CENTRAL BAPTIST CHURCH HISTORICAL PANELS
In 1965, as a part of the 175th anniversary celebration of Central Baptist, the Rev. J. Thomas Leamon, artist and pastor of the Westfield Congregational Church of Danielson, Connecticut, was commissioned to depict the history of the church, including the events which preceded its founding. Mr. Leamon, in consultation with church staff and the anniversary committee, was provided with historical material and painted seven panels.
Mr. Leamon was again commissioned to paint two more panels in the late 1980s so that our history in paintings would be complete when we celebrated our 200th anniversary in 1990.
The following description of each of the panels will allow you to identify the persons or symbols therein.
PANEL I: The Beginning: Up to 1790
Depicted are The Christ, Martin Luther, Roger Williams and John Clarke. It was because of Jesus' life, death and resurrection that Christianity was born. Martin Luther, a German monk, initiated the Reformation in the 16th Century, whereby the Christian churches that separated from the Roman Catholic church became Protestant churches. Roger Williams came to America in 1630, along with other Puritans. In 1638 he and his followers started the first Baptist church in America. Dr. John Clarke was a physician and a minister, and it was through his efforts that a Baptist Church was organized in Newport, Rhode Island. It was from the roots of that church that every Baptist Church in Connecticut got its start. The first Baptist Church in our state began in Groton in 1705, when some members of the Newport Church, who sailed on ships between Newport and New London, helped organize that church.
Also pictured is the Maytlower coming to the new world, and Roger Williams working with the Indians.
PANEL II - Beginning In Hartford: 1790 to 1845
The First Baptist Church in Hartford was founded in 1790, the 20th Baptist Church in the state. It is pictured at the top, along with Deacon John Bolles, the man most responsible for organizing a Baptist Church here. In 1831 First Baptist built a new church on Main Street, right center, which was located where the Brown Thompson building stands today. The small church building to its left represents the South Baptist Church, organized in 1834 with 55 members from the First, which stood at the Southeast corner of Main and Sheldon Streets. Pictured, lower left, is John Mason Peck, home missionary, who took the gospel West. Adoniram Judson, missionary to India is shown at lower center.
PANEL III - Expanding and Dividing: 1845 to 1909
The four men pictured are James L. Howard (center forward) and (clockwise) behind him, James Bolles, James Batterson - all leaders of First Baptist Church - and the Rev. Robert Turnbull, pastor. The Travelers Insurance Company tower represents the founding of the company by Batterson, and Howard was one of the seven original directors of the company. Events of the period include the Civil War (soldiers) and church work with Negroes in the South. Russian and Italian congregations were meeting at First Baptist, center right, cities were growing, industries were developing and there was an increasing flow of immigrants from Europe.
PANEL IV - UNITING: 1909 to 1927
Prominent is the new building of Central Baptist Church with its co-pastors (Dr. John Newton Lackey from South Baptist and Dr. Herbert Judson White from First Baptist) surrounded by images of World War I, the Ku Klux Klan, unrest in Europe, church school classes, etc. at Central. The car was purchased for the pastor to aid in his calling and the printing press was bought to help in the Russian ministry.
PANEL V - 1927 to 1947
Dr. J. Melvin Prior, pastor of Central, 1942-1947, is shown in front of the Judson Tower on the National Assembly grounds of Green Lake, Wisconsin, which American Baptists recently had purchased. Also represented is Central Baptist on Main Street, Hartford, surrounded by images of hunger, broken homes, unemployment, the stock market crash, liberation of women, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the atomic bomb.
PANEL VI - 1947 to 1965
Central Baptist is still on Main Street, Hartford, involved in community ministry and inter-church programs. Central was given property in Barkhamsted for an outdoor center. American Baptists built new headquarters in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, the round building in the middle of the panel. In the period of1947-1965 war ends but there are "displaced" persons, a freedom march on Washington for Civil Rights, outer space programs and the race to the moon.
During this period, Central Baptist was led by co-pastors Dr. Kenneth L. Maxwell (1947-1955) and Dr. Clayton F. Smith (1948-1964). Dr. Smith served as Senior Minister after Dr. Maxwell left.
Panel VII - THE FUTURE
A picture of this panel appeared in our 175th anniversary booklet, and was captioned "The Future." It shows Central Baptist Church remaining in the midst of the city, surrounded by tall buildings, but listening to its leaders of the past - James L. Howard, Alice Howard Bennett, Dr. John N. Lackey and Mrs. Clarence Barrett.
PANEL VIII - 1965 to 1977
Represented in this panel was the period in which the orientation of Central Baptist Church was definitely outward. The artist, Tom Leamon, has centered a picture of the exterior of our church building and surrounded it with symbols of Center City Churches' ministries, with which Central was much involved. A second circle depicts outreach ministries uniquely related to Central. An outer ring indicates the world of this period. Beginning at the center top are pictured the churches initially forming Center City Churches, Inc. (1968), with the Rev. Robert Casstevens, Director of the Downtown Ministry at Central (1959-1969) and co-founder of SPA (Services Performed with Aging) - the first drop-in center for the elderly, which was the first of Center City Churches' ministries. In the upper right corner is an astronaut on the moon, and just below a homeless person on our earth.
Below these is a group of elders enjoying themselves at a church drop-in center and helicopters and soldiers of the Vietnam era. Continuing in a clockwise direction: Ich Duc, Hong and Kinh Nguyen family representing relocation of southeast Asian refugees, and Carol Couture, a representative of our "telephone ministry" which allows homebound persons to hear Sunday services via telephone, is shown visiting with member Margaret Doolittle. At bottom center is the new American Baptist Church in Enfield, supported and encouraged by Central in its early days.
The trio pictured in the lower center shown is the Rev. Ralph Shotwell, Central's Senior Pastor (1965-1975) who was a leader in the formative years of Center City Churches; Emma Rose, Central's first Black woman moderator; and the Rev. Luis Ortiz, first pastor of the Hispanic congregation which had been housed and nurtured by Central. The Hispanic congregation is shown in lower left. Next is an image of the riots in the streets and above this is a view our Church School students and the Church Academy. Then there is a picture of two boys playing basketball in our gym, as part of a recreational program, which became the forerunner of Center City Churches' Center For Youth and Community Resources. The upper left picture reminds us of the tragic shooting of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
PANEL IX - 1977 to 1990
During this period there was renewed emphasis on the Bible. Music Director, Bruce Henley is shown at the organ with the choir, above right, to depict the vital and historic role of music in the life of the church. At the top is the logo and theme for the 200th Anniversary, which was celebrated in 1989-1990. Counter clockwise: low-cost housing developed by Sheldon Oak Central. Pastoral Staff: Director of Christian Education, the Rev. Angelique Walker-Smith; Senior Pastor, the Rev. Richard Keach; and the Rev. Curtis Hoffman, who served as Associate Pastor and Senior Pastor. Church Academy, over 20 years in this building, updates its office equipment to include computers and word processors.
At lower left, the noontime music series, "Lunch 'n' Liszt" is featured. Lois and Hal Harmon are both dedicated Baptist leaders. Lois served as church moderator from 1983-1989. Hal has also served in that position, and is the church moderator now in 1995. Associate Pastor Hopeton Scott (1987-1995) and a member are depicted in the Crosswinds Shoppe which opened in 1981 with crafts for sale from developing third world countries. Over 100 day care children are in the building every weekday. Telethons are used in the calling and caring program for all church members. The Hispanic congregation at Central was growing. Shown is a trip to Puerto Rico taken by young people from both congregations. Top right is an artist's sketch of a building planned for the development of the parking lot behind the church building. All of the pictures are framed by the lovely arch in front of the Central Baptist Church sanctuary, which was rededicated in 1989.
PANEL X - 1990 to 2005
Through these challenging years for the church and nation, Central Baptist continued to be the home of a faithful, active and diverse congregation. Always seeking to bridge differences between God's people, Senior Pastor Paul G. Gillespie (1989-99) transformed the worship service to incorporate the languages of the members, including French, Spanish and Vietnamese. As with many urban churches throughout the country, Central's membership continued to age and decline in these years, and Pastor Paul called on the congregation to encourage inactive members into activity and redouble our efforts to bring new people to Christ and add them to our congregation and ministry. Happily, Central's Vietnamese ministry expanded, thanks in large part to Associate Pastor Nguyen Duc Ich, who was ordained in 1999. After six years at Central, another beloved shepherd, Associate Pastor Hopeton Scott (1989-95) was called to be senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport. Pat Dec led the Children and Youth Ministries for 10 years, from 1991-2002. Thanks to Pat's dedication and energy, Central's young members learned about the love of Christ at soup kitchens, AIDS shelters and other places where help was needed. Pat also led the youth on trips across the country to conferences and other events to solidify and expand their faith.
For young and old alike, the defining events of this period were the terrorist attacks on New York City's twin towers on September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Two members of the church family, Michelle Kerr and Brian Dec, were among the thousands of service members sent to Iraq and Afghanistan after 9-11. A core group of tireless members, including Lois Harmon, Doug Johnson and Frank Kilby, continued to sustain the church through major building work, the Properties Committee and work days. Vi Foster, Vera MacKeen, Muriel Erickson and Gladys Gray also are honored on this panel for their generous and wide-ranging work for the church, including membership in the Lois Rushforth Women's Circle. Church historian Clayton Maine another dedicated member who chronicled and photographed church activities, passed away in 2005 at age 81. The new technologies became a dominant part of life in these years, and Central, which celebrated its bicentennial in 1990, launched its own website, www.centralbaptisthtfd.org.