When the church was completed, "slips" or pews were sold at public auction to raise money for the building. Those who bought the pews owned them and re-rented them yearly. There was even some discussion and decisions made about how the congregants would comport themselves once in the pews. A committee was formed to decide whether the congregation should stand during prayer and sit while singing hymns or vice versa. It was finally decided that proper conduct during services was to bow during prayer and stand while singing. The new church even brought a great deal of comfort to those being baptized. Before the church was built, baptism was administered in the Kalamazoo River...even in mid-winter. A hardy lot, these faithful.
The tall steeple eventually was condemned as being unsafe. It took 100 men to pull it down toward the courthouse next door. The steeple had been sawed off at the point of what is now the current church tower. This steeple razing was done in conjunction with a campaign to raise $135,000 for the erection of a church house and a remodeling of the building. It was discovered that the roof was pushing the walls of the church outwards. A Kalamazoo architect, H. W. Coddington designed the present roof, known as a self-supporting roof. He also built the vestibule in the front, the apse at the rear of the church to house the organ and choir, and designed the winding stairs and galleries to hold the ever-growing numbers of church members.
The clock in the tower was important because very few people had watches. Its installation resulted from an agreement between the church and the City of Kalamazoo. First Baptist Church agreed to install the clock, which the city had purchased, along with the fire alarm mechanism, which was hand-operated by a long wire that hung outside the steeple. As might be expected, this wire attracted young pranksters on many occasions.
The Church and Kalamazoo College
There is a strong link between the First Baptist Church and Kalamazoo College. Three Baptist leaders had a major role in establishing the college, which was then known as the Michigan and Huron Institute. A site for the institution was secured in August of 1835 by Rev. Jeremiah Hall. It was located on what was then known as Arcadia Hill. By September Rev. Hall reported that nearly three thousand dollars had been raised to build what was referred to as a literary institution. The church's relationship with Kalamazoo College has been both supportive and a source of tension at the same time. Traditional Baptist teachings sometimes clashed with scholastic concerns. Thus was born the term "town vs. gown." For example, at one of the church services the president of Kalamazoo College at the time, Stuart Grant Cole, termed the Bible a dead book and told the students to think for themselves.