Wilton church turns 200

  • Good News Bible Church in Wilton is set to celebrate its 200th anniversary this Friday, April 7, 2017. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Good News Bible Church in Wilton is set to celebrate its 200th anniversary this Friday, April 7, 2017. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Good News Bible Church in Wilton is set to celebrate its 200th anniversary this Friday, April 7, 2017. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Melissa Longval raises a hand in praise while singing along with the Good News Bible Church’s worship team during services Sunday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Good News Bible Church in Wilton is set to celebrate its 200th anniversary this Friday, April 7, 2017. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Good News Bible Church Pastor Peter Vitello says a blessing before the distribution of communion. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • The former location of what was once known as the Wilton Center Baptist Church has now been converted to a residence after the church moved to a new location in the early 2000s. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Good News Bible Church in Wilton is set to celebrate its 200th anniversary this Friday, April 7, 2017. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Pam Cheever lifts a hand in praise during Sunday services at the Good News Bible Church in Wilton. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/6/2017 6:31:43 AM

When the moment comes to start the service, the congregation moves as one. They stand in unison as the six-piece band on the front stage starts to sing praise. Most know the words and sing along. 

Then, moments before the service proper, an elder encourages the congregation — “Why don’t you give your neighbor a hug?” — and there is an instant scattering as people not only turn to greet the person next to them, but get up to find family members and friends, or seek out new faces to greet. 

This is the sense of community that has drawn people to what is now known as the Good News Bible Church in Wilton for 200 years now. 

“I’ve gone to that church pretty much my whole life,” said Joanna Norbu of Wilton. “My dad went to this church.” And now, Norbu added, so do her three sons. And those connections have become increasingly important to her, she said, as she has separated from her husband and what she calls her “church family” have stepped in to be there for her.

“I can call any of them, and they can pray, and I can get through the day,” said Norbu. “Our church is just like a family. You feel accepted there.”

The church was first established 200 years ago – April 7, 1817, when 11 members broke off from a Baptist church in Mason to form the Baptist Society of Wilton. It took a further 10 years before they would band together to build a permanent location – the first Wilton Center Baptist Church.

The church was successful through its first centennial, but after World War I, there was a downturn – as there was with many churches nationally. The Wilton and Lyndeborough Baptist churches shared a pastor, and the Wilton Center Baptist Church had to hold their services in the afternoon as a result. Membership shrank, until the early 1960s, when it was down to only five members, and the church had to consider closing their doors. But through faithful attendance from a few key families in town – namely siblings Forest and Florence Whitcomb (Florence later became a Keyes by marriage) and later Florence’s son, Earl Keyes and his wife Ivy, the church continued to operate through the low attendance days.

Their perseverance paid off, and in the 1960s, the church finally got a settled pastor, and the membership began to recover. Now, it has close to 200 members, though the church looks a little different than it once was.

Church Elder Dale Hallowell and his wife joined the congregation in 1977, when they moved to Greenville and began looking for a Baptist church.

“We were still small at that point,” said Hallowell. “We were trying to aim for 50 or 60 people.”

And in order to do that, said Hallowell, the church has changed over the years to become more inclusive, becoming more welcoming to various Christian sects, although it has maintained a conservative Protestant bent. One of the illustrations of that change is the church’s new name – “Good News Bible Church.”

The name change came at the same time as the church moved it main location when maintaining the 1827 sanctuary became unsustainable, and the church found an opportunity to move the church to a more visible and accessible location on Route 101, just west of the Route 31 intersection.

Sometimes, said Pastor Peter Vitello, change is hard for a congregation, but it’s often the route churches have to take to remain relevant. Whether that’s expanding the worship team that sings praise songs at the start and close of services to include a drumset, or beefing up the church’s website so that recorded sermons can be included online, the way that people experience church has changed, said Vitello.

“It’s not your grandmother’s church,” said Vitello.

But while there is always progression, the core of what makes a church community stay together always remains.

“The message of the gospel never changes. It’s just the method in which you present it,” said Vitello. 

The community is welcomed to join church parishioners during a celebration of the church’s 200th anniversary on Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. 

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com.


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