This historical sketch was originally published in August, 1952 by Ross Gordon Graves (Church Clerk) in connection with the church's Bicentennial Celebration and was updated by the Historical Committee of 1973. Since the Flanders church was first organized, it has had five different names and there have been thirty-four pastors.
Historical Church Names
1748-1752 - The Lyme Separatist Church
1752-1810 - The Lyme Baptist Church
1810-1839 - The First Baptist Church of Lyme
1839-1929 - The First Baptist Church of East Lyme
1929- - Flanders Baptist and Community Church
Our task in 1973 is to update this history, so that the important events of the past twenty-one years may be recorded. We who are writing this have been involved in the Church since the 1920's and thus this is a lived and living history.
When Ross Graves (now a husband, father, English teacher, and author in Nova Scotia) completed this booklet to which this is an appendage we were still at war in Korea. We lost one of our own members before the peace was concluded, Roscoe Perry, son of Roscoe and Amy Perry. He is buried in the cemetery behind the parsonage.
After the Korean War the Church had a spurt of growth. Allen and Mary Scott moved into the Parsonage July 1, 1951. After graduation from Yale Divinity School in June 1953 Allen was ordained and called to minister to the Church and community.
In 1954 a building committee was formed, and the Sunday School addition was built in 1955. Arthur Saunders of Niantic very generously built the addition at cost.
The new building was ready just in time for the general in- crease in interest and attendance that was evident in the 1950's.
In those years we had one hundred and twenty-five attending Sunday School while Church attendance was usually about eighty. However, our Easter congregation increased to nearly four hundred. In 1958 we held two services Easter morning for the first time.
The decade after the ending of the Korean War until the assassination of President Kennedy was a pleasant, tranquil period, with peace at home and abroad. The Church experienced gradual but continued growth. Its ministry reached out further and further into the community until more than half its weddings, funerals, counseling, and visitation efforts were for those not affiliated with the Church.
It is noteworthy that a former pastor, Rev. Frederick Tholen and two sturdy pillars of the Church, John and Ebenezer Fraser, died during this period. Gertrude Storms Jackson, our volunteer choir director for a generation; Leon Rix, deacon for many years; Mary Weaver, long a president of the Community Circle also were called home in this decade.
During the sixties there was a quickening pace in the rate of change in Flanders. A new grammar school and a new high school were built across the road. More people were moving into our area. Many of these became members of our Church. But many did not and we noted that what we had been reading as characteristic of these years was true of these newcomers. They were happy to have no church affiliation. They were the "new secular society."
However, our Church seems to be weathering this change as it has many others. We have this responsibility, that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, and that now unto has been left this work of reconciliation:' and also that "Christ is the Head of every person born into this world" and not just those who are in the Church. Our task is to "show and tell" to use a phrase our children brought home from kindergarten.
We have good news to show and tell and others must judge whether or not the Church succeeds in that way. Others and the Other who alone is God must bear witness to that history. But this we wish to make clear for the record. We do not believe that God loves and accepts and forgives in any conditional manner but rather that his love and forgiveness and acceptance are for his whole creation. Our Calvinist heritage insists that what God proposes God can bring to fullness of completion. Our faith rests in God's goodness and power alone.
But we are historians now and not theologians. After the tragic death of President Kennedy our country entered a dark valley of trial and trouble, at this writing, we are in process of withdrawing from a dreadful decade of war in Southeast Asia. Our community lost two nineteen year old boys in that conflict; David Rogers and Donald Walsh, The two candlesticks on the communion table were given in their memory.
The Church Choirs, under the able and dedicated direction of Gladys Prince from 1958 to 1972, were outstanding in those years. The women's organizations continued actively to put on Church suppers, have bi-weekly work parties to make articles for their annual Christmas sales and summer bazaars. The Hawthorne Club gave us the new piano in memory of Helen Richmond Banning and Helen Beckwith Fraser. They also contributed heavily toward the purchase of the Allen organ and have continued to pay its insurance and part of the cost of the organist. A new kitchen was built at the parsonage by this same club in 1960.
The Junior Circle was organized May 7, 1952 with the Sunday School as its primary concern. Over the years they have made great contributions to the Church, providing funds for the folding doors, the new addition, as well as providing nearly ten percent of the annual income of the Church.
The Community Circle is the older of the three women's groups. Many of its present members joined in the 1920's. For years these ladies were the main-stay of the Church with their labor, their presence, their money, and their love.
What has been said of the Community Circle can be equally said of the Hawthorne Club and the Junior Circle. The Church owes much to the women of the Church. Without their continuing efforts and concern this history would be much different.
The fortunes of the Young People of the Church have varied.
We have had good years under the leadership of Lallance Adair.the William Bieniks, the Charles Livandoskis, the Allen Scotts. Many happy occasions and memorable events have characterized Young Peoples. Due to the fact that the membership of this group changes so rapidly it does not have the continuity so characteristic of other societies in the Church. A very good year has some- times been followed by a very low year.
'One of the most loyal and hard-working groups in the Church are the Sunday School teachers. This is a difficult and demanding task and it has been well done these past twenty-one years.
We have been reluctant to mention names because the Record Book is full of names. But how can we not recall the deaths of Rev. George Strouse, our pastor during World War II, and Hattie Gillette, deaconess and friend of all. We are a family, members one of another, and we miss those who go home before us.
Quite possibly our grandchildren will look back on this age and wonder about us as we wonder about our grandparents, how were they able to endure those times? Our answer is that looking around in this age not merely of catastrophe but of wonder, a century of opportunity in the fullest and deepest sense, we are confident that to be born into this stormy era of revolution may be a cause of rejoicing rather than lamentation. The problems to be resolved demand, and create, spiritual resources which the prosperous ease of a golden and serene age will never inspire.
And so we conclude this brief summing-up. It may be that we have overlooked certain events that should have been given greater prominence. Such as the fact that Rev. Allen Scott and Father Kenneth Flint of St. Paul's Church exchanged pulpits in the sixties. The ecumenical movement is now so well established it is difficult to remember the old fears and animosities.
Our mission giving has increased ten-fold'. We have been a larger part of the larger community. We believe our Church to be a source of help and health for the whole area in which we are called to serve. Our hope is to press on and do better, to the end that God's will might be done in us and through us.
And to that the whole congregation says, Amen.
It was in 1620, on the twentieth of December, that the Pilgrims made their landing at Plymouth. By one of the interesting paradoxes of history they and the Puritan settlers who followed them, all of whom theoretically were at least in part seekers for religious freedom, proceeded at once to make their civil and ecclesiastical policy one. They now had religious freedom, but this freedom which they valued so highly and for which they had paid such a price they did not grant to others. The Church and state were identical. The Churches were organized by law, and political suffrage was dependent upon Church membership. Taxes were levied on all citizens for the support of these Congregational Churches, and all were compelled by law to conform to their doctrine or suffer the penalty of disfranchisement, imprisonment, public whipping, or banishment.
In all of New England there was but one colony which allowed religious freedom, and that was the colony of Rhode Island. It had been settled by Roger Williams, a Baptist clergyman banished from Massachusetts, and the first Baptist Church in North America had been founded there. Baptist sentiments were not slow in creeping over the border into southeastern Connecticut. The first baptisms in this state were in what is now Waterford, in 1674. The event created great excitement at the time and the General Court was invoked to put a stop to this innovation.
The first Baptist Church in Connecticut was established in 1705 in what was then Groton. Its membership was composed of the few scattered Baptists in the southeastern part of the colony. A petition sent to the legislature the year before for permission to' form a Church had been ignored, but the small group proceeded in spite of the tremendous opposition to organize. Valentine Wightman, a young preacher from Rhode Island, became their first pastor.
Five years later another Baptist Church was organized in what is now the town of Waterford. For twenty-five years these were the only Baptist Churches in the state. Several members of this second Church resided in Lyme, and gave impetus to the growth of Baptist work in that town. In 1727 they invited Rev. Valentine Wightman to come from Groton to Lyme to preach to them.
Before commencing the actual history of Baptists in Lyme, it is necessary to understand what the town of Lyme consisted of in the middle of the eighteenth century. The township of Saybrook, of which Lyme was originally a part, was first settled by the English in 1635, and claimed land along the Sound from what is now Clinton to what is now Niantic village, a distance of about twenty miles, and extended northward into the country for several miles; the boundaries were quite vague. In 1664 the township of Saybrook was enlarged, upon the condition that two plantations or towns be made within three years. Consequently the following winter the township of Saybrook was divided into two distinct townships, Saybrook and Lyme, with the Connecticut River the boundary between the two. The township of Lyme, then, contained practically all the territory now included in the towns of Lyme, Old Lyme, and East Lyme, as well as parts of East Haddam, Hadlyme, and Montville. As usual the new town, considering itself a Congregational parish, built a house of worship, settled a minister, and taxed the inhabitants of the town to pay his salary.
The town of Lyme being so large for a single parish, it being so difficult for townsfolk residing in the northern and eastern parts to attend the Church which stood in the southwestern section, in 1719 the eastern section was formed into a separate parish, and in 1724 the northern section was constituted a separate parish. Thus there were three ecclesiastical parishes within the town of Lyme: the first society, the second or eastern society, and the third or northern society. In general, the first society comprised what is now Old Lyme; the east, East Lyme; and the north, Lyme.
About 1740 the religious revival known as the Great Awakening swept over New England. Thousands were brought out of their spiritual apathy by the near-fanatical preaching of Edwards and Whitfield, and, disgusted with the cold deadness of the state religion, they set up their own congregations. They were known as "Separates" because they had separated themselves from the legal Congregational Church. Separates were considered practically identical with Baptists, and both were adjudged to be dangerous radicals. It was the opinion of Connecticut colony that "loathesome Hereticks, whether Quakers, Ranters, Baptists, Adamites, Separates, or some other like them" had no place in the colony. Action was soon taken by the Congregationalists, who had the law behind them. In February 1744 a Separatist meeting was being held at Saybrook, with several Lyme sympathizers present, when suddenly the local magistrates descended on the gathering and took them to court. The charge brought against them was: "For holding a meeting contrary to law, on God's holy Sabbath Day." They were arraigned, tried, fined, and driven on foot, through deep mud, to New London, a distance of twenty-five miles, and thrown into prison, without fire, food, or beds, w here they remained, enduring dreadful suffering, for several weeks, and probably would all have perished had not some local Separates brought them provisions.
In 1745, there were enough Separates and Baptist sympathizers in Lyme to form a Separatist (Baptist) Church, which they did in spite of the strong opposition. The pastor was Joshua Rogers who had been ordained two years previously. He soon fell into disrepute and the tiny band was left pastor less. After a year or so they disbanded (in 1747) and this, the earliest Baptist Church in the township of Lyme, became extinct.
Our church has been known by five different names and has been served by thirty-four pastors.
The church history was originally published in August 1952 by Ross Gordon Graves (Church Clerk) in connection with the church's Bicentennial Celebration. The New London Day printed an article about the church's history on August 8th, 1952. Subsequently, the church history was updated by the History Commitee of 1973. The updated history is included here in four sections and as a single downloadable PDF.
1748-1752 The Lyme Separatist Church
1752-1810 The Lyme Baptist Church
1810-1839 The First Baptist Church of Lyme
1839-1929 The First Baptist Church of East Lyme
1929-present The Flanders Baptist and Community Church
Memorial Service - August 24, 2018 (Video by Janet Holtz)
Pastel by Joanne Gerber in Fall, 2003
The Flanders Baptist and Community Church
Official Bird House
Built by Tony Ferencz