First Baptist Church celebrates 125 years of history

A large crowd gathers outside First Baptist Church in 1949 for the dedication of the first church bus.
A large crowd gathers outside First Baptist Church in 1949 for the dedication of the first church bus.

First Baptist Church of Cambridge is celebrating a milestone that is longer than most people’s lifetimes. For the past year, First Baptist has celebrated 125 years of active existence in the community of Cambridge.

Bob Jonsson has been the lead pastor of First Baptist since 2006 and has witnessed the sacrifice and resources it has taken to fulfill the church’s mission of sharing the love of Christ with the world.

“We have gathered here for these many years because of the message of love and hope in Jesus Christ. It speaks of vision and partnership,” Jonsson said.

Jonsson also knows that investing now for the future is vital to the church’s existence and effectiveness.

First Baptist Church’s first building with parsonage in 1896.
First Baptist Church’s first building with parsonage in 1896.

“Embedded in this is our commitment to raising up more and deeper disciples, and not losing focus on the next generation,” Jonsson said.

As a continuation of the year’s theme, “Founded in Faith and Growing in Grace,” a homecoming celebration is being held Sept. 21-22 to honor past staff and longtime members who have attended the church for more than 50 years.

The celebration will begin on Sept. 21 with a buffet-style dinner from 3-4:45 p.m. followed by a time of fellowship, building touring and viewing historical displays that will chronicle significant moments of the church. The buffet is $7 for adults and $4 for children under 12. At 5 p.m. a commemoration service will be held.

On Sept. 22, during regular service hours, staff and members who have been a historic presence in the church will be recognized. Six of the church’s 17 former pastors are still living and five are anticipated to attend the recognition ceremony. A reception will be held at 9:45 a.m.

Kay Kast, along with a committee of volunteers, have been planning the anniversary and its events for a year and a half.

Kast has attended the church for 45 years and has seen how integral the willingness of people to serve has been to the church’s success and impact for the good of others.

“I feel some of the strengths of our church are involved with people,” Kast said. “There are many volunteers here who are dedicated to Christ and his church.”

That same sort of dedicated and determination to further establish the faith community has been evident in the church since its inception.

First Baptist Church was founded Nov. 14, 1988, from a group of 36 people who came from North Isanti Baptist Church, formerly known as the Tamarack Church, to establish a new ministry in the community. The group was true to its Swedish heritage naming the church The First Swedish Baptist Church of Cambridge.

The Swedes held church services in Swedish until 1941 when it was decided that the church not just integrate English, but hold all of its services in the English language to accommodate the increasing education and demand for the English word.

This change was one of many the church has made over the years to be relevant to the world around it, but all while remaining steadfast to its purpose of spreading the Gospel.

“There were people who took roles of leadership to grow the church,” Jonsson said.  “It speaks of sacrifice. People who call this their church have given sacrificially of their time and money to build buildings, hire staff, send missionaries and to support children, youth and adult ministry.”

Members of First Baptist have long been credited for their ability to visualize the future. The existence of the Cambridge Medical Center began as a result of a conversation that occurred in 1950. As doctors right out of medical school, Dr. Ray Magnuson and Dr. Gerald Larson met with men from First Baptist for a 5 cent cup of coffee at the Cambridge Eat Shop and were encouraged to set up a practice in the community.

The church’s first building was located on the northeast corner of its current church site on 304 Main St. S. Despite any financial demands, the church has seen immense growth and transformation over the years.

In 1931, the building that is the present home of First Baptist was erected and dedicated. The church has since been used as a place for worship for its approximately 550 attendees, and for many community events and programs involving many local organizations.

Magnuson, whose first visit to the church was in 1933 at the age of 7 while he was visiting family in Cambridge, still remembers when a postage stamp cost 5 cents. He recalls when the church had a budget of $150,000 to cover repairs and a much-needed addition to its building to accommodate its growing needs. This was in the mid-1960s and bids from contractors in Minneapolis came in $30,000 over the budget. Once again, local supporters offered their services for the project and the bid dropped within budget.

“That’s the big theme now: You can buy local,” said Magnuson, who witnessed firsthand what local community support can do.

Another significant addition to the church was dedicated in 1993. It involved extending the main level and raising the walls of the church to provide for a new lower level to house youth programs and a multipurpose area for church activities. Thanks to the advisement of Paul Youngquist, the church was able to double its space without doubling the cost.

While the church has experienced growth through the years, it has been landmark for the residents of Cambridge and passersby. For Jonsson and the church this is ideal as they seek to connect with others in the community.

“We have had a visible presence on Main Street, and our people have had a larger presence in the community,” Jonsson said. “People from First have worked and lived in this community and area and have been involved in local government, community boards and planning commissions.”

Dave Johnson has been a long-time member of the church and he and his wife have enjoyed serving in the choir.

“I’m blessed to part of a body of believers who are pursuing God and who love to serve others,” Dave Johnson said. “We are a church with a lot of young families, and that is a sign of a healthy church.”

Some of the efforts to support the community have included the long support of need- and faith-based services like Young Life, Meals on Wheels, Shalom Thrift Shop, the Refuge and Crisis Pregnancy Center. The church is also a part of the New Pathways program providing a place of rest and meals for the homeless.

In 1963, the church established Grandview Christian Home with the later addition of Mill Ridge Commons in 1988.

“Our church is very generous and very caring,” Kast said. “We have a lot of people who give a tremendous amount of time and energy, and I think that is what you have to have if you are going to have a church that keeps going for 125 years.”

Church planting is also relevant to First Baptist, since it was formed out of North Isanti Baptist. New Hope is a local church which was born out of First Baptist in 1999. First Baptist’s relationship with Spring Life Church in Kremechuk, Ukraine, has also been an encouragement and blessing to the church. Since 1996, First Baptist has been sending mission teams to build on the relationship, and Spring Life has started 10 daughter churches.

“We have the talent and personnel that could make this church a mighty influence in our community,” said Willis Dahlman, who has been a member of the church since 1962. “I would like to see us plant another church with the challenge of seeing many more souls won for Christ.”

Looking ahead, the church’s long history has helped to ensure the story of First Baptist is continual written.

“Our intent on this anniversary is to continue that heritage, impacting our world today,” Jonsson said.

The church has embraced its role as a place to freely love and worship God, and that is a freedom the church wants to honor.

“I would like the community to know that we are a group of believers that welcome all, in love, who would like to attend and worship with us,” Dahlman said.

Jonsson said the church is not a building, but a group of people living out the love and hope of Christ.

“My biggest reflection is thankfulness for the faith and sacrifice of those who have gone before us,” Jonsson said.

Nov. 10 will be the anniversary Sunday of First Baptist with celebrations held during regular services. To learn more about First Baptist, call 763-689-1173 or visit