First Prairie Creek Baptist Church

As one travels down Highway 63 south of Terre Haute and reaches the top of the Hauger Hill, he spies a church steeple. Many strangers have spoken of its beauty and challenge. It seems to reach out toward the Heavens and beacons one on. Many citizens of Prairie Creek watch its weather vane to denote wind direction. As on travels through the valley and up the hill, he becomes aware of the Little White Church. The old song, "Faith of Our Fathers," was well-worded by the Psalmist when one reviews the past history of the First Prairie Creek Baptist Church.

This Baptist Church is as old as the State of Indiana which was admitted to the Union in 1816 and in that selfsame year the beginnings of the First Baptist Church took place.

In May of 1816 Isaac McCoy and Daniel Boone were traveling through Indiana which was practically a wilderness at that time. A few had settled in the Lykins Settlement which is near Vigo, Ind. The one existing wagon-road in Prairie Creek was the old Army Road which connected Fort Knox and Fort Harrison made during the year 1812. It ran North and South on the east side of Battlerow Prairie. It wasn't until 1823 the present State Road 63 was laid out.

These two men and some Baptist people from the Maurice Creek Church constituted the First Prairie Creek Baptist Church, on Saturday before the fourth Sunday in May 1816. There were twenty members who entered this organization (having received letters from the Maurice Creek Baptist Church for this purpose). (The records of the proceedings of this church were destroyed by a fire in the Asa Frakes Store in Middletown, up to 1832).

The eleven Charter Members we have record of are: Joseph Liston and wife Nancy; Samuel Chambers; Christiana Chambers; Polly Chambers; William Thomas and wife Marguaretta; Thomas Pounds and wife, Sarah; and Elijah Thomas and wife, Sarah. The services which resulted in the organization was conducted under some large trees at the foot of the hill. Isaac McCoy was the first preacher.

They agreed on certain articles, rules of Decorum and resolutions and "believe it or not" there have been very few changes made up to the present time. These are recorded in 1834 in Clerk's book.

Elder McCoy was the first to preach a full missionary doctrine. In 1819 the first church was erected on land donated by Jimmie Johnson with an adjoining plot of ground for a Burying Ground. Walking through the cemetery one can find many stones of the Old Saints which had much to do with this church and its progress.

The first building was a hewn log structure 30 feet square and equipped with split log benches around an open fireplace in the center of the room. This fireplace was made of clay, there being an 8' or 10' square in the center of the floor and filled with clay forming a shallow basin in which the fire was built. The smoke escaped through the roof. This house was used for religious purposes until 1840 when it was removed and a new frame erected.

In 1832 the Church gave her consent for a six months school to be taught in the building with a bond made to the trustees for any incurring damages. Four years later, in 1836, the church again gave her consent for a term of school to be taught and the house was made more comfortable by installing a loose plank ceiling and a stove for heat. Thus the first building was known as a Meeting and School House. In March 1834, the yard was cleared and enclosed with a white oak post and rail fence 4-1/2" high.

Shortly after organization she became a part of the Wabash Organization and entertained the churches of the same at their Annual Meeting 1822. Later she united with the Union Association declaring herself a Missionary Baptist Church. In October 1834, Curry's Prairie Association was formed at Union Meeting House, Vigo, Indiana, and has been annually represented in the Association and has entertained the Association a number of times.

This Church has assisted in ordaining many deacons, ministers and Churches, such as Honey Creek in 1841 which later became known as New Harmony Baptist Church. The First Baptist Church of Terre Haute in 1836 and the Second Prairie Creek Baptist Church in 1837.

In the first minutes of the 1834 Curry's Prairie Association the roll call showed 74 members and six years later in 1840 there were 114 members. This shows that many souls were won to Christ in this sparsely settled area.

The first protracted meeting recorded in the minutes was in 1839. Sixteen souls were saved. This meeting was to stimulate an interest in a new building. A building campaign was launched for a 40' x 50' building with 12' walls and to be ceiled with plank and heated by two stoves. $5.74 was subscribed. Early in 1840 the subscription was raised to $6.97 and they decided to build. They surely had much faith in God that "He who clothes and feeds the fowls of the air" would aid them.

In this building the windows were never finished with glass, but wooden shutters were used to fight the elements, but had to be opened to give light. The roof collapsed and large hewn posts were set in the center for support. The old log building was sold and the money used on the new one.

In April 1842, the Church decided to open the door for reception of members when six or more members were present.

The Church has called forty-five ministers, but the one who served the longest was Elder Asa Frakes. He was a fleshy man and had to sit to deliver his sermons. He served 35 years and 11 months. At first the pastors were paid in vegetables, meat, meals and lodging in the various homes. In 1854 the Church began taking offerings for the support of the pastor. This ruling has been changed and interchanged many times, but now the minister is guaranteed a regular salary. The minutes show that as much as $0.97 was received at one offering.

In 1856 a Bible and Hymnbook were purchased for use in the Church. According to Church records the members adhered to the custom of "Churching" any minister or member who did not meet the standards. Records show many such dismissals and the reasons. Quite often a member was excluded if he missed three meetings in a row without a very good reason which was voted on by the members. Other dismissals were brought about because of drunkenness, disorderly conduct. They were reinstated if they came back and made a public confession and the members voted they be accepted again. January 1861, voted to change four lard lamps at $3.50 (two were changed to kerosene lamps at that time).

In 1865, the minister's salary was fixed a $150 and he was given an assistant to do 1/2 of the preaching. This was agreed upon as Christ had sent out disciples two by two. This only lasted three years and again the pastor depended on the liberality of the Church. The collections have been recorded from $0.28 to $0.90 a meeting.

In 1868 the Church began washing the Saints' feet, but it was soon dropped. In the same year Nancy Gross bequeathed $25 in her will to the Church. This was the beginning of such giving. In 1873 a finance committee was elected to look after Pastor's salary.

In 1875, James Earnest, Brother of Martha Fiske, left her $1400 from a Masonic Lodge Policy, to be used in building a new Church. Mr. and Mrs. Sam Fiske asked that $1000 be placed on interest, the said interest to be used for repairs, a sexton, etc., and they would give $500 toward the erection of a new building if they would give them the old frame house. The proposition was accepted and a building contract was made between Mr. Sam Fiske and Trustees. The building was finished in 1876 at a cost of $3006.79.

Church paid$500
Zadock Hunt20
Fiskes1400(From Masonic Policy)

The first Church building was used 22 years--second, 36 years--present Church building to present time, 120 years [in 1996].

In 1879 the Temperance movement reached the church. In 1880 the Church set apart the fourth Sunday in September of each year to take a special offering for Foreign Missions. In March 1882, the Church agreed to sustain both a prayer meeting and Sunday School. Both have proven profitable. Brother C. Morgan was elected the first S.S. Superintendent. In 1884, a notice was made and posted, "Do not spit on the floor."

Due to a small pox epidemic the church failed for the first time to worship and transact business in October 1882. This is the only time I found in the records that the church failed to meet. In 1891 the Church went on record by giving $12.00 for Missions and $7.02 to the aged Minister's Home. Thus we find that other departments of the Church were organized and supported.

In 1903 Stephen Bridwell and wife Sarah, Ann Drake, Sally Hutton, Wesley Johnson and Horace Drake were given a letter of dismissal so that they might assist in organizing a Church at Hutton, Indiana, known as the Center Hill Baptist Church.

In 1916 the Church celebrated her Centennial Anniversary by a special religious program. The Centennial Celebration began the evening of May 26, followed by day and night meetings the 27th and 28th. I suspect some of you remember cooking food in the large iron kettles hung over the fire. Each church of Prairie Association was asked to have one delegate from both Church and Sunday School and all former pastors were invited to attend. The program was participated in by each department of the church. The history written by Rev. James Paddock was read and a roll call made.

The first BYPU was organized in 1896--disbanded and started in 1916 and the name was later changed to BYF.

The Church was wired for electric lights in 1924. The Sunday School Officers were first elected by the Church in 1929 with Bro. James Kruzan as Superintendent. The first Singing Convention was organized with Second Prairie Creek, Fairbanks, Oregon and First Prairie Creek participating in 1936.

The first Missionary Society was organized in 1932--meeting in the homes with Effie Elliott as the first president. Guild Girls organized in 1937. Disbanded and reorganized in 1953. The first Daily Vacation Bible School was organized in 1937 with Mrs. Dale Merrill as leader and Clara Elliott as assistant. A Homecoming Program was held in 1938. The first Brotherhood meeting was held in 1940.

We began making plans to remodel in 1947 by building Sunday School rooms in the back and putting in a coal furnace which was later replaced by the present oil furnace. The new building project began growing with Rev. Ketner furnishing the enthusiasm, God the wherewithal, and the Layman Faith and Labor. In 1952 we purchased the new organ and in 1953 started a building fund. The basement was built, new floor put in, new seats, pulpit communion table, kitchen chairs and folding doors. These were purchased from Building Fund, and donations of God's people.

The Vacation Bible School was reorganized in 1953 and has been in progress each year. Many other programs have been carried on successfully such as the Centennial in 1916. This is Your Life, Willard Ketner, etc.

In 1966 the church celebrated its sesquicentennial. A full weekend of services were scheduled. Vacation Bible School was held the week prior to the 150th Birthday celebration. V.B.S. closing exercises were held on Friday evening with Pastor Harold Thomas speaking.

On Saturday evening, June 18th, Pat and Tom Dental, missionaries returning from Dakar, Senegal, Africa, were present to speak.

A day of meetings were planned for Sunday. Rev. Bill Ketner, a former pastor, brought the morning message, Communion service followed.

A carry-in basket dinner was served at 12 noon and the folks met with old acquaintances and made new friendships. This was followed by Norah Johnson, church historian [and author of this booklet], at 1:30 p.m., and Dr. Dallas West was the afternoon speaker.

The evening service, at 7:30 p.m., featured the Crusaders Quartet. A good time was had by all.

Nell Moore wrote a puppet play depicting scenes from long ago business meetings. We also purchased a new 50 star flag for our celebration.

During the ministry of Kent Crandall, from 1967 to 1977, a new Hammond organ was purchased, paneling was installed in the sanctuary, and new storm doors and a new front door donated in memory of Margaret Lloyd.

In 1975 the baptistery was installed with new drapes installed. The candle holders and the cross were donated in memory of Skeet and Ethel Johnson. Lila Drake donated window candle holders (which we often use), in memory of her mother, Virginia Hunt. Air conditioning was a welcome addition to the church in 1976. The picture on the back wall of the baptistery, painted by Alan Hackney, was donated by the family of Vern and Irene Watson, in their memory.

Rev. Kent Crandall resigned after serving the church for nine years. Under his ministry thirty-two new members were added to the church roll.

In October 1977, the church called a man who was delivering the mail, to come and deliver the Gospel message to its congregation. Under the ministry of Ray Dyer, missionary support has been generous. At the present time we are supporting Ginger Van Houtin, missionary to Taiwan, Karen Lawrence with the Campus Crusade for Christ, and C.O.D.A., along with much local giving for good causes.

We have been instrumental in helping to close down the so called "massage parlors" in and around Terre Haute.

Sunday school enrollment hit an all time high in September 1983, with 179 on the books. Our highest average attendance in the worship service was 120 during the years of 1982 and 1983.

Many improvements to the church have been made under Brother Dyer's ministry. Some of the major improvements are: a new P.A. system, the east basement wall and foundation being replaced, and new windows, storm doors and vinyl siding on the church building. For the first time ever, we have a dry basement. We have new air conditioning and furnace units under contract as this is being written [1996].

Under Rev. Dyer's old-time, down home preaching and witnessing, the Lord Jesus has added one hundred and eighty-one new members. Rev. Dyer's length of service is second only to Elder Asa Frakes.

Sweat, tears, toil, and above all, Faith have been the backbone and growth of our church.

Missionary Work - 1966

In addition to the regular missionary giving to the American Baptist Foreign Missions, First Prairie Creek also contributes to the support of missionaries, Tom and Pat Dentel, working in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa. The church has a particular interest in their work as Pat is a member of the First Prairie Creek.

The church was instrumental in Pat obtaining her Christian Education by contributing to her tuition at Bob Jones University, Greenville, South Carolina. Pat attended Bob Jones, along with two other members of First Prairie Creek, Jean Price and David Wilson, during the years 1954 through 1958, at which time she graduated. Jean and David also entered Christian service--Jean as the wife of a minister, David as a minister.

Pat met her husband at Bob Jones University. In 1962, Pat, Tom and daughters, Gail and Ruth, under the auspices of United World Mission, went to Dakar, Senegal, West Africa to work as teachers in Dakar Academy--school for missionaries' children.

In 1966, they returned home for a year's furlough. During this stay at home, a son, David Andrew, was born to the Dentels. They are returning to Dakar in October, 1967, for another four year term to start work with the African youth of the Wolof Tribe. They will be opening their home to these young people--holding child evangelism classes, instituing a program of Pioneer Girls and Boys Brigade. This is a program of activity combining recreation, learning and bible study, through which Tom and Pat will endeavor to lead these young people to the Lord.

When Pat and Tom Dentel returned to this country from Dakar, they continued their ministry in a children's home in Mission, Texas, and latter in Pickens, S.C. They have four grown children and plan to retire in S.C. in the near future.

Closing Thoughts

And so, the First Prairie Creek Baptist Church stands on a hill, serene as a Greek Temple on her 180th birthday. It seems curiously alive, endued with a vitality all its own.

To the east and north lies a cemetery which houses the bodies of the many saints who faithfully carried out their life work in the church and are awaiting the Great Judgment Day.

There is a sad reminder connected with this brief sketch. While man has busied himself in civilizing the country, building it into a happy community, death and time have not been idle. Here and there is yet spared us a living monument of those early days, but alas! they are few and times now bear heavily upon us.

May the First Prairie Creek Baptist Church keep on as the years roll on progressing, until our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ comes and takes all its saved Home.

Message From the Pastor - 1996

"A closing thought: Doris and I love you all and it's our prayer that God will continue to bless and prosper the First Prairie Creek Baptist Church. It has been a joy and a privilege to serve the dear Lord Jesus with all of you these past nineteen years. God bless each and every one."

Your Pastor,
Rev. Ray Dyer

Happy 180th Birthday, 1816-1996, First Prairie Creek Baptist Church, 1966, 1996
By Norah M. Johnson, with revisions by Rev. Ray Dyer, Amy Watson and Nell Moore.
Pp. 5-12, 33-34; Used with permission.

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