First Baptist Church was located on the northwest corner of 4th and Washington when, as an IU freshman, I began attending in 1956.? Finding and going to a Baptist church was as much a foregone conclusion as buying books and something I had experienced several times, because my family had moved from Tennessee to Iowa to Indiana to New York, and finding and going to a Baptist church was just a way of life.
Rev. William (Bill) Webster and family came to First Baptist Church of Bloomington that year, too, as Bill was hired to be the Roger Williams minister.? (The Roger Williams ministry was the Baptists? effort to serve undergraduate and graduate students at the various colleges and universities throughout the state.)? One of Bill?s new programs was a freshman discussion group which met weekly in the living room of a church-member?s house on Jordan Ave., a little north of Third St.? The eight or ten of us who met there regularly also attended Sunday School classes, worship services, and the Sunday night Roger Williams meetings, where we always had some sort of program and discussion, then shared a meal we cooked together.? From time to time, Bill took small groups of us (deputation teams, we were called) to visit Baptist churches around the state to tell them what was going on at that den of iniquity, Indiana University, and verify that college ministry was, indeed, happening there (in other words, their money was being well spent).
Our freshman discussion group members became close friends.? Actually, one of the group, Ken Sparks, became more than a close friend, and we were married in the church in 1959 by W. Douglas Rae.? By then, the church had relocated to its new building in the middle of farmland on the eastside of town, and I had officially moved my church membership to Bloomington when my parents had been transferred again (this time to Kansas).? Ken?s family had moved to Bloomington from Missouri is 1955, and they were all members of the church.? So?I had found a home.? Births, baptisms, weddings, funerals:? family events.? The church became my family.
The theology I brought to Bloomington in 1956 has experienced permutations, to say the least.? As a child, I had been taught to take the Bible literally, and if I questioned anything ? you know, like contradictions or happenings so scientifically impossible ? I was admonished that I just lacked faith and ?beware.?? I heard many sermons which espoused exclusion rather that inclusion and condemned those poor unfortunate billions of people who believed anything different or nothing at all to hell.? Somewhere deep within me, I was sure God?s love was too great for that to be true.
At First United, ?inquiring minds? take the Bible seriously, not literally.? All viewpoints and lifestyles are respected and valued.? I believe most of us are trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and we look for ways to serve the needs of people without the ulterior motive of saving their souls.? These tenets have not come to us as a lightning bolt, but as a result of discussion, debate, study, and dedication to being honest with ourselves and each other. ?I have watched ministers and leadership come and go, church attendance and membership wane and grow again, issues divide and unite, even the name of the church change a couple of times, but the glue of God?s love has bound me to this place.
I could regret that I was not always so ?enlightened? and be angry with those dear souls whose teachings I now view so differently or have rejected altogether.? Instead, I am grateful I came to a place ? this place, First United Church ? where I have been loved and encouraged to discover and live out my own beliefs for well over fifty years.? I hope you can see why this church is still my family.