A Congregation with Deep Roots
First United Church is a union of two congregations from the American Baptist and United Church of Christ traditions. The church’s Baptist roots go back to 1825, when Monroe County pioneers first established a congregation in Bloomington. The church, First Baptist Church, was located downtown at 4th and Washington and grew to become the largest Baptist congregation in the county.
If you spend much time at First United, you’ll soon hear folks talk about the Rev. Douglas Rae, a church leader imbued with the idealism of the social gospel movement. He led the congregation from the 1930s through the 1960s and made First Baptist a leading progressive force in the community, a tradition we continue today. Our church was the first in Bloomington to desegregate, and Rae was instrumental in the creation of Monroe County United Ministries.
A Modern Move
In the late 1950s, the church outgrew its downtown building and moved to its present home – then on the edge of town, but now once again a central location. Our building, designed by renowned architect Edward Anders Sövik, is an architectural landmark in Bloomington and was built in 1956. Great care was taken to express our core values through the architecture of our building. For example, the floor-to-ceiling glass windows in our sanctuary represent a desire to be transparent in our actions, and they keep us connected with the larger world instead of hiding us away inside a closed-off worship space. To learn more about our architecture, we invite you to read Sticks and Stones.
Two Congregations Become One
In the 1970s, the First Baptist Church began a relationship with a smaller United Church of Christ congregation that had its origins in a house church centered on the IU campus. This growing UCC congregation began using First Baptist’s chapel on Sunday, and the two churches shared Sunday School classes. In 1973, the congregations voted to unify, and the church changed its name to First Baptist Church – United Church of Christ. (Say that five times fast!)
To the Twenty-First Century and Beyond
In 2003, we underwent another name change, becoming First United Church. We also completed a significant building renovation to restore our structure without compromising its architectural values. We continued to embrace our calling as a progressive Christian voice in the community when we called the Rev. Dr. Jack Skiles to serve with us in 2006. In September of 2008, the congregation voted overwhelmingly to go on record as open, welcoming, and affirming. In doing so, we legitimized what had long been true in practice – we believe that God’s spirit calls us to embrace diversity fully in our congregation and community and to affirm the dignity and worth of every person without regard to race, nationality, or ethnicity; age; sex, gender, or sexual orientation; faith; economic, social, or marital status; or physical, mental, or emotional ability.
Concerned About Our Planet and Doing Our Part
First United Church has long been concerned about the impact human activity has on the natural world. Our Mid-Century Modern 1956 building is of a larger size than the current congregation fully utilizes all week long. We are addressing this three ways: by generating electricity on-site, by sharing our space with many, many not-for-profit organizations whose mission is in accord with our own, and by undertaking energy conservation measures in the space we have.
In 2016, we flipped the switch to start generating electrical power from our 82.9 kilowatt photovoltaic array. At the time of its installation in September 2016, it was the largest solar array atop a church in Indiana. The 307 panels are attached to the raised seam metal roof over the classroom wing and Fellowship Hall. A monitor outside of the entrance to Fellowship Hall shows the electrical power being generated.