Grace Baptist church history


In the fall of 1899, a few zealous Christians living in Waterbury and feeling the need for a colored Baptist Church began to meet together and organize a mission.  The records seem to indicate that meetings were held as early as September 24, 1899, but the first business meeting called for the purpose of organizing a colored Baptist mission was on October 20, 1899.  Nineteen names are said to have been enrolled in the mission at this meeting.  Those whose names appear in the minutes of this meeting are  Rev. M. J Haskings (aka Hoskins or Haskel), R. N. Holmes, Joseph Evans, James Evans, Mack Jones, and William Western.  Rev. Haskins was called to the pastorate of the mission at this meeting.

The meetings are said to have been held for a while in a room in the Moriarty Building on East Main Street, but soon they moved to a hall on 53 Canal Street.  The meetings of the Mission continued, and on April 5, 1900, at the First Baptist Church, the Grace Baptist Church was organized.  The names of the following twelve persons appear on the record as organizers:  Mack Jones, Byron Scott, Lena Holmes, Abraham Gordon, Maud Foust, R. N. Holmes, Sadie Jones, Susan Gordon, Eli Hoyt, William Hoyt, Ore Tinnen, and Daniel M. Lewis.

It was voted to organize an ecclesiastical society, for public religious worship, pursuant to the laws of this state, and according to the usages and customs of the Baptist denomination, to be known as and called the Grace Baptist Church of Waterbury, the aforesaid persons one and all agreed to become members thereof.

It was voted to attend the Council, then in sessions in the First Baptist Church, in a body, for the purpose of receiving recognition as an organized Church of the Baptist denomination.  Thus began the church which we love, and whose name we bear and strive to honor.

On May 29, 1900, the Rev. M. J. Haskins was called as Pastor of this church.  His pastorate was brief and apparently lasted only a few months, and in the fall or early winter the church was again looking for a pastor.  On the first Sunday in March, 1901, the Rev. Isaac W. Reed* assumed the duties of the pastorate of Grace Baptist Church, an office he was to hold continuously and with honor for the next forty-two years.

Born at Meherrin, Prince Edward County, Virginia, Rev. Reed attended Virginia Union University, at Richmond in 1900.  He came to Waterbury for his first pastorate, and held this position till his death in 1943.  Under his wise and energetic leadership the church soon left the hall where it had been meeting at 53 Canal Street and built and moved into a wooden structure erected on Kingsbury Street.*  This building cost about $9,000.  It was dedicated in 1903 and by 1910 it was free of debt.  This took seven years of sacrificial offerings, and prayer by dedicated "followers of Christ."  This growth was attributed to the influx of people coming from the southern states.

In 1918, Rev. Reed began to urge that a building fund be established to help build a larger more commodious brick structure to meet the need of a still-growing congregation.  For the next ten years, the congregation saved systematically while Rev. Reed sought and obtained the help of powerful friends for the work.  Among his great good friends was Dr. David P. Gaines, pastor of the First Baptist Church, who gave very valuable help during this period of planning, saving, and struggling to raise funds.  To him, and his church our very great thanks are due.

In the summer and fall of 1929 a financial drive, headed by ex-Governor Charles A. Templeton, was conducted for the building fund.  Although the drive was halted by the depression, sufficient funds were realized to enable this church to proceed with its building plans.

In  1932, the old wooden church was torn down together with the house on the adjacent corner lot and the present splendid brick church was erected on the same site at a cost of about $55,000.  In dedication services, which lasted from December 31, 1933, to January 10, 1934, the new church building was dedicated completely free of debt amidst great rejoicing and celebration.*

The struggle to erect this second church together with the strains and tolls of the previous years had taxed Dr. Reed's strength and he was never thoroughly well thereafter.  His lot during his later years was made harder also by impaired vision.  But he bore these things with marvelous patience, and continued to preach through with diminished strength until his son, Jonathan E. Reed, came to help him as assistant pastor.  In October 1938, his son, working in constant consultation with his father assumed most of his father's duties regularly on Sunday morning as his strength permitted.  On Monday, May 3, 1943, at the Waterbury Hospital at 9:30 a.m. he passed away.

Dr. Reed was a man of great vision, strict and unswerving spirituality and great energy.  He had a rich sense of humor.  He was one of the founders of the Connecticut Baptist Missionary Union (organized in 1904) and was secretary of that organization for the first 17 years of its existence.  For five years after that he was its president.  In 1926 his alma mater, Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia, honored him with the degree of Doctor of Divinity.  He often said, "I am going to build this church on a solid foundation, a sound and a right foundation" - and he carried out his promise.  His preaching was spiritual, eminently practical, designed to help poor struggling people see their opportunities to buy homes, to save, to draw closer to God and to accept Christ.  He was a man of prophetic mind and mold.  When he came in 1901, he had found in his own words, "about 17 members on the roll book, and the Sunday congregation could be counted on two hands, of times with fingers to spare."  At the time of his death he left a flourishing membership of about 500.

In his long and busy pastorate, Dr. Reed was blessed with the presence of many good men and women as helpers.  Foremost among these from outside who helped and had a profound influence upon this congregation.

In its formative years was the Rev. Andrew Jones, an evangelist from Philadelphia and later from Newark.  He was a strong godly preacher with a stern message but with an honest heart.  He conducted numerous revivals for this church over a period of 27 years from October 1907 till his passing in 1934.  Rev. Jones and Dr. Reed were very close friends.

In the annals of Grace Baptist Church, the name of Deacon Moses Hines appears as a well-loved name.  He was a good and worthy man, faithful and trusted, and had served as deacon since March 27, 1902, and after that as senior deacon and treasurer for many years.  He was cut down suddenly by death during the influenza period and was buried November 4, 1918.  Deacon Reuben A. McKinney carried on the duties laid down by Moses Hines.  Brother McKinney had been in the church almost since its inception.  He had served as a deacon since January, 1906, and as a clerk from 1907 to 1915 inclusive.  With consecrated heart and tireless zeal, he became the treasurer of the building fund, senior deacon, and pastor's right hand man.

A wise and kindly counselor, he continued to be a power for good in church, Sunday School, and all the departments.  His name will always be linked with Dr. Reed's as that one of the church's officers who served with Dr. Reed longest and who was one of the most closely associated with him in the greatest of the church's building enterprises - the planning and building of the new church edifice in 1933.  His contribution to the church's work in planning, labor, giving and moderate, well-considered judgment has been a great one.

Brothers Charles C. Cross and Samuel Jones were elected as deacons in January 16, 1919, and both served to be good faithful men, the latter passing away in Sept. 1931.  Deacon Charles C. Cross and Trustee David Wright rendered very valuable service during the 1920's by keeping a building fund card system.  Deacon Cross was the missionary treasurer also for many years.  Also Deacon Squire Norwood, an honest, straight-forward man, served well on the board from around 1920 till his departure in the 1930's to live out of town.

Brother Albert J. Darrow was elevated to the deaconate during the 1930's and rendered valuable service.  Other deacons include Reuben McKinney, Charles C. Cross, Jacob James, John Q. Rhinehart, Charles Rice, Robert Wadsworth, and William Parkmond.  The church has been blessed with good deacons such as George Roscoe, Herbert Wolfrey, Robert Seigler, Thomas Moore, Frizelle Williams, William Evans, Lawrence Hunter, Charles Jones, Therman Blanchard, Martin Gatling, and George Ward.

Miss Gertrude E. McKinney served as Sunday School Superintendent continuously and with excellent success from August 1932 to the 1950's.  Miss Agnes Reynolds served as BYPU president from around 1940 to the 1950's.

Brother Charles W. Roscoe was a trustee and very active worker in the Sunday School for over 40 years.  He was one of the most loyal, respected and generally useful members this church ever had.  He passed away in July, 1946.

Grace Baptist Church has sent forth the following ministers: Rev. Lillie Robinson (who died in 1925), Rev. Charles P. Powell, Rev. Jonathan E. Reed, Rev. Richard W. Styles, Rev. Lawrence Hunter, Rev. Cadimus Saunders and Rev. Gerald Stewart. 

The late Rev. Jonathan E. Reed*, the son of the late pastor Rev. Isaac W. Reed, was born here and received his college and university training at Amherst College and Yale Divinity School.  From early youth he showed signs of being called to the gospel ministry, and these signs have been abundantly fulfilled.  He served at one time as church clerk, assistant building fund card recorder and also as Sunday School Superintendent.  In the special Building Fund Drive for the new church held in 1929, he was captain of the 17 member colored division which rose over $11,000 in pledges.  After teaching for several years at Tuskegee Institute and A & T College in the south, as a math and physics professor, he returned, was made assistant pastor in August 1938, and was elected full pastor on May 12, 1943, in the week immediately following that of his father's death.

Rev. Reed continued as pastor for 40 years.  During this period he rendered great service to his congregation and the entire religious community.  He also served as a commissioner on the Waterbury Board of Education, as police chaplain, and a corporator with the Banking Center.  He passed away on Aug. 6, 1983.

In 1998, the late Rev. Jonathan E. Reed was inducted into the Silas Bronson Library's Waterbury Hall of Fame for his outstanding leadership in the African American community, teacher and minister in Waterbury for more than 40 years.  He was known as a charismatic speaker and spoke seven languages fluently.

The Rev. Larry C, Green, Sr.,* was called to serve as the fourth pastor of Grace Baptist Church on October 7, 1984.  He was born in Richmond, Virginia, and received his early education in the public schools of New Kent County, VA.  He earned his undergraduate degree in biology from Virginia Union University.  In 1980 Rev. Green received the Master of Divinity Degree, Summa Cum Laude, from the School of Theology at Virginia Union University.  Additionally, in 1982, Union Theological Seminary of Virginia conferred upon him the Master of Theology Degree.  Under his leadership this church has seen a tremendous growth in programs and participation of the membership.

In 1985, an Appreciation Dinner for Deacon George G. Ward, the ordination of Deacons Therman E. Blanchard, William E. Evans, Martin I. Gatling, Lawrence E. Hunter, and Thomas B. Piland were held.

In June, 1986, the first Grace Baptist Newsletter was issued.  Rev. Larry C. Green was the Editor-in-Chief, and Hollister Gutridge was the Assistant Editor.  Serving as staff members were Mary M. Clark, Thelma W. Eason, Helen R. Fogg, Dorothy Libron-Green, Rena Hayre and John Knight, Jr.

Two very exciting activities were initiated in June 1986: (1) Mrs. Dorothy Libron-Green directed the first Grace Baptist Church Vacation Bible School and (2) Mrs. Gloria Hunter and Mrs. Elnora Carr organized the Youth Choir to serve on the third Sunday of each month with the Junior Choir.

During the months between February 1987, and June 1987, Mary Jane Burke and Juanita P. Kent were appointed to the church Trustee Board.  They were the first women ever to be appointed to a Grace Baptist Church Board.

Since the church activities were increasing so rapidly, there became a need for an onsite part-time secretary.  The position was filled on a temporary basis by the following persons:  Charlotte Williams, Tanya Felton and Shirley Blocker.  Deacon Franklin Hunter now serves as the church secretary.

Also during this period the first Youth Group was organized; however, it lasted only a few months.  Another important event was the ordination of Deacons Franklin Hunter, Sr., and Rufus Mitchell on June 14. 1987.  On May 14, 1988, the church enjoyed the first Family Fun Night.  Mrs. Dorothy Libron-Green was the director of this program.

The Grace Baptist Church PTA and the Zion Baptist PTA organized an after school tutoring program in November of 1989.  These two auxiliaries worked jointly to help school children with their studies.  Also in November of 1989, the Grace Baptist "Caring and Sharing" group was organized.  This group makes a special effort to stay in contact with all shut-ins of the church.

Between the months of May, 1990, and December, 1991, the first Women's Day was held with the Rev. Bonita Grubbs of New Haven as guest speaker; the newly organized Men Chorus made its debut on Father's Day; a second Youth Group with Rev. Larry C. Green, Trustees Mary M. Clark and James Harris as directors was started; and the Children's Discovery's Hour was inducted.

Other activities were the formation of a Church Council and a Holiday Bazaar; both of which occured in November and December of 1991, respectively.  Then, in March of 1992, the first in a series of Leadership Workshops began.  In May of the same year, after regular Sunday worship service, parishioners came in "casual dress" and enjoyed a picnic on the church grounds.

In June of 1992, the church ordained as deacons John Russell and Mary Jane Burke, who was the first woman to become a deacon in Grace Baptist Church.

During the months of July and August in 1992, Grace Baptist Church voted to schedule regular worship services at an earlier hour.  Worship service began at 9:00 a.m. instead of the usual 11:00 a.m. hour.  Also introduced during this time was a Youth Sunday which meant that on a particular Sunday, the youth of the church took charge as worship leaders.

Between April 1993, through September 1998, the Men's Group and the Evangelism Committee were formed, Rev. Johnathon E. Reed's Memorial Plaque was dedicated, and Deacons Mary M. Clark, James A. Harris, Juanita P. Kent, James Sinclair and Margie A. Wright were ordained.  Also during this period, after receiving a Masters of Divinity degree from the School of Theology at Virginia Union University, the Rev. Lawrence Hunter was ordained into the ministry in July, 1994.  Additionally, the Cherub Choir, under the direction of Amos and Bermer Ridenhour, was organized and there was the establishment of the Trustee rotation, a tape ministry, a change from night communion to morning communion and the purchase of pew bibles. 

Ministers that were encouraged under Rev. Green included Rev. Winifred Ward, Rev. Calvin Ellerbee, Rev. Guy Riddick, Rev. Kevin Staton, Rev. Randall Lewis, and Rev. Larry Ward.

In November 2013, Rev. Green retired after 29 years of service.  In addition to pastoring Grace Baptist Church, Rev. Green was also active in state and local affairs.  He served as a member of the board of directors for the Western Connecticut Area Agency on Aging, the Waterbury Opportunities Industrialization Center, the Community Foundation and St. Mary’s Hospital.  Rev. Green was a past president of both the Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries and the Grace Development Corporation of Waterbury.

In conclusion, the future of this church, we believe, belongs to those who prepare wisely for it.  We seek and shall continually seek to prepare wisely for it; but over and above all, we believe that the future is as bright as God's promises and they are indeed bright.  We believe that if we are godly, wise and faithful, courageous, strong and true, we shall be divinely blessed and helped and protected all along our way, and shall eventually hear with gladness the Master's approving words, "Well Done."  (Joshua 1:1-9, Psalms 12, Revelation 3:7-11)