Providence enjoys rich history
NEW BLOOMFIELD – If you’re a historical church, it helps to have a pastor who is a historian. Such is the case with Providence Baptist Church of New Bloomfield.
The church counts itself among the first 25 Baptist churches in Missouri and was the host church for the 1834 gathering which laid the foundation for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC).
Providence’s pastor, Jim Shaver, has researched and written extensively about this 200-member congregation, proudly noting that “We have people in our church who are direct descendants of its first pastor, James Suggett.”
The church came into existence five years after Missouri became a state and eight years before the first meeting of the MBC. It was organized in Callaway County Aug. 5, 1826, with 20 charter members signing the church covenant. Its name means “God’s rule over everything” or “divine direction.”
Providence did not start out in New Bloomfield proper but on land about three miles northeast of the town. Services were held in an 18’x18’ log cabin, built the year the church was founded.
Because of the church’s rapid growth and the cabin’s rapid deterioration, a larger brick building was soon constructed. A cemetery was established on the property.
The church moved into New Bloomfield around 1910 and continued its ministry there. The old property became the Providence Hill Baptist Camp, operated by the then Callaway Baptist Association.
Several years ago, the association returned ownership of the camp property to the church. “The camp is not operating. We use it in summer for activities of the church,” Shaver said.
For its first five years, the church was served by circuit-riding preachers. One of those, James Suggett, was called to be its first official pastor in 1832. Suggett was a gifted “revivalist” and had been the pastor of a large Baptist church in Kentucky before trading his properties there for land in Missouri.
He had also served as an officer in the Kentucky state militia at the Battle of Tippecanoe and in the War of 1812. His exploits had earned him the nickname, “The Fighting Parson.”
Suggett served at Providence for 15 years, after which he remained a member until his death in 1851. He is buried in the Old Providence Cemetery.
Shaver’s admiration for Suggett spills over in his conversations. “I may be Jim Suggett reincarnated,” he joked.
Providence was a mission-minded church. Under the leadership of Suggett, it hosted the gathering of 18 Baptist ministers, 12 laymen, and others (including some opposition) who felt led “to promote the preaching of the Gospel within the bounds of the state.”
They visualized reaching people for Christ in western and northern Missouri as well as in the central part of the state.
The resolutions approved that day would eventually launch a cooperative Baptist mission work that they called “the Baptist Central Convention of Missouri,” now part of the MBC, which hadn’t yet been formed.
In the 180 years since the founding of Providence Baptist Church, there have been approximately 50 pastors.
Shaver and his wife, Jackie, arrived in June of 2000. A native of Georgia, he graduated from Berry College in Rome and the New Orleans Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisiana. He pastored churches in Wisconsin, Missouri and Montana before accepting the pastorate at Providence.
Shaver’s enthusiasm for history found rich ground in the church’s past. He has compiled narrative, photos and documents of church history which may be seen on the church’s web site, www.providencehill.org.
Providence remains as much a mission-minded church today as it was in 1834.
“We just completed a project over the Christmas holidays,” said Shaver. “We sent boxes of gifts commemorating the 12 days of Christmas to all the pastors’ wives of the Prairie Partners Baptist Association in North Dakota.”
The project was the prelude to a formal partnership the Grand Crossings Association will be forming with the Prairie Partners Association or with the Dakota Baptist Association itself, which includes churches of both North and South Dakota.
Providence observed its 175th anniversary in 2001 with a two-day celebration. “It’s the biggest thing we’ve done to date,” said Shaver.
Two weeks prior to the event, the original church records were discovered in an old safe in Fulton. Members of Providence considered it to be a minor miracle of God, their previous records only going as far back as 1887.
“Those people were really something to be able to come so far and do so much,” observed Shaver.
The Missouri Baptist Convention will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2009. As pastor of one of the churches who started it all, he said, “I’m looking forward to it.”