An end, and a beginning
Cheryl Wifong of Dummerston and Pastor Lise Sparrow of Guilford Community Church take a turn ringing the bell at First Baptist Church.

An end, and a beginning

Community helps First Baptist Church say goodbye to its longtime home as it looks ahead to a new place of worship

BRATTLEBORO — For nearly 150 years, the First Baptist Church has held its religious services in the grand red brick church on 190 Main St.

That tradition has come to an end.

The final Sunday service on Nov. 24 got postponed due to bad weather. So, two days later, more than 100 people gathered at the church for one last religious service - the annual Thanksgiving observance by the Brattleboro Interfaith Leadership Alliance.

But while First Baptist is leaving its longtime Main Street home, the members of its congregation want to let everyone know that their church is still alive.

First Baptist Church is moving to Town Crier Drive, where it will be sharing worship and office space with the First United Methodist Church. The first service was held there Dec. 1.

“We have so much to be thankful for,” said First Baptist Pastor Suzanne Andrews at the Nov. 26 service.

Recent struggles

First Baptist has struggled for years to keep the church it built in 1870, its finances squeezed by rising maintenance costs and dwindling offerings from an aging congregation whose membership numbers have been on the decline.

At the same time, the church was also serving as the home of the Seasonal Overflow Shelter, Grace's Kitchen, and a pastoral counseling center. It was providing a space for daily meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In 2010, the congregation voted to sell one of its Tiffany stained-glass windows to pay for repairs to the church's roof and heating system.

The sale of the window to an anonymous buyer for $85,000 bought the church a little more time but ultimately, in 2015, it had to sell the building to Omega Optical founder Bob Johnson.

Johnson bought the church with an eye toward turning it into a performance and art space. First Baptist rented space from Johnson and continued to have services in the church as renovations went on to create what now is known as Epsilon Spires.

Paying $1,000 per month as a tenant in an entertainment venue wasn't working out for the First Baptist congregation and, in September, church members voted to end the arrangement and move to the First United Methodist Church.

Jeanne Deyo, a member of the church advisory board, emphasized that First Baptist is not merging with First United Methodist, and that the two churches would maintain their individual respective identities.

First Baptist will hold its Sunday services at 9:30 a.m., and First United Methodist will have its services at 11 a.m.

Saying goodbye

While giving thanks was the theme of the Nov. 26 service, an undeniable undercurrent of sadness ran through the evening.

The church's sanctuary was stripped bare of any religious symbols. Its hymnals were gone from the pews. Its sign had been removed. The massive Estey pipe organ was silent.

But the bells were still in its steeple, and people were invited to make the long climb up to the top of the church's balconies to give them one last ring.

Deyo and Church Trustee Karen Davis shared stories about the long history of the church and their memories of growing up as members of the congregation.

The 10 years that the church was used as the Seasonal Overflow Shelter was honored as James Levinson of the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community, Groundworks Collaborative Executive Director Josh Davis, and shelter volunteer Cheryl Wilfong spoke of the past, present, and future of the shelter.

At the front and rear of the sanctuary, two big baskets were filled with food donations. The baskets, and proceeds from the final passing of the collection plate, were both earmarked for Project Feed The Thousands.

Andrews, who led the Litany of Thanksgiving, noted that this would be the last time she would climb the steps leading to the pulpit that she had occupied for more than a decade.

The service closed with a rousing singalong.

Led by Rev. Sandy Daly, the congregation sang a song that symbolized both an ending and a beginning for First Baptist.

“Go now in peace,” they sang. “May the love of God surround you everywhere, everywhere you may go.”

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates