Celebrating the family is an activity of every church, and ours is no exception. So many programs have been held for the whole family that it’s impossible to mention them all, but needless to say, the families in this church have been involved in many different activities over the years: bowling, roller skating, ice skating, outings to Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts; the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, New Hampshire; a trip to Edaville Railroad in South Carver, Massachusetts. An annual (since 1980) winter-time weekend event which is eagerly anticipated every year is the family retreat at Sentinel Lodge in Ossipee, NH, open to everyone in the church. Not too many people are left to worship in Littleton, although those few are well taken care of by our church staff. Of course, the Baptist families frequently include food in their occasions, and we have held many Family Night suppers, Friendship dinners, Progressive suppers......whatever the name, the food has been delicious and plentiful. In an effort to introduce others to our church, the Deacons sponsored an “Invite a Friend (Share the Love)” Sunday in March of 1996.
Our outreach to the community has included the use of our church building by many groups, including Brownies, Girl Scouts, the Women’s Club, an exercise group, two Yoga classes, and a square dance group. A half hour of Christmas carols played on our chimes can be heard by the attendees of the Town Tree Lighting Ceremonies every December on the Common. Since their donation in 1972, Dick Lamburn has faithfully maintained this carillon.
The Neighborhood Supper, an outreach program sponsored by a Littleton ecumenical group and supported by five churches in town, continues to feed the area’s people. Held at the Congregational Church, we provide the meal on the second Tuesday of the month. A faithful core of workers, led by Anne Lee Ellis, prepares, serves, and cleans up a nutritious, satisfying meal for an average of 80 appreciative people, ranging in age from just a few months old to over 80.
1985 saw a church renewal and revitalization as we experienced a Macedonia Ministries Weekend - a spiritual growth weekend that touched the lives of more than 200 of our members and friends. Participation was high, and reactions positive. About 40 men gathered for their breakfast on Saturday, and the women had an opportunity to meet at coffees held in four different homes. There were programs for all ages, visitation of shut-ins and nursing homes, and times for everyone to get together at the Friday night dinner and worship on Sunday. This whole experience was reviewed at the April Advisory Council meeting, and the most-repeated adjective was “powerful!” - especially the close-to-100% response to the Altar Call. The pews nearly emptied as persons responded to the invitation to come forward to rededicate their lives to Jesus. The entire sanctuary was ringed with people on their feet, shoulder to shoulder. The weekend closed with an “Echo Meeting” on Sunday evening to hear reactions. Follow-through, to perpetuate the benefits and ideas that came out of the Macedonia Ministries Weekend, included greater emphasis on prayer ministry, pre-worship music, and organization of small groups.
After many years of being known as the “Women’s Fellowship” the name was changed to “Women’s Ministries.” But the dedication and hard work of the women continue in a seamless transition. The Women’s Ministries continues to hold many programs as well as circle meetings. Donations to many causes have included Grotonwood, “The Way,” a Christian ministry to youth, regular donations to the Murrow Indian Home (orphanage) in Oklahoma, and the Protestant Youth Center in Baldwinville. Women’s Ministries has a missionary project each year rolling bandages for White Cross, and meeting our assigned quota of donated clothes, toys, and other items for the needy across the country. At the Goldsmith Street entrance a box still appears at Christmastime to be filled with mittens, caps and scarves for distribution to needy area children. The Women’s Ministries Players (and Women’s Ministries Players “Plus,” when a male is needed for a role), have presented plays to the Merrimack Valley Women’s Christmas party and for our church, as well as other groups.
During the 80’s, two new staff positions were created: Administrative Coordinator and Director of Christian Education. Carolyn Webster has been the Administrative Coordinator since its inception, dependably and efficiently answering the phone calls, creating the weekly church calendar and monthly newsletter, and capably solving many, many problems, freeing the pastors for more ministerial duties. Debbie Blanchard was the first Christian Ed Director, followed by Anne Lee Ellis, then Barbara Anderson, each one contributing her own style to the position, enriching the whole Sunday School Department by their enthusiasm.
The Board of Christian Education sponsored an 8-week Disability Awareness Program, which enabled us to learn to accept different people’s handicaps and to eventually work more closely with the residents of A New Day, the community for mentally challenged adults operated by The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts in nearby Groton. Our Sunday School special needs class became known as the Rainbow Class and served this population for 12 years. Due to lack of funding, A New Day closed in August 1996 and this ended the Rainbow Class. The New Day graduates who still attend here have been assimilated into the adult Sunday School class.
The church’s growing commitment to ministry WITH (not just to) the handicapped and mentally challenged led us towards two of our most ambitious projects. First, an elevator was installed, allowing access to all levels of our church to the elderly and handicapped. Second, the long-awaited mission encounter trip to Arizona occurred in the summer of 1985. A hardy group of 42 people, members and friends of the church, including residents of A New Day, went west to work with Rev. Ralph Showers on his ranch for handicapped adults and to climb around on the cliffs of the Grand Canyon. Many came back with a new sense of direction and purpose, and a serious calling to work more closely with our own ministry to retarded adults. The work accomplished, plus the growth of the participants, made this an extremely successful venture.
One of our more significant decisions was the vote of the membership in May of 1987 to allow women to serve as deacons. The first woman to fill this historic position was Ruth Erickson Long, who has been a role model for all women following her on this board.
After the Rev. John Griffin’s retirement, the Rev. Kenneth Whitt was called as our next pastor in January 1979. He came to us with his wife, Carol, and after 11 years of leading us, he left with Carol and three children, Stacey, Lauren, and Micah, to go to an Ohio church in November of 1989. During his time with us, he motivated and encouraged us through many of the events enumerated in this history. Without his dedicated leadership, we could not have accomplished as much as we did. We were fortunate to have Delbridge Narron and then Dan Verrengia with us as interim ministers until our next minister arrived.
In September of 1989, the membership honored former pastor John T. Griffin and his wife Thelma by making them our “Minister and First Lady Emeritus.” The greatest thrill of this celebration was being able to bring their grandson Jonathan and his parents here from Oregon for the occasion. In the “afterglow” of the event, Rev. Griffin wrote, “Precocious as Jonathan is, he will not remember the events of the day, but....he will one day have the gold watch with the ‘G’ engraved on it to remind him of the highest honor his grandparents ever received in this life.”
In 1991, as January ushered in the New Year, it also ushered in the Gulf War, and our current minister, the Rev. Kenneth R. Downes. At a time when concerns ran high, especially for our young servicemen and servicewomen, and we were in need of spiritual strength, Pastor Ken started his ministry with us earlier than planned with an evening prayer service for the whole community.
We are not called the “Singing Church” without good reason. We actively and enthusiastically raise praises to God through our voices, musical instruments, and other musical talents. Many special programs have included folksinging, guitar accompaniment, marimba and piano music. Our entire music program continues to be an important part of our identity. The Music Board has planned many Music Sundays, and the youth choir and children’s choirs have enriched the worship services throughout the years. Who can forget the “Kids Praise Musical” - a Sunday School Children’s Day Musical program. Every Christmas brings us its seasonal music, highlighted by the children’s musicals and the choir presentations. The Easter Cantata, presented by our choir, is always received with appreciation and enthusiastic response from those present. In 1992 our first annual concert series commenced with a stellar performance by David Roth. A second presentation by David in November 1994 raised $1,000 for the general budget, and another successful performance was held in November 1996. Singer/Songwriter Anne Hills performed in 1995, enabling us to raise more money for our budget.
After the resignation of Karen Saberi as our organist and choir director, Sandy Harris, now Mrs. Chuck Wright, ably filled the void. During 1992-3, Zoe Germain and Mark Hardy provided our congregation with music of the highest caliber. Juanita Tsu joined the church staff in 1994 and is competently handling both responsibilities - choir director as well as organist, with Mary Bettencourt joining Juanita as the Assistant Choir Director. In 1995 the whole congregation was saddened by the death of Ted Athorn, our Organist Emeritus since 1986.
After many informational meetings and an outstanding demonstration by the organ company, we voted to purchase a new Allen electronic organ to replace our old, tired pipe organ. The incredible versatility of this new organ has won everyone over to the latest in high-technology music, even those who were sure that “nothing would ever replace the old pipe organ.” The pipe organ was kept for sentimental reasons and appearance. The following year we took advantage of an opportunity to purchase a reconditiioned grand piano, which also has added immeasurably to the quality of our musical program. Thanks to the Ruth Herpy memorial funds, the choir area has been completely redesigned, allowing the choir to now face outwards to the congregation. Along with the Allen organ and the grand piano, this has created a beautiful setting for the choir’s valuable contribution to our worship service.
After some presentations to the congregation during the summer of 1996, the addition of handbells to our musical ministry was voted on, and thanks to a generous donation in memory of Miriam Silva by the Ellis family, the handbell choir will soon become a reality, adding yet another dimension to our musical ministry. Hand-held chimes for the children have also been purchased, to be introduced as part of the 1996 Christmas service.
In September 1992 the church was full to overflowing for the wedding of our pastor to Kate Earley. At the end of October, Ken and Kate Downes moved out of the parsonage into their own home. The parsonage was immediately rented to new tenants, and eventually the members voted to allow the Trustees to sell the parsonage, which had served our pastors and their families for over 30 years.
During 1992-93, the operating budget exceeded $100,000 for the first time in the history of the church. The current budget for 1996-97 totals more than $140,000.
The youth of our church have been very active, both spiritually and socially. After a vote of the members to create associate board members to the Deacons, Deaconesses, and Trustees these positions have been filled by the youth of the church, when available. Three of our teens were accepted into the American Baptist Youth Leader Core program. As part of Discipleship Training, the young people served supper at the Pine Street Inn in Boston. Pastor Downes and seven young people attended an eight-day Christian wilderness backpacking trip in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. The Junior Youth Group met for fun activities, some outreach, and fund raising. They also attended the Youth for Christ Conference in Washington DC during two summers.
Our pastor has led two trips to the Holy Land, open to members and friends. Highlights of the worship services during these absences from the pulpit were the pastor’s telephone calls to the congregation, directly from Jerusalem. Surely the most spiritually significant part of this trip for Pastor Ken and some of the people accompanying him was their baptism in the Jordan River.
An international pulpit exchange brought the Rev. Ted MacDougall of the Free Church of Scotland here from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Pastor Ken, in turn, preached at Rev. MacDougall’s church and participated in a Communion service there.
The Trustees have been faithful in maintaining the physical side of the church building, the parsonage, and the Schindler property, until the latter two were sold. They have organized interior clean-up days, with many volunteers contributing their time and elbow grease. A successful Capital Fund Campaign in September 1993 raised $35,000, allowing us to buy a new furnace, roof, air conditioning, ventilation, and gutters, to refurbish our stained glass windows, and to raise seed money for the mission trip to La Romana in the Dominican Republic to help build the Good Samaritan Medical Clinic and to provide basic health education. Recently the Trustees supervised the removal of the overgrown trees from the front and side of the church building, which opened up the facade of the church. Comments had been heard about the church being “hidden,” and now once again the appearance of our “church on the corner” visually beckons all to its doors.
Our monthly ham and bean suppers have played a significant role in meeting the important fellowship needs of our growing congregation. Attendance at these events has grown steadily with more than one-third of attendees coming from the community and other churches, all helping to contribute to the general budget.
Not a year goes by without the offering of workshops, group sessions, or classes open to anyone who is interested. The following are just an example of some that have taken place:
Valerie George led two workshops for church leaders and parents, teaching basic universal health precautions. This was important for our church in the age of infectious diseases. Eighteen people participated in a Leadership Retreat at Grotonwood with John and Judy Thompson leading. Student minister Sean Bendigo and Pastor Ken led a book study entitled, “The Monday Connection,” examining the connection between our Monday work lives and our Sunday faith experience. Pastor Ken also led a summer study group on “Stressed out, Keeping It Together When It’s Falling Apart.” A three-week newcomers’ class was offered in March of 1995, and the summer of 1996 saw a class on “Bible Basics” led by Pastor Ken in the coolness of the church basement. Our Area Minister, Linda Hart, conducted a training session for the Board of Deacons and other volunteers who would go out in teams locally to distribute our “Welcome” brochures, making people aware of our church and inviting them to attend. Ways of connecting with people new to the area were also developed.
The long-awaited air-conditioning was installed in our sanctuary in 1994. Made possible by our capital-fund campaign, this item was the culmination of more than a decade of dreams by many, and which probably contributed to the increase of attendance during the summer by more than 20%.
We celebrated the Golden Wedding Anniversary of our Minister and First Lady Emeritus, John and Thelma Griffin, in December 1994, inviting our sister church from West Acton to celebrate this happy occasion with us.
In 1995 we voted to give 10% of our weekly offering to Missions and increased it to 11% the following year. Our courageous step forward in faith has been the topic of conversations at more than one Massachusetts Baptist meeting. Is it a coincidence that since we voted on this ambitious undertaking, our whole church finances have been strengthened?
After a year’s trial period the membership approved, at the 1996 annual meeting, the position of Associate Pastor. The Rev. Joyce Anderson-Reed, who had served during the previous year, was hired for this position. Two ministries Joyce has successfully revived and provided leadership for are Women’s Bible Studies, and an Annual Women’s Retreat.
In the fall of 1996 Ken Downes became our second minister to be given a sabbatical leave to further advance his educational program. This enriches the church as well as the individual, and it is accomplished with the cooperation of the whole church staff, the Deacons, and the Pastoral Relations Board. Although Ken and his family have been sorely missed, we have been served most adequately by our Associate Pastor Joyce Anderson-Reed, former student minister and church member Mary Bettencourt, and many lay people who have participated in the worship service and home visits to shut-ins, etc. At this writing we look forward to our pastor’s return to the pulpit, undoubtedly with a refreshed and energetic approach to us and the pulpit.
We consider First Baptist to be “a teaching parish,” feeling that our size, location, and ministry opportunities can allow student ministers a wide range of experience. Our success with the students we’ve had thus far has been largely due to the congregation’s willingness to be accepting, forgiving, and encouraging of the students and their ministry. We expect this ministry to continue to be an active part of life at First Baptist Littleton. The student ministers, Debbie Blanchard, Ellen Tatreau, Beth Dewey, Sean Bendigo, and Mary Bettencourt, have given much to us, besides their time and efforts. Each student has had different talents, and each student has had different interests and pastoral styles, which all contribute to the spiritual growth of the church. The ordination of Debbie Blanchard in 1995 culminated many years of study and dedicated work on her part, with the support of us, her home church. Ellen Tatreau, Beth Dewey, and Sean Bendigo have all been ordained, and we look forward to the ordination of Mary Bettencourt in this, her home church.
There has been a gradual change in the worship service to include more joy, meaning, and a sense of Christian fellowship to the Worship experience. Morning Worship has been changed over the years, sometimes preceding Sunday School classes, sometimes following them, all in an effort to maximize the learning experiences of our children, plus the enrichment of the worship service attendees. Presently Sunday School and the adult forum are held at 9:30, followed by worship service at 10:45. Prayer and Praise time at 10:30, originally led by Wayne Dancause during Ken Whitt’s pastorate, has been resumed as a weekly singing praise time by Pastor Ken and Mary Bettencourt. The Deaconesses are now serving Communion with the Deacons, in addition to preparing the altar for the Communion Service. The Ecumenical Thanksgiving Services, shared with the Catholic, Congregational, and Unitarian churches, continue to be well attended, and a children’s Christmas Eve service has been added early in the evening, followed by the traditional 11:00 candlelight service. The Lenten Soup Suppers, followed by half-hour programs, held on Thursdays during Lent, have been favorably received. The Deaconesses still prepare the Maundy Thursday services, and Good Friday noon-time services are still shared with the Congregational Church, held each year alternately at the two churches. Easter Sunrise Service, jointly presented with the Unitarian Church and followed by Easter Breakfast, continue to be well attended. The regular 10:45 Easter Service has seen the sanctuary filled to capacity with worshippers, which is an affirmation of the joy of the people in the Resurrection. Coffee hours have been held every Sunday after worship, with a different board or group taking responsibility for the serving of coffee and small snacks.
The year 1995 also saw the dropping of the long-standing policy forbidding dancing in the church building, which allows such groups as square dancers and our youth to hold dances in the building. This vote affirmed “dancing as a gracious gift of God, insofar as it is used to celebrate life, express joy, and praise God.”
The church has changed over its 175 years of existence - hopefully for the better. What would the original charter members think of us? I’m sure they’d be shocked that the women dare to enter the church building without hats or gloves, to say nothing of the women appearing in public in slacks! Men no longer feel it necessary to wear a three-piece suit to worship service. Applauding a children’s song or a particularly moving choir anthem would also be unthinkable to the early members. And would our church ancestors also find it shocking that people are no longer censured or excluded because of their unacceptable behavior? We tolerate actions that were unthinkable 100 years ago, and “love the sinner, not the sin.” No one is dismissed from membership - instead they are supported and recognized for their good qualities. No longer are the children “seen and not heard.” We look forward to their singing and acting endeavors and applaud their efforts. All the children see their Church as a place of love, warmth, and acceptance, and the people in it are truly their “church family.” We pray that in the next twenty-five years the future members of this church can look back on us and reflect that we gave them a firm foundation on which they built a stronger, even more loving church environment - for the children, for the elders, for the handicapped, for everyone who walks through our church doors.
Ellen Hollingworth compiled and edited the original historical sketch covering the period from 1822 to 1964, as well as the Appendix covering the period from 1964 to 1972. The period from 1972 to 1982 was covered by Carolyn Webster, and Lynda Fisher carried on from 1982 to the end of 1996, when Pastors Ken and Joyce continued the history by including 1997. As technology advances, it becomes easier to incorporate all the changes. The original version was typeset by a printer, the middle version was typed and reproduced on a stencil machine, and then the whole booklet, including the last portion, was typed on a computer with a word processing program. The technology is in place, although more expensive, to scan the material into a computer and publish from that. We wonder what process will be used for the 200th anniversary church history.