Our History

FBC exterior frontFirst Baptist Church has been a community for all people from its beginning, since eight men and twelve women met with delegates from other Wisconsin Baptist churches on December 23, 1847, and organized the Baptist Society of Wisconsin.

First Baptist shared leaders and buildings in service to God and community. Sharing our space started early. The first building on the square welcomed the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, which called it home from 1854 to 1867. UW classes met there too. University pastors supplied a Baptist voice on campus, thanks to Charles Galpin, who came to help his brother, pastor Frederick, with the large number of young people flocking to the church. In 1905 Charles took his dilemma to the Wisconsin Baptist Convention, and the idea of a University pastor was born. Charles Galpin was the first one anywhere. Within two years, other denominations adopted the idea, with Charles’s help. Today this has evolved into The Crossing, a shared student ministry housed in the former University Methodist Church building. Pastor Vernon Phillips helped Mt. Zion Baptist Church organize in 1911. From L.B. Moseley on, pastors have shared state and national Baptist work and ministry. Andy Davison expanded that to international ministries. First Baptist has provided space for other churches to worship, including Seventh Day Baptists. It has participated in local ecumenical ministry and community forums. It provides space for MFIS’s ESL program, where as many as 150 students from over 70 countries learn English from dedicated volunteer teachers.

The church welcomed Japanese members during World War II, supported conscientious objectors even as it sent sons and daughters to war, supported the civil rights movement, counseled students protesting the Vietnam War, worked for separation of church and state, embraced people of different races and backgrounds, grappled with issues of sexual identity, and assimilated diverse viewpoints. We are a Welcoming and Affirming church that welcomes all persons and diverse opinions. More important, by compassing diverse opinions, we open the way for growth in understanding and service. People have brought diverse talents, differing viewpoints, and great dedication into service to and through First Baptist.

Women’s participation has always been vital. January 28, 1880, saw significant additions of women to the organization of the church, including as delegates to the Baptist Association. When the second building burned after only a year’s occupancy, it was the women who vowed to go to work and do it all over again. And over the years, they have provided financial backing and assistance, often earning income by catering meals. Through American Baptist Women’s Ministries, they have supported missions foreign and domestic. A former member is the American Baptist missionary in China. Today women serve on all boards, including deacons. And Baptists have been ordaining women for pastoral ministry since the 1800s.

Youth programs have always been a major emphasis for First Baptist. The third church building, in 1902, included a gymnasium and swimming pool, great attractions for Madison youth. And youth activities have involved Sunday School classes, youth programs, youth month, a youth community center, mission trips, middle high Christmas plays, and children’s choirs. In the 1940’s, the junior department sent relief packages to Europe after WWII.

This church is an open, loving and welcoming congregation. Come join us.