200 Years at the Ridge Church
Two hundred and three years after worship services were first held in the Ridge Church in New Durham, New Hampshire, 65 Free Will Baptists from across the nation gathered at the historic building to celebrate two centuries of God’s faithfulness. Originally planned for 2019, the celebration was delayed, first by construction, then by COVID.
As singing filled the old sanctuary, attendees were transported back two centuries. Cool New England breezes drifted through open windows. Brilliant sunshine lit the room, and the lowing of cattle and cackle of chickens echoed in the distance. “You could close your eyes and imagine being in one of those early services,” an attendee observed. “It almost felt like going back in time.”
The Ridge Church was founded June 30, 1780, in the east room of Zechariah Boodey’s home when seven men and women signed the church covenant and 13 articles of faith penned by Elder Benjamin Randall. The congregation included Randall, Robert Boodey, Nathaniel Buzzell, Joseph Boodey, Judith Chartel, Margery Boodey, and Mary Buzzell, as recorded in the New Durham Church Record Book.
Growth soon made it necessary for the group to move from the Boodey home into the New Durham Meeting House, where it continued to gather for nearly four decades. However, in September 1818 (a decade after Randall’s death), plans were finalized for a building to be constructed on New Durham Ridge. Pews were “sold” to families in the church to raise funds, and workers started building a month later, earning four shillings (50¢) a day. The work was completed the following summer in 1819. Two centuries later, the original building remains standing and recently became the property of North American Ministries.
Over the two-day celebration, four speakers looked back over the remarkable life of the church. Ohio historian Mark McCarty explored the founders, pastors, and construction. Master’s Men Director Kenneth Akers described significant renovations completed in the last two decades. David Crowe, director of North American Ministries, shared an overview of Free Will Baptist history, in which the Ridge Church played a pivotal role. And when attendees visited Benjamin Randall’s gravesite, located a half-mile from the church, Historical Commission member Eric Thomsen identified significant moments in the early life of Benjamin Randall that led him to start the New Durham congregation.
Following each service, cookout-styled meals were held at the First FWB Church in New Durham. Saturday evening, the group gathered for a fellowship meal at The Castle on Charles, a historical church building converted to meeting space.
Many visitors immersed themselves in Free Will Baptist history during their visit, traveling to nearby historical sites: Parsonsfield Seminary; Ocean Park, Maine (where Free Will Baptists constructed a retreat center for meetings, conferences, and camps); the New Durham Meeting House; Bates College, founded by Free Will Baptists and still operating today; and numerous historic churches and cemeteries. They browsed historic documents archived at the First Church in New Durham, took pictures in front of the Ridge Church, behind the pulpit, and at the piano.
On Sunday morning, David Crowe preached from Psalm 72, recalling the text used throughout the centennial celebration of northern Free Will Baptists in 1880, when 1,500 people came together to mark the occasion. He challenged listeners to be faithful as the “handful of corn” God would use to reap great harvests in future generations. With the service and celebration drawing to a close, the altar filled with Free Will Baptist leaders earnestly begging God to keep Free Will Baptists faithful to His Word and gospel.
“Learning more about the sacrifice and legacy of Benjamin Randall and his ministry has been fascinating and convicting all at the same time,” wrote Jennifer Miller. “What they did in that first 100 years is remarkable. No church body is too small for God to use. We laughed in the old church building, we cried, we sang, we prayed, and we worshiped!”