Saturday was a joyous day for the congregation of the Perche Baptist Church.
A large crowd of members and wellwishers was on hand to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the construction of the magnificent stone building with its vaulted, stained glass windows and bell-tower steeple located on Perche Church Road on the bank of Perche Creek just south of Route F between Rucker and Harrisburg.
Though the stunning stone structure has reached the century mark, Perche Baptist Church is 35 years older. The church site dates back 180 years to June, 1835, when the Perche Christian Church was organized with Durrett Bruce and William and John White as its elders.
The Christian Church founders had built a log building with a door and fireplace at each end on the site where the current Perche Baptist Church has been for the past 100 years.
Situated on seven acres of land that, through a recording error, was purchased twice to become the Perche Meeting House, the log church burned down in 1879 and was replaced in 1880 by a larger framed building at a cost of $1,800.
By this time, the Baptists were sharing the new building and the costs. The Baptists had begun meeting in 1874 under the name “Arm of Bethlehem Baptist Church “ near Harrisburg. According to the 100-year history of the current building, compiled by a centennial committee, the Baptists first met at Robinson School, 2 1/2 miles southwest of the current church.
At some point, they moved into the old log church, sharing the space with the Christian Church. It was now officially the “Arm of the Bethlehem Church.”
In August 1880, the members voted to procure letters of dismissal from the Mother Church, and in October took the name of Perche Baptist Church. The Rev. Green Carey became the first pastor in December, 1880. The new church was officially accepted by the Baptist Association in December, 1881.
The current building came about at a July 1915, meeting in which two members from each of the two denominations formed a building committee. Work was begun a month later and finished in August 1916 on the exact site of the original log cabin.
Pews from the wooden church had been moved to the creek bottom for outdoor services, then later into the basement of the new church. Some are still in use today at the Mt. Zion Baptist Camp near Higbee.
The entire cost of the new church was $5,700. The church building was still $2,167.15 in debt when it was officially dedicated. The service and following dinner raised $2,400.
A total of 420 hours from 333 people from both congregations brought the new building into service debt-free.
The church bell was donated by Sears, Roebuck and Co. and the stained glass windows were shipped from England, then transported by rail and horse-drawn wagon to the site.
The architect and builder was Willard Jacks, a carpenter from the community. He designed the church and made the concrete blocks and foundation with sand from the nearby Perche Creek.
Through the years, the Baptists held services on the second and fourth Sundays, alternating with the Christian Church.
The Columbia Missourian noted, in a 1952 article on the church, that the building was in poor condition and the cemetery was overgrown with weeds. The Christian Church attendance had dwindled badly. The Baptists had taken over the fifth Sunday services, and in 1975 only the Christian congregation was no longer holding services.
In time, we’ll add the Christian Church history to complete this history of 180 years of services on this site.
The Baptist Church has grown as a center of community activities, and the building has been expanded and improved, complete with a replacement of the bell tower in 2009 with an exact replica of the original steeple.
Perche Baptist may not be the oldest house of worship in our county, but it surely is one of the most impressive — truly a living monument to our past.
Bill Clark’s columns appear Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at 474-4510.
Posted in Community on Wednesday, September 30, 2015 2:00 pm