OUR HISTORY – On January 1, 1881, a Baptist church for the Swedish-speaking community in Topeka was established by eleven families. They decided to name the church Forsta Swenska Baptist Kyrkan (First Swedish Baptist Church) of Topeka, having the word of the Lord Jesus Christ as its only authority for its faith and practice. The first church was erected on the southwest corner of 6th and Fillmore. Due to membership growth, a new church was dedicated in 1890 and built on the location of our present site at the corner of 4th and Fillmore. A fantastic example of living our Vision and Purpose began in May 1917 when it was decided to have services in English rather than Swedish every other Sunday evening. The church grew and prospered, and in March 1919, a new church building was constructed on the same site. In 1923, again seeking to win and nurture others in the love of Jesus Christ, our name was changed to West Side Baptist Church, and soon after, all services were conducted in English. Today, we appreciate the magnitude of those decisions.
From those humble beginnings, the Swedish Baptists were committed to carrying the cross to the people of Topeka. Over the years, new parsonages were purchased and later sold, a pipe organ was installed and expanded, an education wing was added, the sanctuary was refurbished, a new north entrance was built, a parking area was enlarged, and the building was made more accessible with the addition of an elevator and new restrooms. More recently, the building has been tuckpointed, energy-efficient windows installed, and rooms updated with new decorations and furnishings. Throughout all of these renovations and expansions, the church’s commitment to service and missions has remained strong with a donation of 10% of income to work in the neighborhood through Habitat for Humanity, Doorstep Inc., and Midtown Community Services, as well as supporting Bethel Neighborhood Center in Kansas City, and building a ($10,000) women’s dormitory in India.
In 2015, the church conducted self-studies and renewal programs to reach persons for Jesus Christ while focusing on its missional vision and purpose. The church concurred that our strengths are mission-mindedness and actions, loving and supporting attitude and fellowship, and prayer life. We also discussed challenges or hurdles we face and ways to overcome them in faith. The challenges most concerning to people were being an aging congregation, the upkeep of the physical building in a transitional urban neighborhood, and the similarity and subsequent confusion of our name with another church in Topeka. In 2016, the congregation made the brave decision to remain focused on its mission and purpose at 4th and Fillmore streets as a light of hope to the Ward Meade neighborhood. This decision, made in the providence and gracious goodness of God, proved to be a bellwether of blessings, as the congregation saw rapid renewal and expansion of its ministries in the community.
Many mainline churches in the US today are discouraged by declining numbers and aging congregations. Thankfully, we are very encouraged by our growing membership, expanding social programs (e.g., the Baby Closet, Food Pantry, and Soup Kitchen), and our WWW (Wonderful West Side Wednesdays) Kids Club program which nurtures friendship and faith in people of all ages. Our congregation also partners with numerous groups who use our building for small groups and support groups, such as Barber Shoppers, Capital City Chorus, a TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly) Support Club, Safe Streets of Topeka, and the Ward Meade NIA (neighborhood improvement association).
Ward Meade neighborhood is a mix of older, established middle-class homes and other more transient areas with rental houses and a changing population. We sponsor various activities over the years designed to connect neighbors into the community, including an annual Easter egg hunt, sunrise worships services, spring carnivals, fall festivals, ice cream socials, pancake breakfasts, rummage sales, Halloween Trunk-or-Treat, Night Out against Crime, and holiday parties. We maintain a strong, supportive connection with the nearby Meadows Elementary School (Topeka Public Schools USD 501). We have collected backpacks, school supplies, winter clothing, teacher appreciation gifts, sponsored meals, and generously provide utility assistance and rent support. The church works with countless community organizations to help people in our neighborhood, community, City of Topeka, and world.