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Except for a few years around 1870, the church records are complete from the original charter in 1803 to the present time. Many curious things are noticed in them, chief of which is the close watch kept over the members. One hundred and seventy-five years ago members were excluded for profanity, too free use of spirituous liquors, too much temper, falsehood, fighting, stealing butter, making cider on the Sabbath and neglecting church services. Every case was investigated by a committee, so that it is no wonder that meetings sometimes lasted from six to eight hours. One of the most interesting cases is that of Bro. Fassett, who was accused of joining the Methodists. The committee “Labored” with him to no avail and he was dismissed in 1808. Sixteen years later he confessed his wrongs in joining them, and asked to be reinstated as a Baptist. He was received again, since, to quote from the records, “by his confession he has given satisfaction to the church.” This is a strange contrast to the vote taken more recently, when open church membership (ie. joining our church from any other Christian church) was adopted by unanimous vote.

A History of Cavendish Baptists
Ten years after the Town of Cavendish was chartered in 1761, and two years after John Coffeen made the first settlement, Noadiah Russell journeyed to Cavendish from Middletown, Connecticut, and there made his home. Descendants of this first Baptist pioneer continue to worship here at Cavendish Baptist Church, but the first Baptist church to be founded in this region was established in Chester, VT, in 1789. Salmon Dutton of Cavendish (for whom the town was known as Duttonville, and who latter became a Universalist) is mentioned in the records as being one of the charter members. The records of First Baptist Church of Chester contain the following items from 1794: “Voted to receive Samuel White, Jesse Spaulding, Asaph Fletcher and John Spaulding, of Cavendish, members of the Baptist Church in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, as members of this church.” It was also voted to regard them as a branch of the church, with the privilege of being formed into a separate church, when their numbers were increased to twelve, provided they desired it. Eight years later ten more from Cavendish were added.

In December of 1799, Rev. Aaron Leland of Chester certified the names of nineteen persons as members of the Baptist Church. With the approval of the Chester Church, on August 31, 1803, those members who could best be accommodated in the Cavendish area were dismissed from the mother church.

The Baptist Society worshipped in the Union Church, located near the stone farmhouse on Center Road. Built in 1801, it was paid for by town taxes although many protested against being taxed for such a purpose. But each denomination had the right to occupy the building “for religious worship in proportion as they should stand on the Grand List annually.” A committee was appointed at each Town Meeting to allot dates to the different denomination. There were 43 to 46 Baptists of this region that united to form the Baptist Church of Cavendish and Ludlow, and Elder Gershom Lane and Brother John Russell were requested to supply the church with preaching, each one-half of the time. For about 8 years there was no settled pastor.

Then, Rev. Jonathan Goings, Jr. , the first settled minister, came in 1811, and remained five years. He was ordained in Cavendish on May 9, 1811, and 10 people were baptized the first Sunday he was pastor. He held meetings far and near in houses, schoolhouses, and barns. Frequent mention is made in the records of meetings in the Center schoolhouse, Cavendish Academy, schoolhouse in “Proctor’s village” and Ludlow. A favorite spot was at a point where the towns of Andover, Cavendish, Chester and Ludlow corner, where stood a barn, which for those days was very spacious and convenient for meetings. Eighty-three were received into the church during this five-year pastorate, bringing the total membership to 138. On October 29, 1815, he asked to be dismissed from his pastorate on account of lack of “pecuniary support.” The church did not wish him to go, but finally released him on November 25, 1815, when he took up a pastorate in Worcester, Massachusetts. It would be from this pulpit that he would play significantly in the founding of Worcester Academy, Newton Theological Institution, Amherst College, Granville College, and later the Baptist Home Mission Society. This important Baptist got his start in Cavendish.

Samuel White was chosen to be the first Deacon and one of his first official acts was to present a Bible to the church. It was printed by Matthew Carey of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1811. The flyleaf reads as follows:

This Bible was bestowed as a Donation to the Baptist Church of Cavendish, by Samuel White, Esq., first Deacon of said Church, on 13 November, 1811, to be for the use and benefit of the same, in whatever Meeting house they may agree to convene for public worship. Any other Denomination assembling where this Bible may be, shall have free use of the same in such meetings. It is devoutly wished by the Donor of this Book, that large portions of the Old and New Testaments might be read publicly on Sabbath mornings at least, as part of the Divine Service.

This bible continues to have a place of honor and use on the altar table to this day.

On February 26, 1825 it was voted “That the brethren in the town of Ludlow have leave to form into a church by themselves.” Therefore 46 withdrew from the local organization to form the present Ludlow Baptist Church. This meant that the Church in Cavendish was a unit unto itself. After the division, Rev. Joseph Freeman became pastor, and with the exception of two years, remained until 1837.

On the sixteenth day of February, 1833, certain inhabitants of Cavendish and vicinity “did associate themselves together and form a Corporation by the name of the Baptist Society of Cavendish and Vicinity, for the purpose of building a meeting house, and keeping the same in suitable repair.” This was accomplished when in 1834 a meeting house was built in “the lower village”

The building was made of brick with a slate roof and was financed through the sale of pews. The members believed in “paying as you go,” for there was but $70.00 debt when the building was finished and this was promptly removed by taxing members pro rata in accordance with their ability to pay. The society was presented with a church bell in 1850 by Benjamin F. White of Boston.

It is interesting to note that the first signs of musical instruments in the church was in 1861 when $50.00 was raised to buy a melodian. This was purchased from Messers. B.F. White and Fletcher of Boston, who furnished the balance of the funds necessary to buy it. The salary paid to the pastor at this time was $300.00, which is nearly double that paid in 1826 — “$165.00 a year plus one-half horse keep.”

In 1868 it was voted to raise $200.00 for repairing the church by taxing the pews. This sum was increased by subscription to $215.00 and extensive repairs were made. After the repairs were completed in 1874, the church entertained the Vermont Sunday School Association when 96 delegates and pastors from 39 towns were registered besides the visitors. These guests were given their meals in the old mill boarding house, now the the former Black River Health Center building.

In 1870 by the will of Hon. Richard Fletcher of Boston, the church received a parsonage, a pastor’s library of 200 volumes, and a fund of $4,000, the interest of $1,000 to be spent in in-creasing the library and the interest of $3,000 to be spent on repairs to the parsonage and for the support of the preacher. In the year of 1874 the number of church members was 102 with 72 enrolled in Sunday School with an average attendance of 27. In the same year the church gave $10 for home missions, $42 for foreign missions, $22 for State convention and $100 for miscellaneous gifts, a total of $174.

It was a tragedy to the community that within less than a year after the extensive repairs, on April 27, 1875, the building caught fire from a burning shop located near the canal floodgates. There was no fire fighting apparatus at hand, and it was but a short time before the building was a mass of ruins. Only by the hasty action of the people were the pews and pulpit set saved. These are still in use in the present Baptist Church. Plans were immediately made to build a new church. The ruins of the old building were sold to the town for $500. The gutted building was rebuilt for use as the Town Hall and used as such until 1957, then it was conveyed to the Cavendish Historical Society and is currently used for their museum. The lot on which the present New England style wood church stands was purchased from the estate of Ryland Fletcher for $250. A building committee composed of Geo. F. Davis, D.W. Hesselton and F. W. Ely were appointed. Collections were made from the pew holders and this money together with $800 obtained from the State Baptist Convention on a mortgage, financed the building.

From 1875 to 1877 there was no settled minister. There was apparently some discouragement during this period, since in the old records statements are made to the effect that “the Church still exists,” but “the organization of the society appear to be broken” so a reorganization meeting was held on January 15, 1876, with the name of the Baptist Society of Cavendish and Vicinity kept, and the purpose of building a meeting house, and keeping it in repair was reaffirmed. The original Constitution was kept, and the old vigor and spirit rekindled.

Rev. L. B. Hibbard was pastor from 1877 to January of 1880, and much was accomplished during his term here. The edifice we are now using was completed in 1878, and was dedicated on May 28 of that same year. The greatest difficulty in building the church was in erecting the steeple. This was solved by building it down in the church, and pushing it up into place, with all the men in town, and several teams of oxen, assisting in the job. The cost of the new edifice was $4,500, and is said to have a seating capacity of 250. The bell now in use was presented by Mrs. Roxanne Bailey in 1888, to take the place of the old bell, which was ruined in the fire. A debt of $1,088.05 which the church seemed unable to meet was carried for five years. Meeting after meeting was held and the matter of the debt passed over. Finally the pastor took two weeks off and raised the money, a considerable amount coming from former residents of the town. About 50 contributed, among these being Hon. Redfield Proctor, Ryland Fletcher, Stillman Proctor, Otis Robbins, Geo. Davis, C.W. Goodrich and Dr. Harlow. The Ladies Society distinguished themselves by raising a total of $325.56. The records tell us “This business has been brought to a happy close after a struggle not so happy. Every subscription was paid to a cent — a rare thing.”

Rev. Daniel Woodbury Lyman was the pastor of the Cavendish Baptist Church from 1897 to 1900. He was born in Royalton, VT, in 1869. His father, J.F. Lyman, was a lumber manufacturer, and later moved to Hartland, VT, where Daniel attended the village schools. He was fitted for college at Windsor High School and took an elective course and his theological training at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY, from which he graduated in 1895. His first settlement was in Middlebury, VT, and he enjoyed two years of valuable experience in this seat of learning. In 1897 he married Miss Mary Graves and they had an infant son, Paul Kendall. Mr. Lyman came to Cavendish in 1897 and labored with enthusiasm, adding twenty-one to the church membership. During his pastorate, extensive alterations were made on the building. A new ceiling was installed, a new stone walk was laid with the year inscribed along with the word “Welcome”, and the whole building was redecorated.

During the pastorate of Rev. W.E. Baker, 1908 to 1912, the cellar basement was remodeled to include a kitchen and dining hall arrangement. Upon the death of Mrs. Redfield Proctor, a fund of $1,000 was left to the church, the income of which is to be forever used for the support of preaching. Ralph N. Allen was ordained in this church on December 12, 1918. He served from 1919 to 1923.

Under the leadership of Rev. John O. Long, 1926 to 1934, the church made splendid progress, fifty-seven members having been added by baptism and thirteen by letter. The unselfish labors of this pastor throughout the whole community greatly increased the influence of the church in town and made it what it should be — a real community center. Rev. Long was a Methodist minister and lived in the Methodist parsonage in Proctorsville. He served both churches as pastor.

Extensive alterations were made in 1929 at a cost of $7,500. New stained glass windows were installed throughout, among them being memorials to “Our former Pastors, Alice Hubbard Gay, Joseph Stearns Gay, Mr. And Mrs. Oliver D. Moore, Mrs. Emma Belknap, Mrs. Eliza Tarbell, Miriam Fullerton Weaver and Miss Susan Saunders.” Further improvements included a new hard wood floor; the old pulpit changed to a choir loft with organ in the rear; a new pulpit platform built in front of the choir loft; new wall decorations carried out in soft shades of grey green and cream blending beautifully with the new windows; a new plaster centerpiece in gilt in the center of the ceiling; a new electric blower for the organ; the pews were rearranged with two side aisles instead of three; new carpet runners and choir railing draperies in mulberry tones; rear stairs for the pulpit; lavatory; enlarged kitchen and fresh painting throughout the rest of the building. The outside of the parsonage was also repainted. The Helping Hand Class, the ladies group, paid for the redecorating and changing over of the kitchen. The church was now a place of restful beauty and one of which any community may well be proud.

The Rededication Program was held on May 18, 1930 with the Church Family Service at 11:15 a.m.; a Vesper Service, a Musicale at 4:00 p.m.; a Complementary Luncheon at 5:30 p.m.; and the Rededication Service at 7:30 p.m., with the sermon by Hon. John E. Weeks, then the governor of Vermont.

In 1937, during the pastorate of W. Gordon Poole (1935 to 1938), at a special meeting, it was voted to buy a Hammond Organ, and build a new sound chamber in back of the pulpit. On November 6, 1938, it was voted to dedicate the organ to the loving memory of Mrs. W. D. Moore, and to have a suitable marker attached. Mr. Owen Roundy made a music cabinet for the church at this time.

In 1942, during the pastorate of Rev. M. Everett Corbett, the Church and parsonage were painted on the outside and the porch was removed from two sides of the parsonage. The horse sheds were torn down between 1950 and 1957, and given to the Town toward the Town Library. On February 3, 1957 the new Baptistry was dedicated. Gifts from Mr. James Gay and Mrs. Helen Swan nearly paid the total cost.

The Sesquicentennial (150 years) Celebration Services was held on August 29 & 30, 1953. A Union Anniversary Service was held “in the Mother Church” – the First Baptist Church of Chester on Saturday, August 29 at 8:00 p.m. Greetings were brought by Mr. Ernest Hathaway, President of the Vermont Baptist State Convention and Rev. A. Robert Harrison, President of Black River County Council of Churches. Mr. Leon S. Gay, Historian of the Vermont Baptist State Convention and President of the Vermont Historical Society, gave the Historical Address. A Fellowship Hour followed the Service. Our Church held two services on Sunday, August 30. The first was at 11:00 a.m. and featured Rev. George Pomfrey as Guest Preacher. It was followed by a fellowship luncheon. At 7:45 p.m. the second service was held with Miss Vernice Gay presenting an organ recital followed by Greetings from Rev. Homer C. Bryant. Guest Preacher at this service was Rev. Joseph C. Robbins, D.D., former Secretary of American Baptist Foreign Mission Society and President of American Baptist Convention. This was during the pastorate of Rev. Robert J. Bracey (1950 – 1957).

The Church sanctuary was repainted in 1958 with the same colors used as were used in 1930. The work was beautifully done by Carl Rhoades. In April of 1964 the outside floodlighting of the church was given by the Helping Hand Class as a memorial for Mrs. May Atkinson, who had been a loyal member of the church. The beautiful picture of Christ knocking at the heart’s door was presented to the church by Charles and Pauline Brooks before they moved away. Mr. Brooks had been the Church Clerk for many years and they had both been dear members of the church family.

We hired our first woman minister, Rev. Katie J. MacNeill. in June of 1965. The Bible we have opened each week on the Communion table was given on Easter Sunday in 1966, in memory of Mrs. Jesse Belknap by her husband, Mr. Don Belknap for their family. When it was given in 1966 it was used on the pulpit.

A Communion Flagon (circa 1920) was presented to the church by Mr. Leon Gay in loving memory of his wife, Mrs. Una Hadley Gay in 1968. Also an original pen and ink drawing of the church, made about 1930, by Miss Skells of Rutland, a print of which was used on the rededication program in 1930. It is agreed that the flagon will remain in the church as long as the church stands. It is a part of our church history since is has been used by our church for over one hundred years.

In December 1971, new American and Christian Flags, a silver chalice, and a lamp for the organ were given in loving memory of Mr. Irving Hewey by his family.

In 1972, the church dining room, kitchen, and rest rooms were completely done over. The whole church being held up while the old stone foundations were replaced with cement blocks. A beautiful new kitchen was installed with stainless steel sinks, a Garland stove to more adequately serve the needs for church suppers, and many cabinets which are a joy and beauty were built in. Many thanks go to loyal members who contributed so much labor at the time, and Barry Davis who did so much of the cabinet work. The rest rooms were no small job either since ledges and rock formations made the work difficult.

The lighted picture of Christ by Sallman was given in loving memory of Norman Randall, (6/15/53 – 7/18/75) by his parents, Charles and Elizabeth Randall. and the Schulmerich Carillons were presented to the church in loving memory of little Chadwick James Stockman (8/14/75 – 9/8/76) by his parents, Clyde and Doreen Stockman, and his grandparents, Elsie and James Ballantine, Jr. The chimes played four songs at four times each day — 9:00 a.m., Noon, 3:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. — with Sundays noontime chimes being at 12:15 p.m. Selections were changed with the seasons.

Rev. MacNeill served this church well and faithfully, and was loved by the people of the church and community. She also served the Reading Christian Union Church while she was with us. She involved youth and lay people in worship services and activities. She introduced us to singers, Rev. Cal & Bonnie Witham, and the Gospel group the TNT’s. She was able to be with the people she cherished through Christmas Sunday, December 17, 1978, and was called by her blessed Savior to her eternal reward in the early morning hours of December 18, 1978. Her life was in truth lived for her Christ.

Following Katie’s death, Rev. Jane Buswell, from the Tyson Community Church, served as our interim pastor from December, 1978 to October, 1979. It was during this time that memorial funds were given in loving memory of Mrs. Myra Hewey, and they were used in the renovations at the parsonage. Both Mr. & Mrs. Hewey had been members of this church for many years.

Rev. Greta M. Dow came to us in November of 1979. During 1980 and 1981, work continued on both the church and parsonage. The entire kitchen of the parsonage was dismantled and repaired and a beautiful carpet was installed. Two other floors in the parsonage were in rough shape, and they were renewed and carpeted. Much wallpapering and painting and repairing of plaster was done.

The church building had many improvements, also. The stained glass windows were professionally cleaned and resealed, and protective windows installed. A ramp was added so that the handicapped may have easy access into the sanctuary. The plaster all through the sanctuary, hallways, entryway, chapel and upstairs Sunday School rooms was gone over and repairs were made, and fresh coats of paint went on in all these places, using nearly the same colors with the exception of the pews which are now off white. New inlaid Congoleum was laid in the choir loft, which helps to seal the floor more thoroughly when the baptistry is being used. A new wall to wall carpet was installed in the chapel. The floors in the sanctuary were sanded, resealed and refinished and new runners were laid. The medallion in the ceiling of the sanctuary was also restored and regilded. A Rededication Service was held on Sunday, January 17, 1982, with Dr. Paul Losh, Executive Minister of Vermont Baptist State Convention bringing the sermon.

Rev. Dow served us until her retirement in January of 1990. She was responsible for many new programs, including: the Tape ministry, Christmas Baskets, Canterbury Farm suppers, the Prayer Team and she was an effective counselor. Before Rev. Dow retired, the church was re-painted on the outside and vinyl siding was installed on the parsonage. The Bicentennial of our “roots” was celebrated with a Roll Call Sunday and fellowship dinner on Sunday, August 27, 1989. Rev. Dow was the last President of the Vermont Baptist State Convention and had an active role in naming the new region when Vermont and New Hampshire merged. The region was named the American Baptist Churches of Vermont and New Hampshire.

Rev. George Spencer became our Minister-at-Large on July 1, 1990 and stayed with us through October 21, when he accepted a position as Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Central Square, NY. Scott Secrest came to candidate for us on October 28, and in December of 1990 became our new pastor. Jane Buswell filled in during the month of November. Mr. Secrest was ordained as an American Baptist minister in our church at a 4:00 p.m. Service on May 19, 1991. Pastors from area churches as well as the Southwest Association and the Area Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Vermont and New Hampshire took part in the Celebration. He served us until August of 1996.

In July of 1996, our church was struck by lightning. Apparently something was hit in the steeple and traveled down the wiring and struck the Carillon and continued somehow to the parsonage and out through the water pipes making a large hole in the town water main on The Lane. We had to have the roof repaired, the upstairs Sunday School rooms repainted, and water damage repaired in the sanctuary as a result. The company that we purchased the carillon from said it couldn’t be repaired, but Carl Snyder proved them wrong and fixed it with $53.27 worth of parts. It now only plays 1 song 4 times a day rather than 4 songs each time as when it was originally installed due to some worn parts that cannot be replaced. Repairs were made to the parsonage over the next year.

We had no settled minister from August 1996 until we hired Virginia S. Deyo part-time in August of 1997. She also pastored the St. James Methodist Church in Proctorsville, while attending Yale Divinity School in New Haven, CT, during the week. She was ordained at the Methodist Conference in Poultney, VT, on June 13, 1999. A number from our congregation at-tended the ordination. The following Sunday our church held a special service for her. She graduated from Yale Divinity School in June of 2000 and left us at the end of June for the New Hope United Methodist Church in West Topsham, VT.

Dr. Cathleen R. Narowitz came to us as Minister-at-Large in September of 2000. She was with us until July of 2002. Dr. Cathy had been all over the country doing interim ministry. While she was with us, the wooden Nativity figures were refurbished and put out in front of the church for the first time in many years. Thanks go to Arthur Briggs for building a new stable, to Kenneth Tyrrell, Jr., for cutting out a new donkey, and to Kathy Tyrrell for painting the donkey.

Abraham H. Gross and his wife, Amanda, began their ministry with us on August 4, 2002. We ordained him as our minister at a special service on September 22, 2002.

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