This next section is a compilation of information we were told by Church members and others about Church History at the time of the renovations and restoration efforts starting 1997, coordinated by Rev. Colleen Pearl, Associate Pastor, at the time of the Church Rededication Service May 1998.
May 1776, the Baptist Society of Chestnut Hill (later named East Killingly, CT) was started. Several years later this group split into two Baptist churches: The East Killingly Baptist Church (a “hard-shell” Baptist Church), and the East Killingly Free Will Baptist Church & Society.
In November 1914, these two churches merged and formed the Union Baptist Church of East Killingly.
In 1835 a church building was constructed on the present site (Hartford Pike) using beams and other parts of the original (1776) church building from Chestnut Hill. Even though there was a period of time when the American Baptist representation in East Killingly was through two churches, both past and present members have always considered Union Baptist Church of East Killingly to have been born with the nation in 1776.
Through the late 1970s this church was the focal point of East Killingly (which was settled prior to what is now called the Town of Killingly). The Memorial Day Service was held here. The parade would stop outside the church and everyone would join in the service; then all would continue to the cemetery and come back to the church after the ceremony for lunch.
After the mill owners in town decided to stop sponsoring the Old Home Day, Union Baptist Church took it on, continuing until the late 1950s. People always knew to come to the church when in need — spiritually and practically. The youth group was noted for its size in such a small community. There are several older folks who still give testimony to having the seeds of their faith planted and nurtured in UBC’s Sunday School and youth group. They tell of wonderful experiences, including the eager anticipation of becoming old enough to be baptized and join the church. For many, perfect attendance in Sunday School was so important when they traveled they looked for an American Baptist Church to attend.
Union Baptist Church was, and still is, the only Protestant denomination in East Killingly. As with so many churches of all denominations, the seventies ushered in a time of decline. Many of the older folks in town moved to warmer climates. Many of the younger folks left for school and military service, never to return. The mills closed and employment options moved farther away. Sadly, like churches elsewhere, UBC also suffered from disagreement among its members, and many left to go elsewhere. It was very difficult for those who had kept the fires burning to allow “new” folks to bring change with them. By the mid-1980s, the active membership had dwindled to a dozen or so who met only during the summer and Easter and Christmas. The furnace and plumbing failed, the building needed major structural work, the parsonage was not in good enough shape to have someone live in, and the few remaining members were elderly and unable to do the work themselves. It was also believed that there was no money to hire a pastor, make repairs, or anything else. The handful began meeting in the parsonage, relying on occasional supply ministers, or simply having a deacon lead a prayer service. It appeared the end was imminent.
And so there were eight.
The Choice for God’s Work
Church officers decided it was time to close the church. But one 82 year old woman — Mary N. (very shy, never outspoken) — said , “No! I don’t want my church closed. Please God, save this church.” With the help of her son, Mary solicited the necessary signatures for a petition calling for a special business meeting. Mary, along with six other members (all over 60 years old) asked for help from the American baptist Churches of Connecticut (ABCCONN) staff, and Rev. Larry Dobson (the Northeast Regions Resource Minister) came — along with two other respected area clergy. There were two main questions: (1) Was there any money for repairs and hiring a pastor? (2) Was there a pastor somewhere with a vision for God’s work here and a heart for this church and the community? Was he / or she able to go without a real wage for a season…and up for a challenge!” By the end of this first meeting a new slate of officers were elected, and yes, there was some money for necessary repairs. It was prayed and agreed that God would either send them a pastor who could lead them along a path of renewal and revival, or they would accept the necessity of closing the church.
Sadly, those who had been leading the church for the past several years could not accept the changes necessary and soon chose to leave. Mary and the five persevered. These others included Mary’s son (Arthur), Richard and Shirley B. (Shirley had been a member since 1937) and Barbara W. (a member since 1936) and her daughter, Priscilla (a member since 1955) — all made a six month commitment to working to save this church. Barbara’s mother, Doris S. was 98 years old and she wanted to know her own pastor before she died, so Doris asked Barbara and her granddaughter, Priscilla to represent her in this effort.
And so there were six….
The ABCCONN leadership, particularly Rev. Dobson were very helpful and supportive. Their prayers and encouragement gave the others hope; their wise counsel and diplomatic talks with the other disgruntled members (who had possession of the books) eliminated much stress, and possible legal unpleasantness. They provided much needed new direction. The new officers were especially relieved to have this support and help, particularly since the previous leadership had ceased all ABCCONN active affiliation many years earlier. The six active members all agreed that active affiliation with ABCCONN and ABCUSA was an absolute must…and desire. Their faith was rooted in the Baptist denomination and tradition, as was the founding of this church. The leadership met on a Monday evening in July to pray and seek God’s will and help — they knew they needed a spiritual leader, and needed one soon.
Two days later — Wednesday — one of the deacons was inquiring about some real estate in a near-by town. It happened to be owned by small non-denominational ministry. The deacon spoke with the president of that group, who happened to be an ordained minister. At the end of the business discussion, the deacon asked if the minister would consider pastoring a small American Baptist church. That minister — Rev. William Pearl — said he would gladly meet and pray with the people. A few weeks later the Pearls (both happened to be ordained ministers) met with the six for fellowship and lots of talk. At the end of the evening it was agreed to have Rev. Pearl (Bill) preach for two Sundays in the fall. It was at this point that those who had wanted to close the church officially decided to leave.
Rev. Pearl preached for the last two weeks of October. The members believed he was the answer to their prayers, and so they issued a call for both the Pearls to come as Senior and Associate Pastor, respectively. While honored to be so called, the Pearls asked for time for more prayer and to meet with Rev. Dobson. They wanted to know more about the ABCUSA denomination. They had come from a Southern Baptist and then non-denominational background (having been raised UCC and Roman Catholic, respectively). They felt they needed to know a little more of the background of Union Baptist Church, and also what supports might be available from ABCCONN and ABCUSA… and what would be expected of UBC towards the region and national. After meeting with Rev. Dobson, the Pearls were satisfied, and they strongly believed that the coincidental meetings were all God-ordered. So the Pearls accepted the call, and four others came with the Pearls to this church.
And so there were twelve….
From November 1, 1997 the church began having Sunday services every week in the Parsonage. By early December 1997, the church had fifteen active participants, and repairs had begun on the church building. A new heating system was installed and the Sanctuary was scrubbed. The Narthex was scraped and painted and carpeted. Light bulbs were put in lamps long since darkened, decorations were in place and on December 24, 1997 the first Christmas Eve Service in over fifteen years was held in the Sanctuary. What excitement and joy to hear the long silent church bell ring out clear and strong that night. There were 22 in attendance (some from the community who had been watching) — in the middle of a snow storm. The carols were sung and many tears flowed…a miracle had begun. Several from the church had actually started the celebration earlier that week by visiting shut-ins, including Doris S. age 98, and Verdi & Augusta P. (both over 90— Verdi was a Life Deacon). But the work had just begun.
Throughout the following months, the pastors and many volunteers worked long hard hours to renovate the church. The board decided to only hire professionals for the electrical and plumbing work. The pastors were traveling over thirty minutes form their home (three towns to the west). Rev. Bill Pearl was bi-vocational, serving a mid-state Hospice as the Pastoral Care Coordinator. By Easter, the building had new wiring, a handicapped bathroom, usable kitchen, and a brand new dining hall —the floor, ceiling, and walls had all caved in over the years. All this was ready to be rededicated to God’s use here in East Killingly, CT.
Sunday, May 17, 1998 was the date for the Rededication Service. There were over 100 people in attendance, and it was covered by the Norwich Bulletin and the Hartford Courant — the state’s largest newspaper (on the front page along with world and state news!). What excitement…what an increase in faith among the people. Over $10,000 in non-member donations had been received, giving hope and confidence to the congregation. Sadly, Doris S. had died in January, but she had indeed come to know and care for her pastor and seen her church on its way again. Her daughter and granddaughter who had pledged six months are still active in church leadership.
And so there were twenty.
From the very beginning, everyone, including the Pearls, agreed on the importance of the pastors living in the community. By the winter of 1998-99 it became a must. The parsonage was fine structurally and it had “working” plumbing and heating, but it had not been lived in since the late 1970s, or worked on since the 1950s. Working with Rev. Dobson, the Pearls asked for volunteers, and the church applied for and received a low interest loan from ABCCONN. ABCCONN then designated UBC as a home mission.
Third Baptist of North Stonington, CT sent their Youth Group on two Saturdays. These teens did the work of adults and had a great attitude. They tore down walls, scraped and painted and hauled trash. Members in the community were continuing to watch, and some began to help. Many sent money, some donated equipment and materials, and many gave of their labor. The pastor of Putnam Baptist Church came one Saturday with another man and they built the closet for the new master bedroom. In late Spring, Pastor Bill received a call from the Mission Chairperson of First Baptist of Wallingford, CT. They wanted a home mission project and we were it! Over the next several weeks they sent groups of five to twenty. These brothers and sisters in Christ did everything imaginable! They plumbed, scrubbed, painted, wired, installed windows, spackled, built floors and baseboards, replaced sills…and so much more. They also donated funds (over $800) which were used for materials, and the last case of hymnals. They prayed with us and for us, they sang and laughed…they cared! The most recent group which reached out to UBC was from the Voluntown Baptist Church. Their Vacation Bible School participants donated their week’s offering to help us purchase Sunday School and VBS Curriculum.
One local farmer sent his front-end loader (with driver) to haul piles of trash to a dumpster — some of this trash had been there for a year, and was wet and heavy. Another man loaned the use of his larger tractor for Pastor Bill to work on the parking lot with…for days. Some came and said: “We’ve not seen ministers do physical labor here for a long, long time. If you are willing to get dirty, so will we.” One woman driving by saw the pastor scraping paint off the outside of the parsonage. She stopped and said: “That may be lead paint, you need goggles.” A few minutes later she appeared with a new pair of goggles and a face mask.
From April until Memorial Day Weekend, our volunteers worked side-by-side — Church groups and civic groups, individuals of faith and individuals of community. On Memorial Day Saturday the pastors were moved in, and spent their first night at the renovated parsonage. What a homecoming! There were two brothers who came to help many times. They were the nephews of a past pastor of UBC, Rev. Kenneth Cooper (1933-1944). Their father is a retired pastor of several local churches. One of the brothers now attends here, and was married in the fall of 1999 to a deacon in this church. (The second marriage here since the rededication).
The VFW was watching, and donated $100, and invited Rev. Bill Pearl to lead the annual Memorial Day Parade (and then in our second year asked us to reinstate the Memorial Day Service). During the Spring of 1999, several men from the VFW appeared one day and took down some trees leaning towards the parsonage. Since that time, they have removed innumerable trees, cleared the back edge of the parking lot, rewired a phone line, rewired the whole basement of the parsonage, brought in truck loads of fill to enlarge the parking area, have kept it plowed at no cost all winter, and show up to every dinner and breakfast we have. The Fire Department seconded that parade invitation (it had been over 20 years since a minister led the parade), and the Chief also asked Bill to be the speaker at their annual “Appreciation Dinner.”
The wife of one of the officers of the VFW had started coming to church (originally for their granddaughter’s sake), but he was not a “church-goer.” As of the Autumn of 1999, this gentleman is not only a regular attendee, he and his wife have joined the church, and he became the Sexton. This man spends hours every week fixing, building, cleaning, and generally keeps the whole place going strong. He and another member of the church built our second bathroom in January (with money donated by a handicapped person who wanted to come to church, but needed a bathroom upstairs).
It was decided that the Old Home Day tradition should be revived (2000). Both the VFW and the Fire Department have offered support and help. We are planning it for late Spring / early Summer 2000. This will offer another community opportunity to share the “good news.” Working side-by-side, sharing goals and caring about one another creates an environment where people will listen and you can share your faith. When a church stays closed to itself alone, not caring about its neighbors, the community will not listen to the church.
We have 36 very active members, with 12 active not-as-yet members, and 7 shut-ins who are in regular contact. The rest are names still on the roll but so far inactive. The pastors are following a plan to get in touch with each and every person to see if they still desire to remain as members, and the whole congregation is planning an evangelism “Neighborhood Outreach” for the Spring. The teams will be knocking on doors with loaves of homemade bread, Gospels of John, and information about church. This is an ongoing miracle, begun, directed, and kept by God… begun in 1776, and He’s not finished!
We have “Sunday School” on Wednesday evenings, with an average of 16 in the adult class, 4 in the elementary class, and 4 really involved teens. Our mid-week prayer and praise service consistently has over 20 in attendance, with around a dozen or so each Wednesday for the fellowship supper. We have a monthly dinner which averages 60 and usually a free concert following. Our teens have put on two breakfast thus far and made over $300, which they plan to use for outreach to other teens in the community. The Union Baptist Bugle now reaches over 600 families, and always brings in many responses (spiritually and financially). It carries our church “news,” but is a strong tool for spreading the Gospel. We have started conducting twice monthly Sunday services at an assisted living facility for the elderly in a neighboring town. With an average Sunday attendance of 50, this church is no longer feeling the approach of death, we have been resurrected by our Lord and will continue to follow Him.
Today ~ Eternity
Our plans for the future are simple — we want to be about our Father’s business. We will continue to live out our faith each day in our community, and beyond. The people in this church desire first and foremost to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ shared at home and abroad. As a local church, we have a particular burden for the elderly and children. Our church in located in the largest county of the state. It is the poorest, with the fewest services available from state or local agencies. It also is noted as being the most aging county, having the largest percent per population of what is termed “old old” [those 75 and older], the largest percentage of poor, medically-frail elderly, and the highest percentage of teen pregnancies and high school drop-outs.
On the cross, one of Jesus’ last acts was to provide care for His Mother, and He always received the children who came to Him. Can we, as His followers, do any less?
Our region is a rural / small town area. Our specific location is a part of a larger (though still small) town called Killingly. We are surrounded by several villages and towns, with Rhode Island on the east, and Massachusetts less than 15 miles to our north. This church has historically been the hub of the village and our hope and plan is to become that once again. While our doors are, of course, open to all, we are targeting the families in our locale, especially those who are unchurched and without a strong background of faith. UBC has always had a strong older membership, and we will continue to value their participation and wisdom. We have many elderly housing complexes and nursing homes / assisted living facilities, with which we hope to make contact.
We also have a large group of single-parent families. This is one of the main reasons we decided to switch to a mid-week evening Christian Education class rather than the more traditional Sunday morning Sunday School. Our class sizes went from negligible to small but consistent, and growing. We had only one young child active for the first eighteen months, we now have between four each week. We had no teens, we now have 4, and our adult class grew from 5 to an average of 16 each week. Our ABW group has grown from 3 to 8-10, with one of our ladies now holding the Northeast Region’s position of Clerk. We also have an active White Cross participation.
The community is participating more and more in our monthly dinners and concerts. We began with an average of 35 for each meal, and about 15 for the concerts (decidedly Christian in flavor). This past year we have increased to over 60 for each meal and around 25-30 for the concerts. Our teens put on a “Breakfast with Santa” (offering great food and trinkets for the children with a gospel message imprinted on them), and over 75 turned out.
Our Senior Pastor has been making “door step” visits throughout the communities, and we are excited to be planning our first church-wide evangelism day of “door step” visits this spring. Teams are being trained to cover several streets around the church. They will be taking with them Gospels of John, pocket New Testaments, and complete Bibles (whichever people would prefer — the Gospels of John to be left if no one is home). They will also have a freshly made loaf of sweet bread, a brochure describing our church activities and a welcoming smile for each household. We hope to make this an annual event.
The re-birth of Union Baptist Church has been God’s plan from start to finish. Only He could have caused a timid elderly woman, who had never “fought” for something like this in her life, to stand toe-to-toe with several strong-minded individuals who wanted to close this church for their own reasons. Only God could have given her the courage — even as she struggled with a debilitating disease — to go out and ask others to help her save the church. Only God could have supplied hope to a handful of people who had, at best, spent most of their lives not thinking their desires — or perhaps even they themselves — mattered very much.
Only God could have “coincidentally” orchestrated a “business conversation” between a husband and wife ministerial team (who also had a few friends of like faith) and one of the deacons of UBC. Interestingly, this couple had a vision (for several years) of developing a group of believers intent on serving their local community. They had believed for years that this vision would be established in a small, almost forgotten (nearly dead?) church. Up to this time, they were totally unfamiliar with E. Killingly, CT., Union Baptist Church, or even the American Baptist Churches denomination — but God had a plan. A church in such disrepair that some felt it should be condemned, and six senior citizens….
Only God could have caused a $250,000.00 renovation project to be accomplished for $60,000.00 Only God could have caused people in the community — many of whom had been hurt years earlier by people in this very church — to turn and say “YES! Let us help.” Only God could have caused the largest state newspaper to print an article on the front page (along side of world and state news) concerning the renovation of this small country church — free advertising which no amount of money could have purchased. Only God could continue to have the main local newspaper write article after article after article (with pictures) about the ongoing events of this small country church — a newspaper which rarely covers local religious events at all. Only God could prod strangers to contribute their time, talent, and treasure.
Only God could soften hearts and open minds to bring about a merging of old and new with little or no disgruntled feelings…indeed, Blest Be the Tie That Binds. So many churches today are struggling to blend the older generation and the younger; the traditions of the past with the contemporary. There has been none of that at Union Baptist Church — even though the original re-start members were all older, and American Baptist to the core.