Champaign Baptist Church

My great grandmother Essie (Wilson) Luce was raised in the Baptist church. She married Wilford Luce in 1898 in Champaign, Illinois, then moved west to Wyoming to take up life on his ranch.

I was curious about the church where they got married. I was fairly certain it would have been a Baptist church, but Essie later became an Episcopalian and her mother Elizabeth (Mallory) Wilson later became a Methodist, so maybe not.

Tp find out, I checked Essie’s marriage record. I have a copy, but if I didn’t already have one I could have looked for a copy at FamilySearch.org. It’s there, already linked to her profile. The certificate is signed by W. H. Stedman, a minister. A quick Google search tells me he was minister at the 1st Baptist Church in Urbana. With some additional searching, I find the church was organized in 1838 and Rev. Stedman was called in 1875.

Now I see a problem. The Wilsons lived in Champaign. This church was in Urbana. The two cities are close neighbors but it doesn’t seem likely someone would travel from one to the other to go to church, particularly not a common denomination like Baptist. Okay, maybe if the person and the church were both close to the boundary.

I seem to have a problem but it’s easily resolved. A bit more searching and I find Rev. Stedman resigned at Urbana in 1882. He served several other churches, then was called to the 1st Baptist Church at Champaign in 1894. So, yes. Exactly right to have officiated at Essie’s wedding in 1898.

Finally, can I find a picture of the church? Yes, but sadly it was demolished in 1980. If I had asked this question in my early 20s I would have had a chance to travel there, and see it in person.

According to the The Biographical Record of Champaign County Ill. (1900), the new church was Pastor Stedman’s project (p. 196). It took three years; two years of persuading the congregation and a year in building, at a cost of $22,000. That would mean the church was completed about 1897. It would have been relatively new when Essie was married there in 1898.

You can see a picture of the church here, from the digital collection of the University of Illinois. The Gothic Revival style is no surprise. The style was a peripheral effect of the Oxford Movement in England and America; an Anglo-Catholic renewal movement that idealized traditional liturgies, architectures, and theologies in a way that often equated embracing tradition with social standing.

It’s no coincidence that Essie’s mother moved from Baptist to Methodist, and Essie moved from Baptist to Episcopalian. In two words: upward mobility.

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