Life on Purpose
Planes, Trains...and Free Will Baptist History
by Ida Lewis
On a beautiful summer morning, 23 Free Will Baptist pastors and their wives, along with the Home Missions staff, boarded a bus to begin the 2013 Heritage Tour of New England. Join us on an exciting trip through Free Will Baptist history with a peek inside the pages of my travel journal.
LaGrange to Richmond . . . Barely
At the first stop in LaGrange, North Carolina, we visited the grave of Joseph Parker, associate of Paul Palmer. David Crowe, tour guide and Free Will Baptist historian, related facts from the early days of the southern movement and the work of Paul Palmer and the Parker brothers in the eastern part of the state.
From there, the group headed to Norfolk, Virginia, to visit the downtown church where early Free Will Baptist preacher John Colby is buried. It was remarkable to see a cannon ball from the Revolutionary War still embedded in the sidewall of the church.
In a rush to reach the next appointed destination, the bus deposited all luggage and passengers in front of the wrong railroad station in Richmond, Virginia. With only minutes to spare and luggage flying everywhere, passengers and luggage were redirected and made it to the right station in the nick of time to board an overnight train to Boston, Massachusetts.
A bus tour through Boston included a trip to the USS Constitution, the Old North Church, King’s Chapel and Burying Ground, Boston Common, and many other points of interests. The next day we traveled to Parsonsfield, Maine, to see the first school established by Free Will Baptists, Parsonsfield Seminary. We visited founder John Buzzell’s grave and toured the Free Baptist Church building.
We stopped at Ocean Park, Maine, a town built for the northern Freewill Baptists’ centennial celebration in 1881. We explored a most unusual building where these early Free Will Baptists gathered to worship. Octagonal in shape and very large, the Temple, as it is called, seats 2,000 with side galleys and a balcony. A gracious gentleman from the area provided a rich history that included the Free Will Baptists who built the town. As we walked the lovely streets of Ocean Park, we discovered Randall Drive, Colby Street, and other pine-shadowed lanes named for early Free Will Baptist leaders.
Rhode Island Time
One of the highlights of the tour was a visit with missionaries Bill and Christy Reynolds, who are planting a church in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. For Home Missions office workers, it was a treat to visit with these missionaries and their congregation. While we work with missionaries on a regular basis, we don’t often have an opportunity to visit their churches.
The people at Beacon FWB Church did not disappoint. Everyone was gracious and considerate, and the facilities are a beautiful yet practical place in which to worship. The services were inspirational. We enjoyed the preaching of Dann Patrick and Henry Horne. Afterward, the Beacon congregation shared an enormous spread of typical New England fare. We feasted on clam “chowdah,” stuffed clams, chicken, casseroles, desserts, and much more.
Ride to the Ridge
The last day of touring was spent with Jim Nason, former Free Will Baptist home missionary to New Hampshire. Jim planted and grew a solid church in New Durham and has remained to carve out a wonderful and far-reaching ministry that is a shining testimony to the power and glory of God. The group was treated to a barbecue feast provided by a church member and his company.
Our final stop was the “Church on the Ridge,” (pictured below) first church in the northern movement. The stories of Benjamin Randall, John Buzzell, John Colby, and others who traveled countless miles to preach the gospel made the visit to the first church even more meaningful. We are grateful to the many volunteers who have had a hand in preserving and renovating the building over the years. Seeing how early Free Will Baptists worshiped made us truly appreciate how the Lord has blessed Free Will Baptists today.
The rainy day didn’t stop us from visiting Benjamin Randall’s grave located near the church. Standing above his grave is a monument inscribed with the following words: “The Scriptures our rule of faith and practice. Salvation free and possible for all.” I can’t think of a better way to summarize this trip through history.
The tour that took us from eastern North Carolina to New Durham, New Hampshire, gave us a new determination and desire to follow the example of previous generations and make a difference in our world for the glory of the Lord. We returned home with a deeper respect for our Free Will Baptist heritage. If you are interested in learning more about the history of Free Will Baptists, I encourage you to contact the Home Missions Department and ask about the historical collection or visit www.FWBHistory.com.
About the Writer: Ida Lewis is publications editor for Free Will Baptist Home Missions. Learn more about Free Will Baptist Home Missions at www.homemissions.net.