First Baptist Fridays: The Life of Bart E. Allen (Part 2 of 3)

This biography of Dr. Allen was originally written at the time of his retirement. Click here for part 1 of this series.

The Life of Bart E. Allen (Part 2 of 3)

In December, 1907, the young Reverend Mr. and Mrs. Allen moved to Osceola, Illinois, to assume pastoral duties in the Baptist church there. Their salary was nine hundred dollars per year, plus use of the parsonage. The church at Osceola was a struggling, loosely organized group of only a few members in a country community and offered a real challenge to the pastor and his wife. During the sixteen years, three months of their pastorate, this church underwent marvelous change and growth, and was greatly blessed of the Lord.

Under the Allens’ leadership, it became one of the ten outstanding rural churches of all denominations in America, and Country Gentleman magazine ran a large feature article, with photographs describing its progress and development. It was while still at the Osceola church that the Reverend Mr. Allen became Doctor B. E. Allen, through an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. This degree was conferred by Shurtleff College in recognition of his excellent work in building up this church, and may be considered a double honor, doubly earned for he had been forced to get all of the theological education leading to his ordination on his own initiative, never having had time or funds to manage a formal college education.

During the years at Osceola, Dr Allen had developed into a sturdy fighter for Christian principles, as well as having earned the reputation for scrupulous integrity and high ability in all matters pertaining to church business and organization.

In 1923 the First Baptist Church at Rockford, searching for a new Pastor, had been listening to quite a number of supply preachers throughout the summer and fall, but none had seemed to be the right one. And then Dr. A. S. Loving, the church treasurer, learned through a friend the Rev. J. V. Whiting, of Peoria, of Dr. Allen and his background of successful work. Accordingly, he was invited to fill the pulpit on December 9, 1923. Our people were pleased with him, and a unanimous call from the pulpit committee was extended to him on that very day. He accepted the call, and began his pastoral duties on March 1, 1924. The membership roll at this time showed 275 names and many of them were of inactive members.

At the time of the annual business meeting, in January, 1924, the Treasurer’s report showed a balance of $252.77 in the current expense fund, the pastor’s salary was to be $2750.00 per year, and the debt on the new church building, completed in 1920, was $15,700.00.

The new pastor immediately set about helping the church reduce the debt on its building, and began looking ahead toward new projects to encourage growth and sound organization. During that first year $9000.00 was raised for all church expenses, and it was voted to begin an organ fund. The Lord’s blessing on this team of pastor and people had immediately been given, and has been increasingly felt throughout the ensuing years! Membership and income increased steadily year by year and spiritual life began to be greatly deepened.

In about the second year of the Allens’ pastorate here, an entirely new work was undertaken by some of the women of the church, under the Christian Americanization plan of the Northern Baptist Convention: This was work among the wives of Mexican railroad laborers — visiting them in their homes to teach them English from a textbook and a Spanish-English New Testament. This was a much-needed work and, though often slow and difficult, won some souls to Christ, and opened the way for a larger service in this field.

Shortly thereafter, an English Sunday school for young Chinese men was begun at the church on Sunday afternoons, using similar teaching methods, and it was not long before young Mexican men were asking for classes, also.

Among those who began this missionary work, which was the seed from which was to grow our present Mexican Baptist Mission, were Mrs. E. L. Braid, Mrs. B. E. Allen, Mrs. C. A. Jackson, and a number of others, including our church’s organist, Miss Blanche Ambuster.  The patience and faithful work of all the women who helped with these projects helped our church to become really valuable in home missions at our very doorstep. Among the early converts was the Alba family, whose daughter, Carmen, now is the wife of our Mexican Mission pastor, Rev. Ralph Bratton.

The pastor’s salary moved upward through the years from 1924 until 1929. The new organ was installed, and was dedicated November 3, 1929 — on Dr. Allen’s birthday. Things were going well in all phases of church life, and, under the new pastor’s efficient and consecrated leadership, the church had come a long way in a few short years.

— And then the Stock Market collapsed — in October of 1929. The full meaning of this fact was not realized at once, nor even felt, and, in February of 1930, payment was completed on the building debt, and the mortgage was burned amidst great rejoicing. Also in 1930, Dr. Allen’s salary was increased to $3200.00. But, by 1931, the depression had swept the country, and our church suffered in proportion as her members felt the impact of curtailed incomes.  Every practical economy in operation of the church plant was adopted. And, in 1932, Dr. Allen voluntarily rebated twenty percent of his salary until conditions should warrant return to full payment. In addition, he further voluntarily cancelled some of the unpaid salary the church owed him as a result of depression difficulties.

In April of 1946, Miss Connie Alba and Mr. Roger Arendsee, both young members of the church, were endorsed for full-time Christian service, and Roger was licensed to preach, pending completion of his preparation for the ministry. Miss Alba was preparing for missionary service.

By the beginning of 1947, Dr. Allen’s responsibility had become so heavy, with the greatly enlarged program of service and number of members, that the church voted to call an assistant pastor. The number of deacons was increased to ten that year.

For several years, Dr. Allen and the church people had been much concerned over what seemed to be an ever-growing trend toward a toleration of liberalistic interpretations of the Bible on the part of the Northern Baptist Convention. Dr. Allen, especially, recognized this tendency and the accompanying danger to the spiritual life of the church. The fact that officers of the Illinois Baptist State Convention wished to control the erection and ownership of the chapel we proposed to erect west of the city only added to our anxiety, as this Convention was an affiliate of the Northern Baptist Convention. We feared that our individual rights and privileges as an independent Baptist church would be affected. Therefore, on May 14, 1947, the members voted to adopt a manifesto of our faith and declaration of our intention to affiliate our church with the newly-organized Conservative Baptist Association of America. This did not then constitute a withdrawal from the Northern Baptist Convention, however.

It was in the Spring of 1947, too, that a call was extended to the Reverend Will H. Bisgaard, to assume the duties of assistant to the pastor. This he accepted, and took up his work here that Fall. A second parsonage, at 2011 Cumberland Street, was purchased for the assistant pastor and his wife to live in. Their coming was very welcome, and their work among us — especially with the young people — has deepened still further our spiritual life, as well as broadening the scope of our church’s activities.

And then, in August of 1948, under the straightforward and farsighted leadership of our pastor, the church rook one of the most significant steps in its history: The deacons, pastors, and advisory board recommended, and the church in business session unanimously voted, to sever all connections with the Northern Baptist Convention and its affiliated missionary societies. This was a bold step to take after the many years of affiliation with the Convention, and there were many who had felt grave misgivings, and had heatedly debated the wisdom of such a decision, nearly forgetting to entrust the future to the Lord. But, as in so many previous instances throughout Dr. Allen’s pastorate here, God had used his yielded life and exceptional ability to guide our church over a rocky, stormy portion of the way, and out into the sunlight of a brighter prospect of service in His Name! The church’s subsequent and steady progress, spiritually and materially, proved this to be the case.

Sunday, October 16, 1948, brought another milestone in Dr. Allen’s career and the church’s history. That afternoon, on the land the church had bought west of the city, an impressive groundbreaking ceremony was held. At last the long-deferred chapel was begun, with the church launching and sponsoring the project “on its own.” The following Spring, the name Memorial Baptist Chapel was adopted, and the church launched a search for a student pastor to serve there; the building was to be ready for use by June first. On June 22, 1949,  the church voted to call Mr. K. Donald Berg and his wife, of Wheaton, Illinois, to serve as student pastor on weekends at the chapel. Mr. Berg was at that time studying for the ministry.

In June, 1950, following examination by Dr. Allen and Rev.  Bisgaard as to his faith and doctrinal beliefs, and with the approval of the board of deacons and the church as a whole, K. Donald Berg was ordained by a council of Conservative Baptist churches. And, the following February, the church called Rev. Berg to the full-time pastorate of the chapel. Thus a long-hoped-for advance in the work of our church in our own community has at last become a reality.