BY SAMI GILLETTE
NORWICH – Three churches will honor their history and a legacy of inter-denominational cooperation on Sunday, June 15. Both the First Baptist Church and the United Church of Christ First Congregational are celebrating their 200th anniversaries this year and have invited Broad Street United Methodist Church to join in the service that Sunday. The event will begin with a joint worship service at 10:30 a.m. at West Side Park in Norwich. Both Pastor David Spiegel (First Baptist) and Reverend Joseph Connolly (UCC) will present the message. After service there will be a picnic with UCC providing hamburgers and hotdogs and members bringing a dish to pass. Attendees are asked to bring their own lawn chairs for seating. The joint worship is open to all members of the community, even if they are not church members.
It will be a traditional service with songs, readings and a Biblical message, explained Spiegel.
“We've invited tons of dignitaries,” said Spiegel and listed state senators, Congressman Hanna, as well as other well-known figures.
When asked why such joint events are important he said, “It's about kingdom building rather than individual brands...It's about building the kingdom of God.”
In the same vein Connolly said, “There is a fairly long history of cooperation amongst those three churches.”
He continued, “The interesting historical point there is that the separatism between the different denominations is a 21 century phenomena...in a sense we're being throwbacks.”
Both UCC and First Baptist congregations began in 1814 with the current church buildings to come later.
“My understanding is one of the two churches incorporated first, and one met first...within weeks of each other in the summer of 1814,” said Connolly.
When reflecting on the history of the church Connolly discussed the church's involvement in the abolitionist movement. Samuel Scoville served as pastor of the church from 1861-79; was a well-known abolitionist; and was related by marriage to the renowned clergyman and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher.
“Central New York was a hot bed of abolitionism,” explained Connolly. “It (Scoville's pastorhood) says something about where the church was at that time.”
For Connolly, it is important to recognize the past in order to better navigate the future as a church and continue to serve as an active force in the larger community.
“The tradition of this church was always on the cutting edge of social progress,” he said.
First Baptist’s history is just as inspiring and interesting. Spiegel explained that recognizing church history, especially at such a big milestone, is important as the congregations move forward.
“We've been faithful, we've been doing something right,” he said.
“It's not just a milestone, but a launching pad for the next 200 years,” Spiegel continued. “We've been here to care for our community. We feel compelled to be an asset to this community.”
All of the churches are involved in supporting the community through food drives, missionary work and serving as spiritual gathering places for local residents.
Both churches have a long line up of bi-centennial events, some of which are joined. During the summer First Baptist and UCC will host six joint services – three at each respective church.
Beyond these joint events, the pastors emphasized that their churches are always open to new members of all walks of life.
Said Spiegel, “We would love people, if they don't have a place to worship, to come to us.”