Each Saturday Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me! The National Public Radio News Quiz includes a segment called “Bluff the Listener.” Callers are challenged to tell truth from fiction. Three stories are presented. Only one is factual. The stories usually feature politics, entertainment or sports. So far they have, for unfathomable reasons, skipped the fertile ground of Baptist history. What if they finally corrected this oversight? Here are three stories of first Baptist churches. Which is the one true tale?
Story one: The first Baptist church in Maryland was a house that love built. Six-principle foot-washing General Baptists began meeting in Lutherville, Maryland, in 1742. Their third pastor, Henry Loveall, baptized forty-eight new converts shortly after coming. Then the church began to hear rumors that Rev. Loveall was really Desolate Baker, a runaway indentured servant who was not only a criminal on the run, but fleeing justice in the intimate company of another man’s wife. Rev. Loveall fled to a church in Virginia, but the rumors followed him, so he returned to Maryland. Rev. Loveall watched his old church in Lutherville go from 181 members to 21. He lived as proof that ministerial gifts and ministerial ethics don’t always go together—not even for Baptists named Rev. Loveall. Was there really a pastor named Henry Loveall who wasn’t really named Henry Loveall?
Story two: The first Baptist church in Pennsylvania began in 1764 with a captive audience. Richard Curtis Sr. owned much of Asheville, North Carolina. The senior Richard provided financial backing when his son, Richard Curtis, Jr. became pastor of a small Particular Baptist congregation, Mount Gilead. Then Richard Jr. heard the Quaker John Woolman preach against slavery. Richard Jr. was so taken with Woolman that he followed him back to Pennsylvania and became part of the Friends community, working to convince slaveholders to free their slaves. Then Richard Sr. died and left his son fourteen slaves. Richard Jr., under what he called “the clear urging of the Holy Spirit” founded a second Mount Gilead Baptist Church, this one in Philadelphia, the first Baptist church in Pennsylvania. Was Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Philadelphia a church where the servants really were servants?
Story three: The first Baptist church in Utah was the result of young love. Dwight Spencer was the single pastor of Mount Olivet, a Free Will Baptist church in Denver, Colorado. At a political event he met the beguiling Margaret Taylor, the daughter of Randolph Taylor, the pastor of First Methodist Church. Dwight was smitten and asked Margaret to marry him. Randolph Taylor forbid his daughter from marrying one of the “brigand Baptists,” so Dwight and Margaret eloped to Ogden, Utah. Dwight began a Baptist church in a blacksmith shop in 1874 and was surprised when the congregation filled with Ute Indians. Margaret didn’t care for Indian culture, but it was still a shock when Margaret left the Baptists for the Mormons, and Dwight for Gordon Fletcher, a Mormon elder. A heartbroken Dwight resigned. The First Baptist Church in Utah lasted only a few months. They never had a joint worship service with the Mormons. Is this a true story of big love in Utah?
Was the actual story Rev. Loveall’s church in Maryland discovering their pastor was loving all in an inappropriate way, Rev. Curtis’ inherited congregation in Pennsylvania or Rev. Spencer and his ex-Methodist, ex-Baptist ex-wife Mormon in Utah? For the answer we turn to Loyd Allen’s page-turner of Baptist history You are a Great People: “In the end, the Baptist story in Maryland does not rest heavily on the reputation of its earliest ordained ministers, but Baptist work was weakened by the scandal. Eight years passed before another Baptist Congregation was established in Maryland.”
Congratulations to the many descendants of Henry Loveall, the residents of Lutherville and the church historians who answered correctly.