First Baptist Church of Laramie has a long history, 142 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 school house 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 pastor, she as Principal of the Wyoming Institute which opened a few days later in September. There were 18 students 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.
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.
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.
The first church, a frame building, 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 for a salary of $2,400. He led the church for 22 years retiring in 1957. A two-story building for education and Sunday School of about 250 or more 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 on a hill facing a busy street. The mortgage was burned in 1982.
As in all congregations, over the years there were troubled times financially and times when some families left for another congregation. During the golden years, activities included an active youth group, student house, 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 lay persons 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 differing gifts to the congregation. The Rev. Mel Moyer who served from August of 1988 through May of 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 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. His wife did not join him as the church had expected and they eventually divorced. It was a difficult time for the church and personally for Rusty, and eventually he chose to leave the pastorate. He is still in Laramie although not attending our church. He served on the region board for a time but resigned and was selective about activities of the region in which he chose to participate.
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 is exceptionally gifted at ministry to the sick and dying, and at ministry 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 a special multi-week topical studies and creating a 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 and Mary Beth always took care that our response be reflective of Christ’s love. Mary Beth 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. Mary Beth brought much-appreciated gifts to her ministry at First Baptist Church.
Our current Pastor is Jeff Lundblad. Jeff Lundblad has roots in Wyoming; he grew up in one of our churches, attended Camp WYOBA, and briefly attended the University of Wyoming. His undergraduate education was at the University of Sioux Falls, the American Baptist college which serves 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 has worked for seven years at Eastern University, an American Baptist institution. His employment was in Information Technology, a set of skills he feels will assist 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) degree.
His ministry in training was at a Mennonite church in the Philadelphia area, and he has, during his seminary education (and full time employment at Eastern University!), served as interim pastor at Malvern United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. Jeff impresses 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 has a sense of humor, yet is 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.
Preaching is of paramount importance for the new pastor. Jeff describes himself as a dynamic preacher, utilizing multiple styles, media, and technology to engage the congregation. He believes that dull preaching is the worst thing a pastor can do, and credits God with giving him the ability to preach and teach effectively. He says he provides “memory anchors” to press home the message, with the “goal of preaching being to feed each person’s spiritual hunger” to the best of his ability. Our experience confirms the dynamic and powerful preaching that Jeff seeks to represent.