Celebration to mark 50-year work in N.E.

NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. (BP)--The Baptist Convention of New England is making plans to celebrate 50 years of Southern Baptist work in the region and 25 years of state convention status as part of its annual meeting this fall.

"We're urging people who have served in New England before to attend because they have been part of history," Sandy Wideman, convention historian and wife of executive director Jim Wideman, told Baptist Press.

"God has brought people from all over America to pastor here, to work as volunteers, to come on mission trips, and all of those folks who have contributed to that, we're inviting them to come back and celebrate what God has done through them," Wideman said.

The celebration and annual meeting will be Nov. 13-15 at The Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Marlboro, Mass., a few miles from the convention offices in Northborough, about 30 miles from Boston.

"We're setting up archives in our Baptist convention building, and we're looking for church bulletins or church newsletters, pictures of churches, events and people -- things that would tell future generations the story of what went on at each point in history," Wideman said.

Anyone who would like to contribute historical artifacts representing Southern Baptist work in New England may contact Sandy Wideman at 508-393-6013, ext. 226.

For decades, Southern Baptists had abided by an agreement with northern Baptists not to evangelize in New England, she said, but in 1958 a military Bomber Wing from New Mexico was transferred to the region, and when the Southern Baptists among them saw there was no Southern Baptist church to attend, they started one.

Each session of the annual meeting will feature "history moments," which Wideman said will examine a different segment of the past, from the first few scattered churches that eventually became an association to the current convention that now serves Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

"We'll look at each period and see how God brought the work together and all the things He did," Wideman said. "At all the sessions of the convention we'll be sharing a little of that through video and personal testimonies and pictures."

A dedication of the archival collection at the BCNE building is slated for Thursday as well as an open house on the property, which is the original site of Luther Rice's boyhood home. The historical site, owned by the Baptist Convention of New England, includes three buildings -- the Rice Lodge, the Rice Suite and a barn.

At a missions banquet on Friday night, someone dressed in character as Luther Rice will be the guest speaker. Rice served alongside Adoniram Judson as a missionary to Burma in 1812, and he planted the seeds of denominational support of missions that, for Southern Baptists, eventually developed into the Cooperative Program.

"We're attempting to carry on the legacy of Luther Rice and his push for united missions through that property that bears his name," Wideman said.

The convention now has more than 250 churches and seven Baptist associations, though its leaders note the daunting task ahead in New England. Considering New England's population of 15 million people, the convention says nearly 6,000 churches would have to be started right away in order to have one church for every 2,500 people.

As they look to the future challenge, New England Baptists are expressing gratitude for what God has given them so far.

"We're so thankful and want to give God the glory for what He has done here in a mere 50 years," Wideman told BP. "That's a short history compared to Southern Baptist life. We like to think it's like the granite up here -- there's lots of rock and it's hard, hard work, but when it's there, it's solid.

"We're just thankful we've had Southern Baptists from literally all over the country to come in droves in mission groups as volunteers. We want to celebrate those who have built the work up here," she said.

Anyone who has had a role in New England's Southern Baptist work is encouraged to e-mail the convention at bcne25@bcne.net to let the staff know of their intention to attend the anniversary celebration.

"Even if they cannot come, we would be grateful to receive their updated address and e-mail information so that we can communicate with them about this special event," Jim Wideman said.

Room reservations can be made directly with The Courtyard in Marlboro by calling 508-480-0015. A special rate of $95 per night can be obtained through Oct. 29 by mentioning the Baptist Convention of New England.

Reports of widespread revival have surfaced among New England churches in the months leading up to the anniversary celebration.

At an evangelism conference in March, more than 150 pastors and lay leaders were challenged to focus on Jesus above all programs and strategies. They learned about the spiritual disciplines of Jonathan Edwards and considered how they could move from a lethargic prayer life to a vibrant, active walk with Christ, Tim Buehner, director of ministry evangelism and missions mobilization for the convention, reported.

In April, 14 churches participated in Church Renewal Awakening weekends as part of an initiative called reNEw '08. The weekends began with a 24-hour prayer vigil on the Thursday prior to the events, which ran through Sunday evening. They then addressed four goals for the Christian life: renewed alignment with Christ, renewed relationships, renewed body life and renewed mission zeal.

Acknowledging that spiritual success is measured by an intense and intimate relationship with Jesus, small groups met throughout the weekend to interact about their walks with Christ.

"I've really never seen the walls come down in people," Cherie Bouchard, a member of Providence Baptist Church in Epping, N.H., said. "We have gotten to build new relationships with people we never knew."

Providence Baptist held a Catacomb Service, which is described as a reflective worship service conducted similar to the way the persecuted church of Rome might have worshiped in the first century when Christians had to sing and recite Scripture from memory in hiding.

"This service was unique. We were told that we could not use our Bibles or song sheets and that there was no order to the service," Adam Houston, pastor of Providence Baptist, said. "As a pastor I really figured we would be done quickly and that there would be a lot of time spent in silence waiting for someone to share something.

"Boy, was I wrong. The service had very little silence and the sharing was amazing.... Scriptures were shared in response to a brother or sister sharing a blessing or a trial. The people of the church found through the times of sharing that they were not alone in the trials of life and that many shared some of the same blessings," Houston added. "The service lasted one hour and 45 minutes."

Some reported that people didn't want to leave when the weekend ended, and three teenagers gave their lives to Christ and wanted to be baptized at Southbury Baptist Church in Connecticut.

Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. For more information, visit www.bcne.net.

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