|Welcome to the First Baptist Church of Norwich
239 West Main Street Norwich, Connecticut 06360
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Although those Baptist greats, Isaac Backus and Thomas Baldwin, both natives of Norwich, held
revival meetings in town as early as 1770, it was not until 1790, that Baptist believers began holding
regular meetings in our City.
In the early days, the Baptists were forced to meet over the river and on the outskirts of the city.
Their critics claimed they were “tending to deeds of darkness” because they met at night in the homes
of their members. As students of history know, Rhode Island was the only colony to grant full
religious liberty to its people. Therefore Baptists in Connecticut had no legal standing and were
oppressed by adverse public opinion and frowned upon as dissenters because they refused to pay taxes
to the state church and would not baptize their children as was the custom of the day.
Elijah Herrick, a prominent blacksmith and former member of Rev. Benjamin Lord’s Congregational
Church in Norwichtown, gathered a few like minded men and women and began meeting for prayer,
singing and exhortation. By February of 1800, the congregation was viable enough to stand on its own
and the First Baptist Church was born. In 1802 the congregation built their first building on High
Among those early converts was a young
man who was destined to be their first
Pastor. John Sterry was a printer and
bookbinder. It was clear to all that he
had the gift of teaching and preaching.
In December of 1800 he was ordained
and he shepherded the church for the
next 23 years.
By 1818 the Baptists had proved
themselves to be good citizens and their
doctrine of religious liberty had won
favor with the people. As a result, Judge
Lanman of Norwich met with Deacon
Dewey Bromley and asked what the
Baptists wanted in the new constitution.
Bromley stated:“We want to have religion stand alone on its own divine basis where God has placed it, and we want all religious denominations to have secured
to them equal rights and privileges.”
As the new constitution was written in the State, these words were considered and in 1818 the Baptists and all of the other religious
denominations were given legal standing in Connecticut from that point forward. It was a proud day for the Baptists as they had their
say in securing religious freedom for all sects and faiths within our state.As the Chelsea District became the center of activity, a
group of the Baptists felt called to move into the heart of the city. As a result, a group broke off and formed the Central Baptist
Church in 1840 under the leadership of Rev. Minor Clarke. That congregation flourished and became a vital part of the fabric of the
emerging culture and remains a integral part of the social well-being of the downtown today.
The remaining members of First Baptist struggled on the West Side for the next few years. In time they came back with a renewed
vigor. Some of the familiar Baptist names during those years included James Carroll, George Cranston, Daniel BeeBee, Albertus
Stanton, John Perkins and Dewey Bromley. In 1880 the congregation saw the coming expansion of the West Side and they purchased
land on what was to become Main Street. A new building was built which still serves the congregation today.
There have been changes in both the ministry and the meeting house over the years. Rev. George Strouse brought a strong
evangelistic preaching style with him in the teens and Rev. Percy Kilmister gave us a vision of community in the Depression years of
the 1930’s. In the late 40’s, Rev. Walter Loomis focused on the family and was a regular guest on WICH radio. Under the pastorate
of Rev. Walter Schoepfer, there was a growing Sunday school and the ministry reached a peak. Rev. Vernon Price and Rev. Douglas
Howell, ministered to the community as the world went through radical social change and the West Side went from a residential area
to a commercial district.
Today, that independent Baptist Spirit lives on over on the West Side of Norwich. From musical ministries to sports outreach
programs, the pastor and people of the First Baptist Church are sharing the love of God to a world in desperate need and working
with others, in interfaith and ecumenical partnerships, to build a stronger and healthier community.