From a booklet about Baptist churches in the U.P.
The early history of the First Baptist Church of Ishpeming is exceedingly interesting. Mr. William Burt considered the possibility of having Baptist preaching in this new settlement inhabited by both Swedish and American folks. IN view of this fact, Mr. Burt thought it best to secure a man who could speak both languages.
Thus, on May 15, 1870, he wrote a wetter to Anders Wiberg in Christianstad, Sweden, asking if he could recommend a good preacher in Sweden who could come to America and who would be able to speak two languages–Swedish and English. Rev. Wiberg replied on June 21, 1870, that no preacher in Sweden could be spared.
He directed Mr. Burt to contact a Rev. P. Nordell in Rock Island, Illinois. Immediately, Mr. Burt wrote Rev. Nordell. Pastor Nordell’s reply, “I know of but one man answering your inquiry: Rev. Lawrence L. Frisk of Waukan, Iowa.” Accordingly, several letters were exchanged before Rev. Frisk accepted the challenge and he along with his family arrived in Ishpeming in July, 1871.
Since a house of worship was so much needed, Rev. Frisk appealed to Mr. Burt for a church building and the appeal was granted. A lot 100′ by 100′ on West Division Street was leased by the mining company on a 99 year arrangement. The erection of a church was started and completed by September 1872.
From the church record comes this statement, “The meeting house was solemnly dedicated to Almighty God, September 8, 1872, and a Baptist Church was organized with L.L. Frisk as its first pastor.” There were six charter members. Rev. Frisk laid a good foundation during the two years he was on the field.
A parsonage was built in 1875, the size of which was 18′ by 28′, at a cost of $910.87. When completed there remained a debt of $300 and the parsonage was rented to pay off the debt.
Several pastors served short terms and preached in English. The Swedish members of the church suffered, since many of them did not understand the language. However, the Swedish segment of the church thrived. The questions of started an Independent Scandanavian church was discussed and in view of the fact that only a few English speaking members remained, the Swedish branch now became the church, continuing with the original organization. This did not mean the English speaking people left, for they wer estill members four years later. In 1882 the church became known as the Swedish Baptist Church of Ishpeming.
Quotes and much material are taken from E.O. Ericson’s historical sketch: “Seventy Years of Baptist Work in Ishpeming, Michigan 1870-1939.”
The Church experienced a number of itinerant pastors from the years 1873-1880. It is interesting to note (especially considering the rugged wilderness conditions at the time) that the church always seemed to be a missionary endeavor. For instance, the Swedish pastor Michael Johnson was supported $150/year by the Women’s Baptist Missionary Society.
The church really began to flourish under the ministry of A.A. Hammar who resided from July 1, 1884–January 1, 1891. During his residency the church increased from 28 to 111 members (there was also heavy immigration from Sweden at this time). Hammar also preached in Republic, Champion, Calumet, Escanaba, Negaunee, and Marquette, and was influential in establishing churches there. The Michigan Baptist State Convention contributed $250/year to his work, although when he had completed his work the church was self-supporting.
In May,1889, the American members left the Swedish Baptist Church to start the Ishpeming American Baptist Church and were paid $1,300 for their part of the property. After Hammar left in 1891 (he could not be persuaded to stay, even by a raise in salary!), Theo Grandin stepped in. Membership decreased from 111 to 81 due to a doctrinal controversy over the doctrine of sanctification.
A number of other pastors passed through in the following years. On January 1, 1893, the members number 93. Under the leadership of Carl O. Dahlin from April 16, 1896–August 1, 1901, the ministry flourished. “Never was there a more happy relationship between pastor and church” (Ericson, p. 22). As the oldest Swedish Baptist church in the area, Ishpeming was responsible for covering many outstations: Negaunee, Marquette, Little Lake, Munising, Michigamme, Republic, Escanaba, White Fish, Garth, and Calumet. Dahlin was a very hard worker and a practical man and was instrumental in keeping many churches going. Membership increased from 112 to 157 (the highest in its history).
Rev. Magnus Johnson, who became the pastor in October of 1901, finally obtained a clear deed to the property. He graduated churches in Negaunee, Escanaba-White Fish, and Marquette, using former members. Thus membership in Ishpeming declined to 72–100 members or so were “lost” in starting others churches. The only outstation left at this time was Munising.
Rev. Helmer A. Newman (October 1904–June 1909) sold the property on Division Street for $5,500 and purchased a lot on the corner of Third and High Streets in Ishpeming. The church was described as being “both beautiful and in every [way] practical” (p.30). There were 83 members in 1909.
After this, the Ishpeming Swedish Baptist Church began to continually sink both in membership as well as strength. In 1918 there were only 30 members. (During these years many of the founding members who had served the church and kept it going, died. Many other church leaders had moved away.) From 1918 to 1929 the members were without a pastor and the Swedish Baptist General Conference did not send financial aid, so the work gradually died. “The last time the building was used by the original congregation was for a funeral service in 1930” (p. 32). On May 8, 1931, the title was deeded to the executive committee of the Swedish Baptist General Conference and the church was officially disbanded. The Bethel Institute (their denominational school) received the largest part of the monetary assets–$300.
“Everything had been disposed of except the spirit of the pioneers” (p. 34). And the Spirit of God was working on the heart of the Rev. Axel Anderson, associated with Hiawatha Land Independent Baptist Missions, who was waiting in Iron River, Michigan, for an opportune time to revive the work. He came in faith to visit on Saturday, August 1, 1936, and found the church building in deplorable condition (for no care had been given it for many years. Consequently, dust and dirt had accumulated in deep layers, windows were badly broken and the church roof leaked in many places” (p. 34). However, he managed to clean it up well enough to hold a service on August 2, 1936.
At that meeting there were seven present and the offering was a grand total of forty cents! “From then on, Sunday School and church services were held every Sunday” (p. 34). Anderson traveled 80 miles from Iron River to conduct services for a year until he and his family moved to Ishpeming in September, 1937.
A new church organization was officially formed on December 2, 1937, with 17 members and the title Bible Baptist Church (it was no longer associated with the Swedish Baptist Conference).
During Anderson’s early ministry the membership grew to 25, with a Sunday School enrollment of 60, and an average attendance of 42. (In fact, four of those new members had been members of the former Swedish church.) Rev. Anderson received no stipulated salary and the young church had to take care of its bills without very much help from any other source, but God provided. The church’s height of attendance for a while was during World War II and immediately following. The church also started a bus route. But on Labor Day, 1948, a turning point came in the Andersons’ lives when their son, Charles, died in a drowning accident on Gold Mine Lake. Attendance diminished to the 20’s and 30’s, and in 1949 Axel Anderson moved to Grand Rapids.
In 1950, another missionary with Hiawatha Land Independent Baptist Missions (now Known as Continental Baptist Missions), Rev. Harold McNeil, took over the work until 1955. He took on the tasks of helping the church form a new constitution and buying back the church from the Baptist General Conference.
Just a handful of people attended the church when Andrew Brown was pastor from 1956 to 1961. Lloyd Welton served from 1962 to 1972. He had a small congregation, but a large listening audience to his radio program on WJPD. When he retired, Rev. Paul Margraff became the missionary pastor of the work and served from 1972 to 1975, building up the small congregation. (In fact, a large percentage of the church people were coming from K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base.)
In September of 1977, missionary church planter (and Negaunee native), James Hill, also with Continental Baptist Missions (CBM) became the missionary pastor of the ministry, supported by the prayers and funds of valuable supporters and friends across the country.
Due to the deterioration of the building, the costs involved to fix it, and other factors, the church family looked into purchasing land on which to build a new building. In 1987, they purchased ten acres of land from Cleveland Cliffs, Inc. for $15,000. Construction on the new building was started in June of 1989 with help from missionary builders from CBM. The church family still supports lead builder, Jim (and Marie) Chase, now retired.
The total cost for excavation and building was about $120,000. The new, handicapped accessible, more cost-effective building at 615 South North Lake Drive in West Ishpeming, was completed and dedicated in the fall of 1990. During this time, the pastor was still receiving outside funds to be able to remain on the field. The average attendance grew to 70 with a membership in June, 2003, of 49 members. The Lord began financially blessing the church and they voted by faith on January 15, 2003, to go self-supporting in July. On May 18, 2003, they called Rev. James Hill to remain as pastor. The church officially graduated from Continental Baptist Missions on July 6, 2003. The Hills celebrated 30 years of ministry at the church in September, 2007.
Pastor Hill retired in May 2014, after nearly 37 years of ministry. Pastor Benjamin Marx became the pastor of the church in June, 2014, and served the church family until June, 2017. In June, 2017, the Bible Baptist church family voted for former Pastor James Hill to become the interim pastor as they search for a new pastor. In November, 2017, the church family called Pastor George Ward as their new pastor and he began his ministry in March, 2018.