Commission republishing 100-year-old book
By Brian Koonce
April 4, 2006
JEFFERSON CITY – J.C. Maple was convinced Jesus would return before 2006, but if not, he knew – even as he spoke a century ago – that Missourians would remain strong in their faith.
“I can but proclaim my faith in the glorious future for Missouri Baptists,” he said in 1906. “We are satisfied so long as we stand upon the inspired teachings of our divine Master and follow in the footsteps of the inspired Apostles. If it should appear to others that we are stubborn in not yielding to any persuasion, in which we cannot see the teachings of Him who is head over all things unto the church, which is his body, we will bear the reproach and go on singing… If it should please the Master to delay his coming until Missouri Baptists shall celebrate the opening of another century of work in this state, then with the joy of heaven increased thereby we will look down from above upon a vastly increased band of loving toilers, still advocating the same principles, still triumphing in the name of the same Lord and still moving onward to yet greater victories.”
So Maple wrote 100 years ago in the introduction to Missouri Baptist Centennial 1906. The book, which traces the first 100 years of Baptists in Missouri, is being republished.
The forerunner to the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), the Missouri Baptist General Association, published the collection of historic addresses and the minutes of their 1906 annual meeting in Cape Girardeau. On the final day of the meeting, leaders chartered a train to take more than 300 to Jackson to the site of Old Bethel, the first permanent non-catholic house of worship west of the Mississippi River. In preparation for the church’s bicentennial, the building’s reconstruction and the MBC annual meeting in Cape Girardeau this October, the Missouri Baptist Historical Commission is working to make the antique edition of Missouri Baptist Centennial 1906 accessible to everyone for free.
Joanna Perkins, archivist for the commission is working to scan the book page by brittle page and by early summer hopes to have the entire book online at the commission’s website, w ww.BaptistParchments.org. Plans originally called for a physical reprinting of the book, but they determined an online version would be infinitely cheaper and make it more accessible.
“We’re hoping to let people of this century learn from the people of the last century in their account of the previous century,” she said.
Perkins said the book offers insight into the past, but is strikingly relevant to the modern reader.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” she said. “The problems we’re encountering in modern-day Baptist life are not anything that somebody else didn’t already go through. Our Missouri Baptist forefathers have gone through all these same trials.”
For example, in discussing state missions, one speaker tells of “small beginnings, great difficulties, virulent opposition and blessed results.”
“When have state missions not had exactly those issues?” asked Perkins.
Perkins has two copies from which she’s scanning the book: one was donated by Jim Henderson, director of missions for Fellowship Baptist Association, the other was purchased on the online auction site eBay. Each of the small, red volumes is in remarkably good condition. The ragged, hand-torn edges of the 248 pages show less wear than some books less than a tenth its age, and the gold leaf picture of Old Bethel on each of the covers is still shining bright.
The book includes 14 lithographs of the speakers and Old Bethel, hand-leaved into the binding – a pricey add-on in an age where book publishing was still rare and small-run vanity presses were nonexistent.
“Books were an event,” Perkins said. “You didn’t enter into publishing a book lightly. You made sure it was worth telling somebody and that it was worth their time to read.”
Turn-of-the-century Baptists certainly thought they had something worth sharing. Following Maple’s prediction for the 100 years leading up to 2006, the speeches, or more accurately, lectures, detail the finer points of Baptist life in Missouri from 1806 to 1906. Subjects include a century of Sunday School, “The Growth of the Educational Idea Among Missouri Baptists,” the Baptist “trend,” and the struggle to keep state missions afloat during the War Between the States.
“It’s interesting to read what they thought 100 years ago was success, what they thought was failure, what they saw as having been accomplished and what still needed to be accomplished,” Perkins said.