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First Baptist Church Celebrates Centennial

Monrovia’s oldest congregation erected its present church building in 1912.

When Monrovia first became a city, there was no TV, and there was no radio or movie theater. Churches were a major point of focus for a community back then, and social events often revolved around the church calendar.  Monrovia was no exception.

The first church to arrive at the fledgling town was the Baptist Church. It actually had its origins in Duarte in 1881, but it moved to Monrovia several years later after offered the congregation three town lots and $500 to relocate.  Twenty-four members voted for the move, and the transplanted congregation held its first service on Sept. 26, 1886, in Monrovia. 

In 1887 a new, $7,000 edifice with its striking bell tower was completed at the southwest corner of Charlotte (Canyon Boulevard) and Olive Avenues. A new church bell was donated by J.O. Matthewson, and it now resides in the current church building; it is rung every Sunday at 10:45 a.m. 

The church was re-incorporated as the of Monrovia on June 25, 1887.  W.N. Monroe, who donated a handsome church organ, and his wife were received into membership on Sept. 4, 1887. During 1889 the church passed a resolution stating that members who engaged in dancing or card playing would be withdrawn from the fellowship of the church. The clerk then sent the resolution to any persons suspected “of indulging in said amusements.”

The Rev. George B. Reiman began his ministry at the church on Sept. 18, 1888.  He received a salary of $1,500 per year, and membership in the church totaled 154.  Rev. A.P. Brown served for seven years, beginning in 1892, and during that time membership in the church passed the 200 mark.  He was married to Minnie, daughter of C.O. Monroe, who was William Monroe’s brother. 

A milestone of sorts was achieved on May 4, 1900, when the church building was wired for electricity. In 1906 a church committee assigned the task of suggesting a new location for the congregation recommended the property at the northwest corner of Palm and Encinitas Avenues. The action was precipitated by the rapid growth of the church, necessitating the move to a larger facility.

With the Rev. Lord at the helm, the new church was dedicated on Nov. 24, 1912. It was designed by Norman F. Marsh in a Gothic Revival style of architecture and was erected at a cost of $28,000. Eight stained glass windows, the church bell, pulpit chairs and seats were brought from the Olive location to the new church. In addition, two beautiful stained glass arches and a 10-foot leaded glass dome were added in the main sanctuary and all still exist in the church today.

On March 14, 1993, the Rev. Richard Sullender began serving as pastor and continues to this day. He became the 32nd minister (including interim pastors) to serve the Monrovia congregation. Most of the previous ministers left after a relatively short term to accept pastoral duties elsewhere.

A special nod of thanks goes to church secretary Mel Stumbaugh and the Historical Committee of 2012, which compiled a complete history of the church using old business meeting journals, newspaper clippings and church publications.  The First Baptist Church will be part of the Mother’s Day Home Tour on Sunday, May 13.  The church will only be open from 1-4 p.m. that day to allow for morning services.

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