First Baptist Church of Laramie has a long history, 150 years, rich in its contribution to the town and state as well as rich in its outreach of evangelism and ecumenical cooperation. Laramie came into existence when the Union Pacific Railroad began selling lots on April 20, 1868. In this roughest of frontier towns, a few concerned Baptists met in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wright and started the Union Sunday School. By 1870, there were 100 members in the Sunday School, and on New Year’s Day 1870, the Reverend George Freeman, District Superintendent for the American Baptist Home Mission Society visited Laramie City. His preaching and efforts resulted in several persons who had been members of Regular Baptist Churches before coming together in Laramie in the public schoolhouse on January 8, to establish the First Baptist Church in Wyoming Territory. Within a month several had been baptized in the Laramie River, and by May 1, 1870, the foundation of a church building was begun on 4 lots secured by the Home Mission Society from the treasurer of the Union Pacific Railroad for a church and denominational school. The building was dedicated on September 11, 1870, and the very same day the Rev. D.J. Pierce and wife Marietta joined the church, he as a pastor, she as Principal of the Wyoming Institute which opened a few days later in September. There were 18 students in the first term and 35 the second. “This first institution of higher education specialized in music training”, according to an article written by Mrs. Mary Bellamy who was the first woman in the territorial legislature. Pastors came and went quickly during those early years, but each contributed something special.
Ecumenism began early. In 1871, the Presbyterians met in the Wyoming Institute on alternate Sundays, and in 1903, Methodists held service with the Baptists for a few months, meeting alone on Sunday afternoons, but in a combined service on Sunday evenings.
In 1891, there were 10 Baptist churches in Wyoming and eight of them met in Laramie between September 16 and 19 to organize the Wyoming Baptist State Association. Laramie’s outreach provided testaments to a Sunday School at Horse Creek and Evanston and a Sunday School in Riverton; Buffalo received an organ when a new one was purchased.
The first church has a frame building. It burned on November 4, 1904. These were discouraging years with a small membership and the church met at Roots Opera House. Under the leadership of the Rev. R.A. Lansdell, who came as pastor in November of 1905, a new church was built with solid brick walls, dedicated in 1908 at a cost of $16,000 with all paid but $1,600.
After many fruitful years, January 1935 found the congregation at a low with $7.50 in savings and $57.42 in checking. Hope prevailed, however, and the Rev. W.J. Diegelman was called as pastor. He led the church for 22 years retiring in 1957. A two-story building for education and Sunday School of about 250 people was built on church property, and there were two Sunday worship services with chairs in the aisles.
The present building was built in stages on three-plus acres two blocks from the University of Wyoming which was on a hill facing Canby 15th street. The mortgage was burned in 1982.
As in all congregations and over the years there were troubled times financially when some families left for another congregation. During the golden years, activities included an active youth group, student housing, coffee house one night a week for students, strong women’s and men’s groups, part-time educational director and youth worker. One pastor and two laypersons served on the General Board or its predecessor, and one lay person served as President of ABCUSA. Two of these individuals are active members of the congregation today. Members of the church have been active in the Wyoming Council of Churches and region camping and board activities.
The second-longest pastorate was the Rev. Dr. Walter Hickman who served for 16 years. In 1980, 37 members were added for a total membership of 449.
The last four pastors have brought different gifts to the congregation. The Rev. Mel Moyer, who served from August 1988 through May 1992, had to retire because of congestive heart failure. He is described by many as the ideal pastor who made the emergencies of the church family a priority. He was an enabler who took evangelism seriously and worked diligently to help the congregation provide study groups, social groups, growth groups for relationships, and church growth. The handbell ministry began during his years as pastor. He introduced the church to the historic church calendar and did wear a robe on occasion.
The next pastor, the Reverend Dr. Bruce Martin arrived in November 1992 and left to serve another congregation in July 1999. During his tenure, the handbell choir flourished, the coffee house and presence on campus were an outreach. He participated more than other pastors in the ministry groups of Laramie e.g. Good Samaritan, Ministerial Organization, campus ministry, soup kitchen, etc. A youth choir was strong. His special gift was his willingness to serve as a counselor, an area in which he had professional expertise. Bruce was on the Policy Board of the Region and served as Treasurer.
Next, the Rev. Dr. Rusty Pettis came to the church in June of 2001 and resigned on December 5, 2004, but upon request and mutual agreement with the church, continued with salary and benefits into the following few months. He had a gift for finding money for the special capital needs of the church, like new chairs for classrooms. He helped the trustees in several situations such as painting classrooms. He worked well with children and had sessions in which they made candy for shut-ins and teachers. He taught Sunday School classes and other growth and Bible Study classes. He regularly brought his dish and presence to the women’s monthly luncheon, met with men for a cook our own breakfast and prayer time once a week. Rusty was faithful in hospital and nursing home visitation.
Next, Mary Beth Mankin began her ministry at First Baptist on January 1, 2006 and retired on July 8, 2012. This was her first pastorate. Pastor Mary Beth’s gifts of comfort and healing were put to good use as she worked to unify the congregation. Mary Beth was exceptionally gifted at the ministry to the sick and dying, and with bereaved families. She has also worked hard at providing the congregation with opportunities for learning and spiritual growth. Her primary projects at the beginning of her ministry included: leading special multi-week topical studies and creating Child protection & Safe Sanctuary Plan for the congregation. This plan can be found here.
Reverend Mary Beth served on the ABCRM board and strengthened our relationship with the region. She was also active with the Laramie Ministerial Association and encouraged our congregation to be part of community ecumenical events. She was supportive of congregants’ participation in mission trips and helped establish and encourage a valuable new support group for young women. Our church office is frequently visited by indigents looking for help, Mary Beth always took care that our response was reflective of Christ’s love. She faithfully attended meetings of committees and boards whenever possible, seeing her role more as a go-between than as a leader. One committee that she did actually lead was the Worship Committee, which met monthly to discuss aspects of congregational worship. Mary Beth actively promoted new approaches to worship and introduced us to several contemporary praise choruses and hymns. She spearheaded the selection and purchase of new church hymnals. The system of boards responsible for different areas of church life was re-organized and streamlined during Mary Beth’s tenure, and she worked hard on a revised constitution that was approved after her departure in 2012. She brought much-appreciated gifts to her ministry at First Baptist Church.
Our next, Pastor was Jeff Lundblad. Pastor. Jeff Lundblad had roots in Wyoming and grew up in one of our churches, he attended Camp WYOBA, and briefly attended the University of Wyoming. His undergraduate education was at the University of Sioux Falls, which is American Baptist college serving our region and the state of Wyoming. It was there that he met his wife Brenda, and during their time of ministry and marriage, they have three children ranging from ages 8 to 16. Brenda grew up in Upham, ND (population approx. 300).
Jeff served as a youth pastor for six years at two Baptist churches in the Dakotas. They moved to the Philadelphia area where he worked for seven years at Eastern University, an American Baptist institution. His employment was in Information Technology. This skillset assisted him greatly in his ministry. He enrolled in Palmer Theological Seminary, an American Baptist seminary that is a part of Eastern University, and graduated from there with a Masters in Divinity (MDiv).
His ministry training was at a Mennonite church in the Philadelphia area. During his seminary education (and full time employment at Eastern University!), he served as interim pastor at Malvern United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. Jeff impressed us as a very hard worker, with a keen desire for ministry. He said “I grew up in the church and don’t recall ever having a time when I wasn’t aware of Jesus in my life. Fortunately, God pursued me and when I finally surrendered my will and accepted God’s call, I discovered the joy and satisfaction of Christian Service.”
Jeff had a sense of humor, yet was sincere, mature, and well equipped for ministry by education and experience, including pastoral experience. He believes the mission of the church is to go into the world and share, both physically and verbally, the love of Christ for the world. We should be creating disciples. We should be peacemakers, seeking to resolve conflict. We should use our gifts to passionately engage in the needs of our community, providing a clear witness of God’s love.
Our next Interim Pastor was Rev. Ed Davis is currently a police chaplain in Laramie, Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain District Chaplain. Ed helps others in their calling to become chaplains on the Rocky Mountain District. He is chaplain to the Laramie Police Department, Albany County Sheriff’s Office, Division J (Laramie, Albany County) of the Wyoming Highway Patrol, and President of the Wyoming Law Enforcement Chaplains Association. After his military service with the United States Air Force (USAF), Ed became a police/detention officer for Laramie County in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Pastor Ed lives and works in Laramie with his bride, Lois and 2 affectionate children, Vashti & Abegayle (toy poodles). Ed likes to tell stories (true ones) and likes to oil paint, read, and put together plastic models. He & Lois love to spend time with their grandchildren who live in Cheyenne.
Our next Interim Pastor Mary Fabin is an ordained American Baptist Pastor. She has served as a missionary in Nigeria, Hospice chaplain, Hospital chaplain, church pastor, and teacher in her ministry roles. Mary and her husband Rob married in 1996. They have two adult children; Joshua is living and working in Rapid City and Jessica just graduated from South Dakota School of Technology and Mines and is working at a silver mine in Nevada. Rob teaches middle school math in Rawlins, Wyoming.
Currently Mary is teaching pastors and chaplains in a program called Clinical Pastoral Education. There is no American Baptist church in Saratoga, so she and Rob are worshipping and serving at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Saratoga.
Mary and Rob are enjoying life in Wyoming. There are mountains to climb, rivers to fish, and lots of wide-open spaces. Their current “empty nest” is filled by two dogs, two horses, six chickens, and a turtle.
Rev. Karen Sundland served as Pastor from December 2021 till Feb 2023.
Currently Rev. Brian Willats is our interim pastor. He hails from the great state of Nebraska, where he did his undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska. Since that time, life has taken him all over the United States – Colorado, Texas, Michigan, and California. He started his formal ministry training in his 40s, graduating with MDiv from Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI in 2007. He moved to California in 2006 and completed an M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care from Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA in 2008. He completed a Ph.D. in spiritual formation from Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, CA in 2021.