An Historical Overview
The beginning of Bartlesville First Baptist Church dates back to 1867 when a northeast Kansas and a Delaware Indian was converted by a Baptist missionary. It was Chief Charles Journeycake, leader of the Delaware tribe, who led his people from Kansas into Indian Territory (Oklahoma), and who shouldered that task.
The Delaware had been displaced or removed from the land six times, had their property and livestock taken from them, and suffered numerous killings. In spite of that, he said, "We try to forget these things, but we cannot forget that the white man also brought us the blessed gospel, the Christian's hope." With that, he settled his family and his tribe near Alluwe, and quickly established a church.
Chief Journeycake's grandmother was a white girl who had been captured by the Wyandottes. Thus, it was his mother, Sally Williams Journeycake, who became an interpreter for missionaries working among the Wyandottes. She converted in 1827. Journeycake's father converted a year later, and Chief Journeycake himself converted at the age of 16. In 1837, at the age of 20, Chief Journeycake married 16-year-old Jane Sosha, a Delaware. They had 14 children... eleven girls and three boys.
In the early 1870s he began to preach at Silver Lake on the outskirts of present day Bartlesville. His sermons, delivered in the Delaware tongue then translated into English, not surprisingly took several hours. Soon after that first church began, another Delaware by the name of Arthur Armstrong built a home and log cabin which would serve as both a church and a school on the north end of what is now Seneca Street in Bartlesville.
In the fall of 1890, a traveling evangelist known only as "Mrs. Adair," held a revival here and encouraged that congregation to formally organize. They did so, and in February of 1891 they named it Caney Valley Baptist Church. John Sarcoxie, an ordained Delaware, was called as its first pastor. Sarcoxie could not read or write, but as a preacher he was known for his long, deliberate sermons filled with passion for the Lord. One Delaware said of him, "If you had been walking you could have gone a long, long, way before he was through."
Sarcoxie served only a short time. In the fall of 1891, he was replaced by the Rev. George H. Goodwin who "properly" reorganized the church. There were 18 members including Frank Overlees, who organized a Sunday School in Arthur Armstrong's "community room;" his wife, Carrie, granddaughter of Chief Journeycake; Pastor George Goodwin's wife and daughter; Nannie Bartles, daughter of Chief Journeycake and wife of Jake Bartles (Bartlesville's namesake); John Sarcoxie; Arthur Armstrong; and Mrs. William (Lillie) Johnstone, another granddaughter of Chief Journeycake.
Over the next two years Bartlesville boomed. The town incorporated; the Nellie Johnstone #1 oil well gushed; and the church moved to its present location at Fourth and Cherokee, a venture made possible by a land donation from William Johnstone. The year was 1899 and First Baptist Church was the only building in Bartlesville built exclusively for religious use. It was a momentous time.
Unfortunately, Baptists' joy was short-lived. On September 18, 1905, the wood frame church they had built burned to the ground. But the very next month, the pastor and congregation went to work on a new church -- this time made of brick -- which they completed in record time. In August 1906, they held a dedication service and launched a music ministry. The first choir director, Wayne Mendel, was hired for $2.50 a week.
Although completion of the new church was certainly an occasion for celebration, troubles were not over. The years between 1906-1930 were fraught with problems. There was yet another fire; Pastor E. J. Stewart resigned; growth was slow; and then, in 1918, when a flu epidemic swept through Oklahoma, the church became an emergency hospital, suspending services until December of that year.
By 1924, the congregation had rebounded and gown. The original brick building was torn down to make room for a large structure with a basement. However, as the 1930s approached, the economy was not good and not much progress had been made. Services were still being held in the basement. Money was tight. Architectural plans had been drawn up, but start of construction was pushed back. Use of collection plates was discontinued and the church began using a chest at the rear of the auditorium to receive offerings. This was because members were embarrassed by the meager amount they could contribute, and wanted to deposit donations privately.
Services continued to be held in the basement until 1938 when the new auditorium with a balcony was finally completed and dedicated with a week-long celebration. Part of it included a special program that featured a new Three-Manuel Reuter Organ. It had come to fruition because in March, 1937, "a friend" paid off the mortgages of all Bartlesville churches. The friend was none other than Frank Phillips. By 1941, membership had grown to 1,435. The Women's Missionary Union was formed, and the men of the church organized a brotherhood to help the pastor by holding services in jails, hospitals and homes of the aged, conduct prayer meetings, and visit the sick. Within a short time, First Baptist also began a weekly radio ministry sponsored by the Delaware-Osage Association and a church library was created.
In 1952 a three-story addition that included a beautiful steeple was added to the building. It expanded the space for Sunday School classes, and by 1955 church membership had grown to 2,433. Next came a three-story Educational Building that fronted on Cherokee Avenue and included church offices.
The next 20 years were influenced by the extraordinary leadership of Dr. Bill Cook. He accepted the call in 1969 and guided the church's continuing expansion, which involved a new, much larger Worship Center and Fellowship Hall. He also launched a campaign called "Together We Build" which included a number of banquets and dinners. There were "no charges, no offerings, no solicitations, no tickets... just reservations." Enough money was raised that when plans for the new auditorium were drawn up in 1974, although it carried a hefty price tag, the church met the need with record contributions.
The decade of the 1970s brought considerable growth to the Bartlesville area and to the church. It was then that an adjoining medical center at the corner of Fifth Street and Cherokee was purchased and remodeled for use as a pre-school building. With that, Bartlesville First Baptist Church became the largest church presence in downtown Bartlesville.
In 1995, Dr. Joe Dan Fowler was called. During his tenure the Statement of Purpose was adopted. He believed there were two challenges to consider and overcome: complacency and stewardship. "For this church to fulfill God's calling, there has to be a vision... we have a duty. We have a gift."
The growth that has continued to spur expansion of this church continues today under the inspiring leadership of Pastor James Biesiadecki, who answered the church's call in 2014. He is leading First Baptist to flourish and expand the diversity of programs it offers in support of church members' and community needs.