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Remaining Faithful: For the 200th Anniversary of Second Baptist Church

By Barry Sisk, Church Historian

war_34The founders of the Second Baptist Church of Suffield began a new church with the blessing of their own strong First Baptist Church in 1805. But, the origins of the First Baptist Church with its particular beliefs occurred amid much controversy more than fifty years prior to 1805.

In New England, the Congregational Church had lost much of its hold on its members and on government by 1725. Eventually, some of its ministers decided a religious revival was needed. A fiery preacher by the name of Jonathan Edwards became a major stimulus for a religious revival in southern New England; his preaching attracted large numbers of people and his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," preached in Enfield, Connecticut, in 1740, became well known.

Interest in religion was revived, but, to the consternation of the Congregationalists, other religious groups such as Baptists and Methodists benefitted more in terms of numbers in the short and long run. Some Congregationalists in the Suffield church came to the belief that only those who had experienced a conversion (the "awakened") could be members and share communion. However, they were a minority and their belief was rejected. As a result, some left Suffield Congregational Church and, led by Joseph Hastings, formed their own church in 1747. They were known as "New Lights".

As years passed, the "NewLights" suffered internal dissension. Many returned to the Suffield Congregational Church and the others followed Joseph Hastings, who had been immersed in 1752 , in accepting Baptist principles. Hasting's congregation formally organized as a Baptist Church in 1769 and constructed a building on Zion's Hill(Hastings Hill). By 1790, the First Baptist Church of Suffield (and the first Baptist church in Hartford County) had become the seventh largest Baptist Church in Connecticut with 112 members and was an influential church.

A few years later, Deacon Ephraim Robbins and Baptists from two other churches received a response to a letter they sent to President Thomas Jefferson in which they expressed hope for support for the separation of church and state. In his letter to the committee of the Danbury Baptist Association dated Jan. 1, 1802, Jefferson stated that " Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with solemn reverence the act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting the establishment of religion , or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; thus building a wall of separation between church and state." Jefferson also refers to " rights of conscience".

Thus, when some members of the First Baptist Church were granted permission to start a new church in 1805, they had encouragement and support from a strong mother church. The Second Baptist Church of Suffield obtained its first full time pastor in 1810, joined the Connecticut Baptist Convention in 1824 under Pastor Tubal Wakefield, and was recognized as a strong church. And the rest is history.

These early Baptists emphasized certain things: Soul Freedom; Priesthood of All Believers; Congregational Autonomy; Religious Liberty; Believer's Baptism (rejects infant baptism); The Bible. We American Baptists also emphasize the same things. Early Baptists had great obstacles to overcome and their sacrifices and faith have encouraged subsequent generations to stay the course. We at Second Baptist Church have faced serious challenges, physical and spiritual. Let us pray that sacrifice and faith will be part of our legacy for future generations.


Early Baptist History from England to Connecticut

Quoted Excerpts by Muriel Erickson, Church Historian, Central Baptist Church Hartford, 1974-1978

"In the year of 1611, under the reign of James I, in the old town of Litchfield, England, Edward Wigthtman, a Baptist minister, who was accused by the dominant hierarchy of almost every heresy, and worst of all, the denial of the divine authority of infant baptism, was burned at the stake."

"The thread of history winds from the martyrdom of Edward Wightman in 1611 to his descendant, the Rev. Valentine Wightman, who in 1705 "planted" the first Baptist church in the "Province of Connecticut" at Groton. [This church still serves God 300 years later as Old Mystic Baptist Church.] Among the first "fruits" of this church was the first Baptist Church of Suffield, CT. "

In 1805 Second Baptist Church in Suffield grew out of First Baptist on Hill Street. We still worship there five Sundays every summer beginning in August. While this new congregation endured persecution from townspeople who twice vandalized the construction site, they faithfully endured paying their tithe to the puritan church acrosss the street while also supporing Second Baptist. The wooden beams from the original barn-like building survive today in our sanctuary superstructure.

The American Baptist Churches of Connecticut are proud to name their camp and conference center "Camp Wightman."


What Happened at Second Baptist in 2010?

Second Baptist Church experienced an active year once again even though the church and families were impacted by bad economic times. The commitment of many people in terms of time and talent to the ministries of the Church was impressive. Issues within the congregation and employees impeded the effectiveness of some work. Effective programs and activities, church and community, were facilitated by a well maintained physical plant.

 Many committees, boards and groups were active throughout the year. The Diaconate, Board of Christian Education, and the Executive, Missions, Music, Pastoral Relations, House and Calling Committees met on a regular basis. Other committees met as needed: Flower, Nominating, Stewardship and Budget. Other regular activities were the Special Needs Fellowship, Women’s Fellowship, Soup Kitchen, Prayer Shawl Ministry, and Prayer Circle. The choirs, Sanctuary and Handbell, made our worship experience more joyful and meaningful. Dedicated teachers gave Sunday School participants of most ages a variety of meaningful experiences; more teachers were needed to lighten the load. Outside groups continued to use church facilities on a regular basis: Brownies, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Suffield Academy, AA, and the Garden Club The Pastor continued his Wednesday afternoon chat time at the local Dunkin Donuts and the “‘Fabulous Friday Folders” provided the Office Manager with important help. The Office Manager, Evelyne Battle, did outstanding work for the Church.

 Regular and special events occurred in January. On the 15th, the Habitat for Humanity Mission Team held a Spud-night/Dessert auction to help support their gulf coast mission trip. A service at Third Baptist in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. was held on January 17 at 4 pm. The annual meeting of Second Baptist was held on the 31st.

On February 7, a Dominican Republic Mission trip luncheon was held at noon. A Red Cross blood drive was held on the 23rd. Ash Wednesday service was held on the 17th. On Sunday after worship, a missions project was held: packing Church World Service Hygiene Kits. Lenten devotional breakfasts were held on the 21st and 28th at 8:15 am. A family Sunday celebration was held on the 28th in which all children remained in the worship service for the entire time.

 Lenten breakfasts were held on the 7th, 14th, and 21st. On Saturday, March 6, ABCCONN’s Spring Fling was held at Second Baptist. Second Baptist volunteers helped with parking, a meal, providing equipment etc.for workshops and a variety of other tasks for 250 people. It was extremely successful in large part because of our volunteers. It was a wonderful service for our fellow Baptists. The youth held a retreat on the 12th and 13th. Youth Sunday was observed on the 21st. On Palm Sunday, March 28, the choir and a small orchestra presented a Palm Sunday Suite,”The Crown and the Cross”. It was a highlight of the church year. Maundy Thursday was observed with a service at Third Baptist Church at 7 pm. on April 1. Easter Sunday began with a sunrise service at 6 am at Sunrise Park followed by our worship service at 10 am. SBC women were invited to a fashion show in Fellowship Hall on Sat. April 17. An American Red Cross blood drive was held on the 21st in Fellowship Hall.

A Ladies Tea was held on May 1 from 12-2 pm with Lisa Gustafson, Interim Minister of Bristol Baptist. On Sunday , May 2, the Hot Cat Jazz Band provided a wonderful addition to the music of our worship service. The men’s choir provided music during worship on Father’s Day, May 9. The annual hymn sing and supper with Third Baptist was held in Fellowship Hall on May 16.

In June on the 5th and 6th, a team from the SBC participated in the Relay for Life activity to raise money to fight cancer. The church school year ended on the 13th with Children’s Day service followed by a church picnic.

 On Sunday, July 11, 2nd Baptist and 1st Congo held a joint worship service at 1st Congo and it was a joyful experience. Vacation Bible School was held July 12 - 16 with a pirate ship playing a motivating role. A supper and discussion occurred on the 21st with Robyn Smith describing her missionary work in Bogota, Colombia. Robyn was a teacher and people enjoyed learning about her work. Worship services in August were held at First Baptist Church of Suffield.

Worship services returned to SBC on Sept. 5th and Homecoming Sunday was observed on the 19th with the Hot Cat Jazz band featured. Sunday School for all levels began on the 19th. SBC had a booth for Suffield on the Green on the 12th and 13th. Committees and boards established dates for planning meetings to get the church year up and running. In October, a number of mission activities took place. On the 9th, Habitat for Humanity Build Day was supported with snacks provided by church volunteers and given to June Hodges who served them to habitat workers. On the 16th , a bake sale was held by the youth at two locations to raise money for the Dominican Republic Mission trip. Also, on the 16th, the Diaconate had a retreat at the church with Rev. Kendric Prescott as the leader. Two activities occurred after morning worship the next day: members participated in the Crop Walk and Lucille Miller sold items made by women of India who had been maltreated and were trying to support themselves. This sale was part of Lucille’s preparation for a mission trip to India in January , 2011.

 November activities were kicked off with the Holiday Fair on the 6th. Our church family Thanksgiving dinner was held on the 14th. An Adult Ed potluck supper and discussion group met with Rev Michael Wu with the topic “Where in the World Will the Church Be in the 22nd Century”. The Adult Christian Education Committee sponsored a series on Sunday mornings entitled “Getting to Know Our Interfaith neighbors”. Judaism on the 7th was postponed, Islam with Hanah Saleh was held on the 14th and Baha’i was held on the 21st with Chet and Mary Kay Makoski. The Missions Committee sponsored Thanksgiving dinners for 12 families and food was contributed by the congregation. Our Thanksgiving service was held on the 21st and an Interfaith Thanksgiving service was held at Sacred Heart Church at 4 pm. The first Sunday of Advent was on the 28th with the Advent candle lighted by the Jamrog family. At the end of the service, Pastor David Reed-Brown read a letter of resignation to the congregation. January 16, 2011, would be his last day as Pastor of Second Baptist Church of Suffield.

The Advent season was underway as December began. On Sunday morning worship, the Advent candles were lighted by Daisy Saunders and family on the 5th; on the 12th by the Vormstein-Schneider family; and by the Tobiasz family. The family craft workshop was held on the 5th. The Community Christmas Concert was held on the 18th at SBC. It was a great opportunity to bring the entire Suffield community together to enjoy the musical talents of all age groups. On the 11th , a spaghetti supper was put on by the youth to raise funds for the mission trip to the Dominican Republic. An American Red Cross blood drive was held at SBC on the 21st. The traditional Christmas Eve service and pageant was held with white gifts for those in need. A service of carols and Bible readings was held at 10 pm.

 Many people at SBC worked hard to do God’s work in a very challenging 2010. We can be thankful for their belief in the ministries of the Second Baptist Church of Suffield.