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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF STRATFORD

The Oldest African American Baptist Church in Fairfield County

1st churchThe year was 1877. Just a short fourteen years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. It was also a mere twelve years after the end of the Civil War in 1865. Slavery, and its effect, was still very, fresh on the minds of the Negro population. Yet, a small group of Negro settlers, who knew all too well the burdens of oppression, formed a Sunday School class where they could learn the Word, study the Word and praise God. It was one of those precious freedoms they proudly exercised. Aided by a Mrs. Sarah Talbot and Mrs. Judson, the group held the classes in Mrs. Talbot's home. Among those in the original group was: Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Johnson; Mr. and Mrs. William Freeman; Ms. Sarah Collins; Mr. Moses Spear and; Mr. Joseph Chase.
During that time, who but former slaves knew better of the goodness of the Lord. It was inevitable the Sunday School Class would grow larger and larger until more space would be needed and sought. With further assistance, (remember, they were still learning to feel their way with their new found freedom) larger quarters were secured at the then Old Academy School. The school stood on the site that is known today as Academy Hill.
2nd churchWith the dawning of a new century and freedom really taking hold, there was a mass migration of Negroes moving to the north from the south. Industrial growth in the north offered numerous employment opportunities as an alternative to farming. Many of these new settlers reached out to join in fellowship with the Sunday School Class. Even then, God was adding to His church daily and once again, larger space was needed to glorify the name of Our Lord and Savior. A group decision was made to find a location closer to a thoroughfare to make it more accessible. They successfully secured a house at 1476 Lundy's Lane, known today as Linden Avenue. It was then that the group decided to call themselves The Pilgrim Baptist Society. The Sunday School Class expanded into a full Christian Fellowship of prayer, singing, praising and the preaching of the Word.
3rd churchThe church continued to grow. However, the realities of growing pains resulted in differences of opinion causing an eventual split in the church. Because the spirit of this church had been built on a solid foundation, with God as the head, the church itself survived. A member of the original group that formed the Sunday School Class, Mr. Matthew Johnson, gave part of his land to the group. The land was located on Main Highway, now known as Stratford A venue. Along with three other men, they pooled their limited financial resources and built what we know today as The First Baptist Church of Stratford, located at the corner of Stratford Avenue and Johnson Court, the very land where our church home sits today. To the glory of God, the splintered groups eventually dissolved their differences and reunited as one body, re-establishing the continuity and single history that started in the home of Mrs. Sarah Talbot. Over the past 135 years The First Baptist Church of Stratford has been led by fifteen pastors. All of the pastors have led the congregation in extremely significant ways and each pastor has played a unique part in the shaping of the history of the Church. However, for the sake of brevity only the history of the pastor who has had the longest tenure and the current pastor leadership are mentioned.
4th churchOn the first Sunday in September of 1954, the pastor with the longest tenure in the history of the First Baptist Church of Stratford, the Rev. Dr. William O. Johnson assumed the responsibility of the congregation. Pastor Johnson, or "Rev" as he was affectionately known, served the Lord and the people of God in a very creative, exuberant and dynamic fashion. During Pastor Johnson's tenure The First Baptist Church of Stratford grew and developed in many areas and in many facets of ministry. Under the tireless leadership of Pastor Johnson First Baptist built a parsonage and built a new Church Building, purchased a two-family house, began a Food Pantry Ministry, organized The First Baptist Church Federal Credit Union, and established The First Baptist Church Development Corporation. On December 31, 1997, Pastor Johnson retired from the pastorate after serving First Baptist as pastor for 43 years.
chirch5copyOn January 1, 1998, our present Pastor, the Rev. Dr. William B. Sutton, III, assumed the responsibilities as under-shepherd of the First Baptist Church Family. Pastor Sutton's ministry has centered on strengthening the spiritual and the administrative aspects of our congregation. Under Pastor Sutton's leadership, our Church now places a high emphasis upon Christian Discipleship. New Disciples are now required to successfully complete New Discipleship Training prior to assuming the rights, privileges and responsibilities of full Church Discipleship. Also, under Pastor Sutton's leadership the Church has liquidated its mortgage, has purchased four additional pieces of Real Estate including the Courtney Property, is presently served by a gender inclusive Diaconate Ministry, the First Baptist Church Development Corporation has successfully completed the construction and sale of its first Affordable Housing Unit. Currently, the church is in the process of a multimillion dollar capital stewardship campaign in order to build a Family Life Center to serve the Stratford and Greater Bridgeport Community as well. Pastor Sutton's emphasis upon spiritual growth and development has led to the formation of the Pastor's Midweek Bible Class, and the establishment of the Evangelism Explosion Training Discipleship Ministry.

We are truly humbled and appreciative to God for his goodness and mercy that has followed us down through the ages.

To God Be The Glory!

Amen.

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