THE HISTORY OF GRACE BAPTIST CHURCH
Grace Baptist Church has enjoyed the difficulties of growing. It started with a group of people from the Gospel Tabernacle that met on Friday, October 20, 1944 at the home of Mrs. Allie Peters on North Indiana Avenue. Rev. Eldon Farrar, the well-known evangelist and musician, was called as pastor and the first worship service was held at Burk’s Body Shop, adjacent to Bird Park at 868 West Station Street on October 22, 1944. Three weeks later, the little group moved to quarters they used for 18 months over the Old Bear Market, 329 East Court Street.
November 9, 1944 – the first convert was made, a young boy saved while helping to clean the church. The first church bus was purchased in April 1945 after a mission program had been started in January. The new church was incorporated on February 8, 1945 with 38 charter members.
Pastor Farrar was ordered by the doctor to rest so the church granted him an 8-week absence in May 1945, but on June 7, 1945, with the infant church less than 8 months old, her founder and first pastor went to be with the Lord.
The church was served by Rev. Victor Sweet until July, supply pastors, Rev. William Baggett, from October until Rev. Gerald Barlow was called as pastor in January 1946, serving until March 30, 1949. During his ministry, the church returned to Burk’s Body Shop and a committee of Russell Preston and Pastor Barlow was formed to seek a location for a new church building. Charles Burk donated all rent to a fund to purchase 2 lots for $1,000 at 1877 Pierson Parkway in August. Ground was broken for the new building in June 1947 for the basement which housed Grace Baptist Church for 13 years. Most of the work was done by men in the church with Pastor Barlow laying many of the blocks himself.
Elvin Pearson was called as pastor, beginning in July 1949 and serving until March 1, 1953. During his ministry, the church’s name was changed from “Grace Church” to Grace Baptist Church (August 25, 1950). At that same business meeting, the church voted to begin their first monthly missionary support, going to the Harold Goodall family. Rev. Glenn Rambo began as pastor on June 7, 1953 and served until mid 1958. It was during his ministry that work on the new auditorium above the basement church was started. The structure was erected but never finished.
Lloyd Elston served as interim pastor until Willard Huels was called as pastor on November 16, 1958, serving until November 1960. During this time, the auditorium was finished, and the first service was held in it Easter Sunday, April 17, 1960 with the dedication service July 31, 1960. Former pastor Gerald Barlow preached the dedicatory message with Walter Beebe, local Youth for Christ director, leading the singing. Mr. Beebe later served as interim pastor until he began as pastor in June 1961, serving until March 15, 1964. During Pastor Beebe’s ministry the bus ministry was expanded to three bus routes, Richard Haynes, who suffered an early death to cancer, served as youth leader, a kindergarten class was started and the church’s evangelistic emphasis was intensified. The building of an educational annex began in the summer of 1963.
The ministry of Pastor John S. Marvin at Grace Baptist Church began on April 26, 1964. The church had grown to nearly a hundred at worship, including three busloads of children. A parsonage was purchased at 6 Baker Street, the educational annex finished and dedicated [Dec. 1964], Grace Teen Camp was started, the first issue of GRACE NOTES was published, and the church launched the first of many Program of Progress campaigns to finance the building projects. A successful fight to keep liquor sales out of the sixth ward was also waged – and won.
Increased attendance led to the Building Expansion Committee being formed in August 1966, a year which saw numerous saved and more than fifty new families began attending Grace Baptist Church. In 1967, the church was forced to rent facilities at Edison School to house the growing Sunday school and dual worship services began. A new lot was purchased for parking and the architect was hired, leading the church to vote to relocate and purchase property the last day of October.
In February 1968, the new 6-acre property, now known as 2499 Waldron Road, was purchased for $36,000. A massive Trust Bonds sales program was launched by the church members to finance the building project. Ground breaking was April 27, 1969 with the dedication for the Chapel and Phase I on April 26, 1970. Dr. John R. Rice preached the Dedication Sermon on that joyous occasion. During the month-long celebration, popular youth speaker Dr. Don Lonie spoke and two Sundays featured the music of recording artists, Ed Lyman and The Speer Family singers, the latter packing the church with more than 700 people.
In 1972, four more acres were purchased and Ted Long was hired as our first full-time assistant pastor. On May 13, 1973, the gymnasium, classrooms addition, and school offices of Phase II were dedicated with Dr. Bob Jones giving the dedication sermon on that great day. In August 1973, the doors of Grace Baptist Academy first opened with classes from kindergarten through sixth grade. Wilbur Steele was the first GBA principal. Five more acres were purchased and the new high school classroom addition of Phase III was completed in 1975. That year the “Miracles of Grace” radio broadcast went on the air from WKAN, presenting the gospel to thousands each Sunday morning for thirty-three years. Gary Rexroad and Bill Egerdahl also served as youth pastors.
Phase IV, the second floor classroom addition was occupied in 1978. Dr. Denzil Neumann came on board to form the church’s first three-pastor staff. His duties included ministering to the senior saints and assistance with visitation. Pastor Al Rudie began as youth pastor at the close of 1980. Academy, Sunday school, and Worship attendance reached new heights. When the average morning worship service attendance reached 600 in 1980, two morning worship services began. The Academy leadership during the 80’s was Russ Barnes and Ed Oaksanen.
The new convocation center and classroom addition, or Phase V, was dedicated on May 31, 1981, and a unified worship service began on the giant stage in the convocation center. More than a hundred Hmongs, native of Laos, began worshipping in the chapel with their leaders being trained by Pastor Marvin. He baptized 22 Hmongs and conducted several weddings as God blessed that ministry.
Greg Rukes began as Academy principal before passing the principal leadership to his assistant, Mike Lawrence. Ted Marvin, one of the church’s own sons, joined the staff as assistant pastor and worship leader in January, 1990, and he continued until July 10, 2011. Under Pastor Ted’s leadership, the youth outreach blossomed and many teens have found Christ as Savior and many have committed to full-time ministry. The Teen Camp ministry experienced wonderful growth, with more than 3,000 at camp during his tenure.
A chapel restoration project costing over $80,000 was dedicated on January 12, 1997. Upon Dr. Neumann’s retirement, Dwight Ascher was added as the third member of the pastoral staff in January, 1996. He was hired as an educational director to lead the adult Bible fellowships and Sunday school as well as training Sunday school workers and aiding in visitation. In 2003, he was named Grace Baptist Academy principal. Dan Fowler, another of the church’s sons, became the third pastoral staff person with an emphasis in the children’s ministry.
Pastor Ted Marvin started the church’s mission trip ministry, taking several hundred teens on fifteen different missionary trips to help build churches or work with orphans in three locations in Mexico. He directed three adult missionary trips, going to a remote, primitive region of Venezuela and twice to build a large river-boat and hangar and another time to build a church addition on the Amazon River in Peru and Brazil. Thirty-three members of Grace Baptist Church have gone to 22 different countries as career missionaries. The church sent Pastor and Mrs. John Marvin on numerous missionary trips to travel around the world and at other times to preach on four continents.
The 60th anniversary and the dedication for the church’s largest building project, a $750,000 refurbishing project, were both celebrated on November 14, 2004. The church is grateful to God as He has enabled the church family to provide 53,000 square feet of building on a beautiful 15-acre campus.
Grace Baptist Academy will soon give a diploma to their 700th graduate. This has been a huge undertaking with the church carrying much of the financial load, but the rewards have been tremendous. Many students have found Christ as their Savior and grown in their faith. Many Academy graduates serve today as preachers, missionaries, evangelists, and Christian school teachers and others have had great success, with graduates from most Illinois colleges and universities. Excellence in music, education, and sports has been a constant at GBA. The varsity chorus has sung at Disney World, Opryland, six times in concert in Washington, D.C., and all across Northern Illinois.
Pastor Marvin retired in July of 2008 after 44 years of faithful service. Pastor Clinton Sweet was interim pastor for several months. In February 2009, Dwight Ascher, who had been the Academy Principal, was installed as the pastor and continues his ministry to this day. Steve Bull was voted in as Academy Principal in May of 2009.
Grace Baptist Church has grown and been sustained by a strong Biblical and evangelistic message. Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost and the church has partnered with Him to this end. This has been the heartbeat at Grace Baptist. Many evangelists and nationally known speakers have made GBC a preaching stop and thousands have received Christ over the years.
The history of Grace Baptist Church is not yet completed! Faithful members are picking up their pens and praying for God to help them write the greatest chapters in the future. Grace Baptist Church humbly seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit for one primary purpose: to proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation to all who are eternally lost without faith in Him wherever they may be found and then to build the Christian in the faith.
This has not been the work of one man or several men, but the combined effort of dedicated people, faithful preachers of the Gospel, consecrated members who have worked together for three-quarters of a century to make Grace Baptist Church the dynamic force for Christ it is in this area and around the world. May God continue to use His people in this place for His purpose!