The following account of the Jefferson St Baprist Church from the “Minutes of the Rhode Island Baptist Anniversaries, 1904” written by MARY POTTER ANGELL, Providence, RI, September, 1904
Dr. Randolph had it in his heart to erect a new and commodious house of worship for the Jefferson Street people, but it was not until during the pastorate of Rev. J. G. Richardson, 1863-1870 that they said “Let us arise and build.” The letter to the Association in the autumn of 1866 says, “W have begun the enterprise of building a new house of worship. Our own subscriptions have commenced and others have cheered us by their pledges. Fifteen thousand dollars are needed as a sum on which to begin to build. The Zion of our love is in jeopardy without a convenient house by which to fulfill our mission to the people.”
It is written of some that they builded better than they knew. In a literal sense the Jefferson Street people builded more than they were aware, for with the new house of worship they built up a heavy burden of debt under which they struggled for many years. The building now on Holden Street was moved to the rear of the lot and preparations were speedily made for the new house. The corner stone was laid July 11, 1868. The day was “excessively hot” we read “but there was a large number present who felt that the services were simple, impressive and profitable and it will long be remembered as a glad and hopeful hour.” The Association letter following in September, represents the Jefferson Street people as appearing at the annual meeting with the sweat on their brow, the bronze on their cheek and their garments dingy with the dust of brick, and bespattered with mortar. Eleven months from the time of the laying of the corner stone, the church held its first services in the new house of worship. On Sunday morning, June 11, 1869, in a prayer meeting of deep interest, at five o’clock, the church entered the rooms of the lower floor of the new house. The Bible school opened its session at a quarter before eleven with silent prayer. A sermon was preached by the pastor in the afternoon and the hand of fellowship was extended to fifteen persons. Rev. Moses H. Bixby gave the address of the evening.
The next meeting of the Association was with the Jefferson Street Church, which burst forth in poetical greeting, “Welcome thrice welcome to our hearts, to our homes, to our house of worship unfinished.”
The three years previous to this had not been devoid of seasons of blessing. There are records of the baptism at Thurber’s pond of nine, twenty, thirteen successively. Carriages were provided to take the candidates to and from the place of baptism about a mile distant from the church.
Reluctantly, and with regret we recall that with the building of the new house there sprang up a root of bitterness to trouble the faithful hearts of Jefferson Street Church. The records do not clearly show its origin, but its fruit we see in the withdrawal of some of the members and the spiritual decline of many. The latter months of Brother Richardson’s pastorate were by it rendered months of pain and disappointment.
As to a ray of sunshine in the darkness of those days we turn to a letter in The Providence Bapli8t by Rev. Jabez Ferris who supplied the church for about three months while pursuing studies at Brown University. “The summer of 1870 is remembered as one of the greenest spots in my ministry thus far,” he wrote in 1878. “Nor do I speak now of the wife whom Providence gave me. I soon learned to love the people for their real worth. It has never been my pleasure to be associated with a more considerate and affectionate people than those whom in May, 1870, I found scattered and broken as sheep having no shepherd…..While I write, a vision of the noble band of prayer-meeting and Sunday school workers rises before me.”
About this time the State Convention voted to assist the Jefferson Street people to complete their house, to the amount of $10,000, provided they themselves should liquidate the floating debt. In the work of soliciting funds among the Baptists of Providence the church acknowledged with deepest gratitude the aid of Rev. Moses H. Bixby always their truest friend and counselor. Rev. A. T. Rose wrote later, “I do not know but the churches and pastors did their whole duty in the matter. If so, Mr. Bixby did a great deal more than his duty.”
In 1871 the church called Rev. A. T. Rose missionary to Burma, to become their pastor. This he consented to do pending the action of the Missionary Union in returning him to the Foreign Field. Early in the following year, the blessings of Mr. Rose’s ministry began to be realized in the conversion and baptism of fifteen persons. In a letter written some years after his return to Burma, Mr. Rose said, “I remember how cordially my suggestions were seconded to meet the current expenses and to pay the floating debt; how happy I was made by the aid of so many. I remember the noble band of hard working women who seemed never to tire in bearing burdens for the church.” Under the two years’ leadership of Dr. Rose, the church did excellent work and were blessed therein. The year 1873 marks the completion of the house of worship with the exception of the spire.
It was hoped that the debt would be fully raised before the coming of the new pastor, Rev. S. D. Phelps, D. D. The hope was not realized, yet during the two years of his ministry, the brick spire rose sky-ward and was completed. The fruit of Dr. Phelp’s ministry was seventeen baptized and added to the church. Dr. Phelps was a traveler in the Holy Land and a pleasant writer whose well-known hymn, beginning
“Saviour, thy dying love Thou gayest me.”
touches a chord of sweetest devotion in the Christian heart. he resigned the pastorate of Jefferson Street Church to become editor of The Christian Secretary, a Baptist weekly published in Hartford, Connecticut.
Two more brief pastorates followed, those of Rev. N. B. Randall and Rev. William C. Richmond. Mission work, at Eagle Park in connection with other churches, and on Hardenburg Street where a room was rented for the purpose, was carried on with some success during these pastorates. A small paper called The Providence Baptist from which we glean much of interest concerning the early history of the church was published by Mr. Randall. The membership of the church about this time (1879) was 189.
A paragraph from the letter of the church to the Association in the fall of 1884, contains the following: Rev. W. M. Mick of Lambertonville, N. J., has accepted a call to the pastorate and will begin his labors next Sabbath. We are anxiously awaiting his coming and believe that the Lord has a blessing in store for us through him. The church was not destined to disappointment. The records show an extended series of applications for membership with the accompanying note that the candidates be received after baptism. The Sunday school increased until its membership was over 400.
Even the resignation of Pastor Mick on account of chronic bronchitis did not cause the good work to cease. It was voted to give the pastor a vacation of three months in the hope that his health would be restored. But at the end of that period, under date of November 8, 1887, Mr. Mick wrote to the church, “My dear Flock, I feel it my debt of love to you that I should again make a formal request that you should accept my resignation.”
The following January, Rev. Franklin G. MeKeever of Medina, N. Y., was invited to become pastor. His leadership of the church commenced in March, 1888. The five years ensuing were years of unprecedented prosperity, financially, numerically and spiritually. About five thousand dollars of the depressing indebtedness upon the house of worship remained in 1889. The pastorate of Mr. McKeever saw it entirely swept away and the mortgage was burned at a “jubilee service” in February, 1891. The same year marks the incorporation by the Rhode Island Legislature of Jefferson Street Church is a legal body and the consequent transfer of the house of worship from the society previously holding it to the church organization. A new constitution with by-laws, articles of faith and covenant was framed at this time.
It was a happy and united people who were suddenly grieved on Christmas Day, 1892 to receive from their pastor his resignation with the intimation that he believed the Lord was plainly pointing him to a neighboring city. We are not surprised, in reviewing the evident tokens of God’s blessing upon Mr. MeKeever’s ministry at Jefferson Street, to hear him say that those five years spent in Providence were among the happiest years of his life. The noteworthy events of the seven years’ pastorate of Rev. William H. Palmer, which immediately followed that of Mr. McKeever, were the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the church in June, 1897, and the purchase of the pipe organ.
When, in the autumn of 1899, our Heavenly Father gave to Jefferson Street Church, as its pastor, a young kinsman of the great missionary and explorer, David Livingstone, he bestowed upon it one of his choicest blessings. During the ministry of Rev. Benjamin T. Livingstone (who we pray may continue with us many years to come) the advance of the church has been financially, intellectually and spiritually steadily upward. Names of persons whose connection with the church was merely nominal have been stricken from its roll. New and active members have takn their places, 66 by baptism, 44 by letter and experience. Some, notably several young men baptized b’ Mr. Livingstone have gone forth to work nobly and efficiently in other churches. The present membership of the church (1904) is 219.
New furnishings, throughout, adorn the church estrv; electric lights and new carpet add their cheer to the audience room . Above all is the spirit of affection between pastor and people. and a unity of purpose to do our Lord’s service.
Jefferson Street Church has its honor roll, not all appearing in the story of the record books, we know, for
“God hides some lives away Sweetly to surprise us the last day.”
But we thank Him that there are those whose works of faith and love are partially recorded here. Going back to the old records we find the names of Thomas Holden with whom was held the first council of the committee looking toward the organization of the church, strong in faith and prayer and wise in counsel, a veritable father in the church; Deacon Ethan Whipple and his gifted wife who gave to the church their whole hearts, and consecrated their wealth to its prosperity; Mrs. Eliza D. Maxon, Mrs. Cynthia A. Holmes, Mrs. Almeda Ray, faithful, loving teachers in the Bible school; Jeremiah Thomas and Gilman Stone for many years clerks of the church; the warm hearted Albert C. Greene; Mrs. Mary A. Soule who so generously gave one half the amount due on the mortgage at its payment in 1891; Deacon Warren G. Noyea; Deacon Elam H. Gates whose voice, true and clear in prayer and testimony down to the close of his long life, even the younger members can now recall; and Deacon Charles E. Hall and his wife, Mrs. Amy Hail, who, coming from the Fruit Hill Church during the pastorate of Dr. Keyser withheld nothing, henceforth, of their time, their means, their love and service from the work of the Lord through Jefferson Street Church, until, during the year just past they heard the call, “Come ye blessed of my Father.” Of ail these it is written, “They rest from their labors and their works do follow them.”
Some who still remain are Mr. William H. Hobson, now a member of the Central Church, to whose excellent and beautiful records as clerk of the church we are much indebted; Mr. Horace F. Horton for twenty-three years superintendent of the Bible school; Mrs. Cornelia A. Bowen nineteen years in charge of the primary department of the school; Mr. Fred C. Lawton of whose earnest, untiring service we are reminded in the music of the pipe organ; and Mrs. Mary M. Rose still in active foreign missionary work in Burma. Time fails us to speak of all strong in the faith and valiant in service.
Since the organization of the Jefferson Street Church in 1847, conditions in its neighborhood, as throuhout our country have greatly altered. People of other nations and other faiths have flocked to the vicinity of Capitol Hill. It may be that the largest mission of this church in the years to come will be to hold up to these people with power and grace to win them, the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.