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Church History
  • Register

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF STRATFORD

The Oldest African American Baptist Church in Fairfield County

The First Baptist Church of Stratford, Connecticut, traces its beginnings back to the year 1877. It was during this time when the horse and buggy were the principle means of transportation that Mrs. Sarah Talbot, together with the help of Mrs. Judson, organized for a small group of Negro settlers a Sunday School class in the home of Mrs. Talbot. Those who benefited from these classes were: Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. William Freeman, Sarah Collins, Moses Spear, and Joseph Chase. As time passed the class grew larger and more space was needed. The leaders of this group together with the help of friends secured the use of the Old Academy School, which is presently known as Academy Hill.

As the century drew to a close, industries grew rapidly and with them an influx of people from the South who were looking for employments. Many of these new arrivals joined the fellowship and a larger place was needed for the gathered people of God. A decision was made to relocate closer to the thoroughfare. A house was found and secured at 1476 Lundy’s Lane, which is presently known as Linden Avenue. The group now chose to call themselves the Pilgrim Baptist Society. These early pioneers of the faith soon wanted not only a Sunday School Class, but also a full Christian Fellowship where they could pray, sing praises, and hear the Word of God preached.

The venture to secure a place of worship moved forward in faith, but differences of opinion arose and some of the disciples decided to sever their relationship with the group. The group continued on unabated by the disagreement and subsequent split. Matthew Johnson offered a part of his land to the group, which was located on Main Highway, now known as U.S. 1 (Boston Post Road or Stratford Avenue). Four men pooled their money and built what is now known as the First Baptist Church of Stratford, located at the corner of Stratford Avenue and Johnson Court.

The members who had left with the group known as Pilgrim Baptist Society soon dissolved their separate group and came and united with The First Baptist Church of Stratford, reestablishing its continuity and single history and merging as a symbol of this unity the cornerstones of the two buildings.

The Rev. George W. Fowlkes was the first Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Stratford. Under the leadership of Pastor Fowlkes, the following offices and officers were established: Matthew Johnson was the first Deacon ordained at First Baptist, Edward Williams was the first Treasurer of First Baptist, Hannah Belle Johnson was the first Church Secretary of First Baptist, Joseph Chase was the first Sunday School Superintendent of First Baptist, and Mrs. Marie Jefferson, Mrs. Eliza Simmons, and Mrs. Pauline Aikens comprised the first Deaconess Board of the First Baptist Church of Stratford.

Upon the retirement of Pastor Fowlkes, the following ministers led the congregation for short periods of time: The Rev. W. Ayers, The Rev. Frank Moses Taylor, The Rev. Ford, and The Rev. F. Hawkins. Again, after the retirement of Pastor Hawkins, the Church was without a leader. It was not long before The Rev. Frank Harrison of New York was called, and with him came an influx of people due to the great number of workers needed during World War I. Pastor Harrison served faithfully until he accepted a call to pastor a larger church in New York.

The Rev. George C. Wainwright of New Jersey led our congregation for many years until he saw it fit to establish a church in another location. After the departure of Pastor Wainwright, the church called several ministers who served as Pastor through the years of the Great Depression. They were as follows: Rev. J. B. Randolph of Philadelphia, Rev. Julian Taylor or Hurtford, North Carolina, Rev. Shadrack Clark, Rev. A. A. Mays, who was Pastor at the time fire destroyed The First Baptist Church of Stratford in December 1944. At the time of the fire many valuable records were destroyed, which has consequently prevented us from ascertaining a more accurate record of the many stalwart disciples who have given their service to the Lord and to His Church.

During the reconstruction period of the church, ill health ended the career of Pastor Mays, and he was succeeded by The Rev. Louis Lomax of Valdosta, Georgia, and The Rev. Roy E. Peters who led the congregation through a period of remodeling and modernization. The Rev. Homer J. Tucker was the next Pastor of First Baptist until he resigned on the last Sunday of August in 1954 in order to accept a call to the Mount Zion Baptist Church of Newark, New Jersey.

On the first Sunday in September of 1954, The Rev. Dr. William O. Johnson assumed the responsibility of Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Stratford. Pastor Johnson, of “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.

On January 1, 1998, our present Pastor, The Rev. William B. Sutton, III, assumed the responsibilities as under-shepherd of the First Baptist Church Family. Pastor Sutton’s ministry has centered around strengthening the spiritual and the administrative aspects of our congregation. Under Pastor Sutton’s leadership, our church now places a high emphasis on 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, our church is served by a gender inclusive Diaconate Ministry, and the First Baptist Church Development Corporation has successfully completed the construction and sale of its first affordable housing unit. Pastor Sutton’s emphasis upon spiritual growth and development has lead to the formation of the Pastor’s Midweek Bible Class, and the establishment of the Evangelism Explosion Training Discipleship Ministry.

Additionally, Under Pastor Sutton’s Leadership, realizing that the congregation had outgrown the present building, The First Baptist Church has acquired the South Side Gym that sits in proximity of the Church.  This is afford us an opportunity to expand our ministries and uses for the community.  Pastor Sutton also launched the Vision of a Family Life Center, which will serve the entire community.  In September of 2005, the first phase of the Financial Campaign for our Vision began and we are in the third phase which has blessed us to have a ground breaking for its construction in 2017, our 140th year.

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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