners with all the adult classes for pledge commitments. In two months, they brought in sufficient pledges for Dr. Edson to announce that they would proceed with construction plans. Unfortunately, Dr. Edson suffered a heart attack in his study before that announcement could be made in that morning service.
The staff took over immediate duties and the building committee announced the successful completion of the fundraising campaign. Dr. Edson improved from his heart attack, was able to be home within 30 days, and was writing letters to the people through The Beacon, a church newsletter. He announced to the people that he expected to return to the pulpit by May for limited service. The people were encouraged and approved the building plan.
Their hopes were dashed, however, and shock spread through the church family when Dr. Edson suffered a second heart attack and passed away on April 18, 1956.
The “Christ’s Chapel” on the church property was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Edson in May of that same year.
Dr. Frank Kepner was called to be the pastor and the church continued on. Under Dr. Kepner’s ministry there were several highlights:
1. With a great desire to reach the youth of the city, a gymnasium was built for the enrichment of the teen department.
2. January, 1959, to accommodate the need for growth, two church services on Sunday mornings began.
3. The first bus was purchased on Sept. 20, 1960.
4. The Spanish ministry was started in 1966.
5. The West Parking Lot was purchased for $125,000.
6. In 1968, major projects were taken on: such as the remodeling of the auditorium, and air conditioning for the entire building.
Dr. Kepner’s led the church for a total of 23 years, making him the longest tenured pastor to date.
Mark Buebeck was the co-pastor along with Dr. Kepner for three years helping to transition from Dr. Kepner’s 23 years of faithful service to the church.
Hans Finzel was the interim pastor for approximately one year, committing to help the church until another pastor could be found.
September, 1980, God led Dr. Larry Chappell to became pastor. In 1983, by God’s direction, he led the church out of the American Baptist Convention to become an independent church body. Under Dr. Chappell’s leadership, the church broadened its ministries internationally.
Dr. Chappell, before coming to Long Beach, served as a missionary in Korea. Having a burden to reach the Korean people, he started the Korean ministry at First Baptist. God led Dr. Yang Mu Kim to serve under Dr. Chappell as the Korean Pastor in 1984.
Under his leadership, the bus ministry also grew rapidly with the church totaling 13 routes.
Dr. Chappell trusted the Lord for growth and led the church to purchase buildings for future parking lot space.
Through its growing ministries, First Baptist enjoyed a surge of evangelism with many people saved and baptized during these years.
In the years to come, the church began several new ministries, including: the First Baptist Church School, in 1987; the Fundamental Baptist Bible Institute, and the Filipino ministry, in 1991.
In 1992, Dr. Chappell’s son, Mark Chappell, was called to be the pastor. During this time, the church was benefiting greatly from the men and women who served at the naval bases in Long Beach. As part of military downsizing at that time, and with no warning, these bases closed down, and their occupants reassigned. As a result, the church lost many faithful and serving families during these first three years of Mark Chappell’s pastorate. Every aspect of the ministry was affected as deacons, choir members, Sunday school teachers, bus workers, and nursery workers were being shipped out to other parts of the world. At one point, almost two families were leaving each week.
Under Pastor Chappell’s ministry, the Cambodian ministry was started. Also, capital improvements to an aging building were accomplished, including new A/C for the auditorium, at a cost of $100,000. Under his leadership, a Sunday School class for the homeless was started, as well.
James F. Allen became the interim pastor in May, 1999, during a difficult time of transition in the life of the church. Under the direction of Bro. Allen, they church continued to faithfully preach the Gospel and see many souls saved and baptized.
Used greatly as interim pastor during this time in the church’s history, Bro. Allen continued to serve at First Baptist for many years to come in other various roles; such as an Assistant Pastor, School Administrator, and Financial Manager. His faithful service was a great asset to the church until his home-going in 2015.
John Wilkerson was called to be the pastor of the church in 2000. Under his direction, average Sunday School attendance grew to 1,700, and the church saw many souls saved and baptized. Through his ministry, the church was able to pay off a large amount of debt accumulated through the years. Pastor Wilkerson’s love for world evangelism led the church to increase substantially in their regular missions giving, as well as their attendance in the church’s international ministries. It was with a heavy heart that the church lovingly acknowledged God’s leading Pastor Wilkerson to move to Indiana to assume another pastorate in February of 2013.
For six months, Dr. James F. Allen again served as interim pastor while the church prayerfully sought a new pastor.
In August of 2013, the people welcomed Michael Jones as the 19th pastor of First Baptist Church. Under Pastor Jones’ leadership, the church has experienced a fresh vision to reach their city, their communities, and the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. His emphasis on practical Bible preaching and teaching has seen many grow in their walk with Christ.
Throughout the past 120+ years, the First Baptist Church has and continues to be a thriving testimony that God is still at work lives are changed by His amazing grace! Words could not describe His goodness to this church family, and the families rescued, the lives changed, and the victories won by His divine working! To Him be all the glory for His wonderful works at First Baptist!
Chronological Listing of the Pastors
C.W. Gregory, April 22, 1894 – December 19, 1894
S.S. Fisk, March 3, 1895 – February 14, 1897
H.M. Bell, June 3, 1897 – August 21, 1898
B.A. Copass, September 7, 1898 – February 1, 1899
E.H. Brooks, October 22, 1899 – January 26, 1901
F.L. Norton, May 29, 1901 – January 31, 1905
J. Lewis Smith, April 19, 1905 – April 13, 1910
George M. Lehigh, August 10, 1910 – October 15, 1911
George D. Knights, February 28, 1912 – January 1, 1927
G. W. Cassidy, February 9, 1927 – March 27, 1928
Ralph A. Jensen, March 28, 1928 – November 1, 1938
Winfield Edson, March 1, 1939 – April 18, 1956
Frank Kepner, August 29, 1956 – April 28, 1977
Mark I. Bubeck, April 29, 1977 – October 7, 1979
Hans Finzell, October 11, 1979 – November 30, 1980
Larry Chappell, December 1, 1980 – January 31, 1992
Mark A. Chappell, Feburary 1, 1992 – May 23, 1999
James F. Allen, June 16, 1999 – June 3, 2000
John Wilkerson, June 4, 2000 – February 10, 2013
James F. Allen, February 11, 2013 – August 11, 2013
Michael Jones, August 11, 2013 – 2016
Dave Delaney, August 6, 2016 – Present