In the summer of 1955, Clayton Taylor asked some of the young preachers from Ross Baptist Church (Calumet Township) to go with him into the Garyton area (later named Portage) to conduct church services in order to begin a new mission church. Brother Taylor found a two car garage on Bell Street which was to be used as the church. The building was cleaned and chairs and other items were borrowed from Ross Baptist Church. Services were held at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, with different men taking turns preaching. In the winter of 1955, services were discontinued because it was too cold in the garage.
Brother Taylor then went to Black Oak Baptist Church and talked to Brother W.E. Jones about starting another mission in the Garyton area. After several visits with Brother Jones, together they decided to establish a mission church again. So, in early spring of 1956, Brother Taylor rented a house on Dombey Road (or May St.) to be used as a mission church. Black Oak Baptist Church voted to pay the rent and furnish material for this church. They purchased coal at $15.00 per ton to heat the house. Brother Jones went to Garyton from Black Oak each Sunday afternoon to conduct church services at 2:00 p.m.
In May, 1956, the Black Oak Baptist Church voted to begin services at this new mission at regular church time and to also start a Sunday School program. Rev. Leroy Vaught was sent to be the Pastor along with Rev. Raymond Spann, the Deacon. The first Sunday School began with Rev. Vaught, his wife Fay, and their two children; Clayton Taylor; Raymond Spann and his wife, Romaine; and J.C. Horn and his wife, Sally, and their two children.
On the second Sunday of services, Rev. Vaught brought his brother Reedman Vaught to church and he became the first person saved at the new church. He then began to lead the singing with Mrs. Spann playing the piano, which was donated by Black Oak Baptist Church. The church began to grow so fast that the building could not hold all the people. Brother Taylor bought a tent at the Army Surplus store and began holding services in the tent. Sunday School was held in the house.
The church continued to grow until there was a need for a larger building. Winter was coming so space was rented at the American Legion Building on 25th Avenue. The Legion was rented for $70 per month for the upstairs where services were held and $10 per month for the basement where Sunday School met. The odor of fish and beer was very strong from the Friday and Saturday night fish fries and beer parties held by the Legion. Therefore, every Sunday morning, prior to church services, the members had to sweep up the beer cans and bottles before setting up the chairs. But God still blessed the mission church with many additions during that time.
During the fall of 1956, the Black Oak Church was asked to officially organize the mission into a Southern Missionary Baptist Church. The church set the date of November 18, 1956, as the date to organize the mission into a church.
The church voted to call itself, "Garyton Missionary Baptist Church." Rev. Leroy Vaught was to be the Pastor, Raymond Spann the Deacon, Mrs. Spann the piano player, Clayton Taylor the Sunday School Director, and Reedman Vaught the music director.
The church continued to grow during 1957. However, the American Legion stopped renting space to the church. So, in 1958, the church bought three acres of land at what is now 5785 Mulberry Ave in Portage. The land contained two houses, with the larger house used as a parsonage. At this time, a Methodist Church in Illinois offered to sell to the church a two story house to be dismantled for the material. Several men from the church went to inspect the house and brought back the report that the material in the house could be used to build a new building on our property. The church voted to buy the house. The house was tom down and the material hauled to Garyton with only one minor accident. Brother Burl Yarber furnished a large truck to haul the material and someone accidentally threw a board through the back window!
In 1959, most of the men of the church worked in the steel mills and they were on strike. Rev. Vaught called Brother Clayton Causey to come and help measure a place on the property to build a church building. Together they mowed the weeds and staked off the place for the building. That night Rev. Vaught called all the men in the church to come the next day to dig the footer for the new building. More than twenty men showed up to work. Some were digging and others were pulling nails from the material which had been hauled in from Illinois. Much sacrifice was needed to get the building completed. Some members borrowed money or bought on credit the lighting, wire, plumbing, furnace, and many other items. Within three weeks the building was completed. On October 4, 1959, the new church finally had a home of its own.
In September, 1959, the church reached out to begin a new mission church of its own. This new church was located on McCool Road in the McCool community of Portage. The church voted to send Clayton Taylor and Burl Yarber to begin that mission. Almost one year later a church was formed which is today Portage Missionary Baptist Church.
In 1961, the first permanent brick structure was started at the church and by October 1962, it was completed. However, one week after moving into the new building, Rev. Vaught resigned as Pastor. In December, 1962, the church called Rev. W. E. Jones to come as Pastor. Under his leadership the church continued to grow. In March, 1968, Brother Jones retired and moved to Morton's Gap, Kentucky. Afterward, Rev. Bill Smith was called as Pastor. Rev. Smith led the church to purchase additional property next door for future expansion. There was a house on the property and the Pastor's family moved into it. The other house was removed to provide additional parking. The original building was also remodeled into new Sunday School rooms. Church attendance had reached an average of 110 and Sunday School enrollment had grown to 208. This same year the church changed its name to First Southern Baptist Church of Portage. Portage had become a city and the community was growing.
In June, 1972, the church voted to begin a new bus ministry. Many people were reached for the Lord through transportation to the church by the four buses that were purchased. The Sunday School grew to it highest attendance ever. A Children's Church was also created. However, in July 1976, Rev. Smith resigned to pastor a church at Creasey Lane in Lafayette, Indiana.
On July 26, 1977, the church called Rev. Jay Morse as Pastor. He was a full-time evangelist prior to coming to the church. In August, 1978, Rev. Keith Jackson was called as Associate Pastor. In addition, Bob Gabriel was called as Music and Youth Director. The choir preformed at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. They also sang a Christmas cantata at the Southlake Mall as well as revivals in the Northwest Indiana Baptist Association. The youth were very active and participated in many activities. The church purchased a parsonage at 1666 Elm Street. The old parsonage was turned into office space and classrooms. Rev. Morse returned to evangelism and left the church in May of 1979.
On September 9, 1979, the church called Rev. Norman Johnston as Pastor. The church upgraded the first brick building. In 1980, Rev. Johnston shared with the church a vision of a new building. In the spring of 1981, the first frame building was removed in order to take a step of faith in building a new auditorium and fellowship hall. Through the hard work and dedication of many men and women from this church as well as three churches in Texas and Arkansas, the new building was finished in 1986, debt free. The new auditorium and building brought a need for a larger parking lot which was created in front of the church. A garage was built onto the Elm street parsonage property. In June 1991, Pastor Johnston resigned after twelve years of service and moved to Missouri.
In September, 1991, the church called Rev. Rodney Rudd as Pastor. In 1994, the church name was changed from First Southem Baptist Church to Grace Baptist Church. New pews were purchased for the sanctuary along with new carpet and tables for the fellowship hall. The nursery was also expanded. In 1995, a new parsonage at 3190 Teresa Street was purchased. After eleven years of service, on December 31, 2002, Pastor Rudd retired and began traveling with his family doing a Gospel singing ministry.
On February 9, 2003, Rev. Randall Forsythe came to fill the pulpit. His presence was clearly an act of God. He filled the pulpit four more times before being asked to submit his resume. He had intended to become a missionary in Ukraine but God's will pulled him here. He was voted in with 100% of the votes. He became the Pastor on June 1,2003, after receiving his bachelor's degree in Christian Studies from Oklahoma Baptist University. Pastor Forsythe and his wife, Jean, moved into the parsonage in September. In October 2003, Sunday School was re-established with forty members attending that first Sunday School Service. In February, 2005, the church purchased a new electronic piano. This greatly enhanced the music ministry. By September 2005, Sunday School attendance reached 125, and by June of 2006, enrollment was 167. Also in September 2005, the church expanded its front parking lot. And on November 20,2005, church high attendance day saw 243 in church for our 49th anniversary. On June 25, 2006, Pastor Forsythe became the first Pastor ordained by our church.
God has richly blessed us from our most humble beginnings. There has been much sacrifice over the past fifty years by faithful men and women of God. Besides all of the salvations and changed lives that have come through our church, perhaps the greatest accomplishment has been the effect the church has had on our world. Many dedicated people from our church have fulfilled the Lord's commandment in Acts 1:8 to present the Gospel around the world. Because of the faithfulness by Grace Baptist Church to do that, God has honored and blessed our ministry efforts here at home.
It is truly a blessing of God that we continue to be a place where the Spirit of God dwells. May all of us remain faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the next fifty years.