The Baker University Connection

"Let us now join what has so long been divided: Knowledge and Vital Piety", the words of John Wesley.


"Vital Piety": The motivating spiritual energy which drove Methodists to "plant" churches across our nation's westbound frontiers. And soon, in the wake of new churches came a time of interest in "Knowledge": to learn, understand– higher education.



On October 23, 1856, the Kansas-Nebraska Annual Conference was organized at Lawrence, Kansas, with thirteen ministers, Bishop Osman C. Baker presiding. Subsequently, an Educational Convention was held March 17, 1857, at Blue Mound at the home of James Still (eight miles north of Baldwin). They adjourned to meet the next day at Palmyra at the home of Henry Barricklow, where they decided to establish a university at Palmyra and name it after Bishop Baker.


In 1857 a tract of land was secured from the Palmyra Association. The Charter of Baker University was granted by the territorial Governor and Legislature February 12, 1858. (Note: The State of Kansas was admitted to the Union January 29, 1861.)


A three-storied native limestone building, 20 by 40 feet, was quickly Old Castleerected and classes at Baker began November 22, 1858. The completion of Baker's first building, known for many years as "The Old Castle", provided area settlers their first "church home". The next twelve years Baldwin Methodists worshiped in the Chapel Room of Old Castle.


But this building provided much more than that. For over a decade, Baker's multi-purpose prairie Castle accommodated the preparatory school (for children, as in a public school), college classes, church and church school, community meetings and on the top floor, the Masons meeting hall.


Early on, several pastors appointed to Baldwin church also served on the Board of Trustees and as presidents of Baker University. Sunday School records reveal a number of class leaders were Baker professors, one of whom, Dr. Charles Doudna, at age 98 still attends the class he once taught. Readers of this brief history will also notice Baker University repeatedly shared its facilities for the church's ministries.


Our present Neo-Gothic sanctuary, built in 1931-32, housed Baker's Music Department for over 25 years, moving into the church in September, 1936. From their beginnings Baker music and leadership have enriched the ministry of Baldwin First United Methodist Church.


Likewise, our congregation co-hosts the Kansas East Annual Conference with Baker. In addition, Baker's special musical events are held in the sanctuary, such as the Annual Advent Vespers and the Spring Concert. Annually, Baker's graduating class joins in worship in the sanctuary for the Baccalaureate services.


Thus, from the very beginnings of Methodism in Baldwin, the Church and University heeded Wesley's plea. They united "Vital Piety" and "Knowledge" and developed hand in hand: sharing visions, buildings and often personnel.

 
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