Rededication of the First Baptist Church Sanctuary

December 21, 2018

 

by Ruth Parker

The family and extended family of the First Baptist Church in Hudson Center welcomed former pastors and visitors to the rededication of their recently refurbished sanctuary during the morning worship on Dec. 16. The service was led by the pastor, Rev. Dr. Moa Imchen, with assistance from former pastors, Rev. Scott Secrest and Rev. James Harrington. Recognition was given to the construction leader, Richard Tassi, as well as other members of the refurbishment committee. Following the prayer of rededication those in attendance retired to Memorial Hall for a celebratory luncheon.

The First Baptist Church of Hudson, on the corner of Greeley Street and Windham Road in Hudson Center, was organized May 1, 1805 as “The Church of Christ in Nottingham West” by vote of an ecclesiastical council which met at the home of Deacon Thomas Senter on what is now the Old Derry Road. Deacon Senter’s home was in that part of Nottingham West (now Hudson) which had been within the town of Londonderry and since annexed to Nottingham West. A group of some 65 men and women petitioned to be “set off” from the Londonderry church in order to form a “distinct” church. The reason was one of convenience of travel as the homes of these persons were scattered and somewhat distant from the Londonderry church.

At first our church met in the North Meeting House which was owned by the Presbyterians and located a few roads east of the present church near the location of Wattannick Grange Hall. In the winter many meetings were held in homes as the building had no bell or belfry, no stove, no chimney, and no heat! Foot stoves were used in the sleighs while traveling to meetings and then carried into the meeting house. As the membership grew, it became more necessary to build a church. Reuben Greeley deeded the lot on the corner of Greeley Street and Windham Road to the Baptist Society. The sanctuary of the present building was erected in 1841 and dedicated in 1842. The new meeting house consisted of the sanctuary and a two-stage steeple. The top of this steeple was a large cupola with spires representing Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The sanctuary included four walls, windows, a balcony, chimney, one or two wood burning stoves, a platform, a pulpit set, and pews. The pews were of the square box type and had been carried over from the North Meeting House. Pews were individually owned and passed down by deed. Likely the balcony was open overlooking the sanctuary and enclosed later to conserve heat. Stringed instruments were used until replaced by a pump organ about 1850. At that time a young doctor in town, Dr. David O. Smith, also served as music director for the church.

The first major changes to the sanctuary occurred in 1888 when the church received a gift of the Woodbury and Harris tracker organ from Dr. Smith. The cost of this organ was $1,820! In order to house the organ an alcove was added to the front of the sanctuary. The new organ became the centerpiece of the sanctuary with the large archway for the pipes and the console for the organist. Behind the scenes were doors through which one could enter into the organ. The doorway on the left side was most important. As the church did not have electricity a ‘blow boy’ would enter in order to exercise a handle to pump air into the organ pipes. This practice continued into the 1920s when the organ was electrified.

Other improvements made at the same time included colored glass windows, a new pulpit set, an updated platform, and new modern pews. These pews were said to be of the newest type available at the time. A large gas chandelier hung from the center of the ceiling. The metal ceiling of today was added about 1905.

In 1897 the exterior of the building, as we know it today, was completed when the two-story vestry was added to the rear of the church. This was a gift from the Smith and Haselton families. Additional space was added in 1968 when “Project Excavation” placed a new foundation under the sanctuary and Memorial Hall was added making more space for the Church School, meetings, a kitchen and dining room.

For the past 15-plus years the church has engaged in a number of building improvements, some of which paved the way for more visible renovations to the sanctuary. The earliest of these was the replacement of the steeple. In 2000 the original steeple on the 159-year-old building was removed. This decision was made after much thought, and many attempts to tighten up, repair, and secure the old structure which had deteriorated badly over the years. As funds and an able contractor became available the steeple was replaced in 2006 by a slightly smaller but visually identical steeple. The second major improvement came with the restoration of the colored sanctuary windows; again, as money became available each window was removed, restored, and returned to its original place. The third improvement was to upgrade the heating system and the installation of central air for the sanctuary. These improvements were completed in 2014.

It was now possible to plan for more visual enhancements to the sanctuary. A sanctuary refurbishment committee was organized and the first project was to update and enlarge the platform. After a planning period and architectural drawings of the proposed platform construction work began in early April of this year. The goal was to enlarge and modernize the platform, improve accessibility to it and the organ and to make it structurally sound. The basic construction work was done by a small but faithful group of volunteers from the church and the community under the leadership of Richard Tassi as architect. A local contractor was used for the finish work of the platform.

Once the work on the platform was well underway the church came together to make a decision on seating. After discussing options and costs the church members voted to replace the 130-year-old pews with individual navy-blue pew chairs. Once the decision was made individuals donated toward their purchase. These chairs replaced the wooden pews which were placed in our sanctuary in 1888. The wooden pews have since been donated to the Seabee museum in North Kingston, R.I.

In the past few weeks the newly refurbished sanctuary has come to life. The platform is complete, the new pew chairs are in place, the ceiling and walls have a fresh coat of paint and the sound system is up and running. When the sanctuary was re-dedicated in 1888 the new organ became the center piece of the sanctuary. With these recent modifications the 130-year-old Woodbury and Harris organ donated to the church by Dr. David O. Smith in 1888 remains the center piece of the sanctuary.