Tuesday, January 16, 2018
   
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Our History

The Old Mystic Baptist Church had its beginning in 1704, when “six brethren and six sisters” of New London, residing on the east side of the Thames River, petitioned the General Court for permission to meet as a dissenting congregation. The believers sent a request to Mr. Valentine Wightman, a young Baptist minister in Rhode Island, to become their pastor. It is not clear whether or not the approval of the courts was received, but Valentine Wightman did accept the call and the Church was founded in 1705. The Church was first known as the First Church of Groton. It is the oldest Baptist Church Congregation in Connecticut.

The Wightman Pastorates

Valentine Wightman served the church until his death in 1747, and was a leader great reputation. He was a descendant of the Rev. Edward Wightman, the last protestant clergyman to be burned at the stake in England during the reign of Bloody Mary. Except for a brief pastorate of Rev. Daniel Fisk, Valentine Wightman, his son Timothy Wightman, and his grandson John Gano Wightman served as pastors of the church until 1841. The grandson of John Gano Wightman, Rev. Palmer G. Wightman, served as pastor from 1864 to 1876.

Meeting House Structures

Mr. William Stark, who became the first Deacon of the church, gave Mr. Wightman a house and twenty acres of land near what is now Watrous Ave. and Route 184. This site was home to the Wightmans for several generations. In 1718 the first meetinghouse was built at a site where the Wightman Cemetery now exists on Cold Spring Road. It is about two miles west of the present church. In 1843, the church voted to relocate in what is now the village of Old Mystic. A building was built and dedicated of Feb. 22, 1844. This was replaced by a larger building in 1867. The present site was purchased in 1968 and the building was dedicated on Oct. 15, 1972. Three additions were competed in 1978, 1986, and 1990.

Highlights

The church during the early years was progressive for it was in a “dissenting congregation,” during a time when persecutions were commonplace. But also, the church was progressive in that singing was introduced and even advocated in published writing by the pastor. Additionally, during the evangelical zeal of the Great Awakening, George Whitfield preached near the church. The church open wide their arms toward his followers and maintained open communion.

During the pastorate of Timothy Wightman large additions to the church were enjoyed both in 1760’s and 1780’s, numbering 215 at the close of the eighteenth century. “A former slave, ‘Old Quash,’ who never could read was widely regarded as mighty in the scriptures. His appeals were full of lively imagery and fervid emotion peculiar to his race combined with such feeling and sensible application of divine truth, and expressed in voice and manner so effective that his audience could rarely refrain from tears. His counsels were a valuable help to many, and in after years the memory of his services prompted the erection of a monument at his grave.”*

In 1864 the pastorate of Palmer G. Wightman began. “During the winter of 1865 and 1866, meetings were continued nearly every evening for more than three months, and a large number from all conditions of life in this community were brought into the church. Heads of families and men of stubborn resistance to the claims of the gospel as well as the young came to allegiance to Christ, and none who saw the manifestations of the Spirit and felt His presence, could ever doubt the power of God to save.” Even when “deep snow rendered travel nearly impossible, the baptismal waters were visited, and often in storm and intense cold and always around the waters of the ice-covered lake arose songs of joyful praise.” “During that time eight-eight were baptized. At one session of the church seventy-four new members received the hand of fellowship. In the extra work of that winter Mr. Wightman was greatly assisted by Elder Jabez Swan of evangelistic renown, the two were in perfect accord with each other and with the church.” *

During the twelve years of Palmer G. Wightman’s pastorate 224 new members were received. The membership was 296 in 1875. In 1900 it was said that the “five flourishing Baptist Churches in the town of Groton, and five more in the adjoining towns of Stonington and North Stonington are living witnesses” of the church’s “love of the [T]ruth, their piety, their sturdy maintenance of Baptist principles in the face of all opposition.”*

Recent History

Pastor Merle Spring arrived at the church in 1966 and served as pastor until 1996. During the early years of his pastorate the church increased in number and the move to the current site and various additions were completed. During the later years of the pastorate numbers declined as is the case in many main line denominations nationally. The most noteworthy outreaches of this period and the next were the many community suppers that were held in the church. Pastor Spring retired after having served the church for 30yrs.

Pastor Lisa Gustafson accepted the call to the pastorate in 1997 and left in 2005. During her ministry the community suppers continued. She established a multigenerational church school program, L.I.F.E.(Learning Is For Everyone) which flourished, meeting every Sunday before worship. Adults and children met for a time of fellowship, singing and Bible study. Pastor Gustafson helped establish a daycare program that was offered to the community, and helped coordinate the year-long celebration of OMBC’s 300th anniversary – many events were hosted culminating in a catered banquet for members, past and present.

Pastor Earle Hendrickson has served the church as a transitional pastor between October of 2005 and 2008. He led the church through the arduous process of considering the dynamics within the church. The primary purpose of his work was distinct from traditional interim pastoral work or pulpit supply in that he encouraged us to strengthen as a congregation such that we are more united and prepared to welcome a new pastor -- intending to provide the pastor with a positive experience.

Rev. Dr. Horacio Da Valle succeeded Pastor Earle.. His pastorate at The Old Mystic Baptist Church started in 2008. He returned to the US west coast in June 2011. His vision and wholistic approach to ministry influenced the the church to achieve greater vibrancy in fellowship, outreach ministry and discipleship. Born in Argentina, Horacio grew up among Baptists. After coming to the United States, he was called to the ministry and has served several Baptist churches and held different positions in teaching, administration, and chaplaincy in organizations related to the American Baptist Churches USA. Rev. Da Valle enjoys the ministries of pastoral care, preaching, and teaching in the local congregation. For years he served Hispanic congregations and he felt honored to serve the Old Mystic Baptist Church. Horacio has been Married for almost 34 years to Liliana, the former Executive Minister of the American Baptist of Rhode Island, and they both enjoy their family. The Revs. Da Valle have four children and nine grandchildren all living in the West Coast. Horacio enjoys reading philosophy, theology, and social ethics. He loves traveling, taking photographs, painting and watching sports.

Curently - We are served temporarily by Rev. Burt Crooks. His pastorate at The Old Mystic Baptist Church started in June 2011.

* Quotes taken from The History of the First Baptist Church of Groton, 1903.