Northeast Association History
THE NORTHEAST BAPTIST ASSOCIATION
The following note on the early history of the Northeast Association has been revised from a talk given by Bill McMunn at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Northeast Association held at the First Baptist Church of Mansfield.
Association Founding and Member Churches
The Northeast Association was founded as the Ashford Baptist Association in 1824. The Association’s first meeting was held in Stafford on June 29, 1825, and included delegates from 13 churches: 1st and 2nd Woodstock, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Ashford, Thompson, Killingly, Pomfret, Hampton, Mansfield, Tolland, Andover, and Stafford, altogether served by ten preachers with a total membership of 1,354.
As new churches were formed in the region, they were added to the Association. These included a second church in Thompson, a second church in Mansfield, and churches in Danielson, Willimantic, Willington, and Wilkinson (now Putnam). A few churches have merged or disappeared. The total number of member churches in the Association has remained steady through the years and the Northeast Association now has twelve member churches: United Baptist Church in Ashford*, Federated Church in Brooklyn, Cornerstone Baptist Church in Danielson, Union Baptist Church in East Killingly, First Baptist Church in Mansfield, Putnam Baptist Church, South Woodstock Baptist Church, Stafford Baptist Church, Central Baptist Church in Thompson, Federated Church in Willington, and Calvary Baptist Church and First Baptist Church both in Willimantic.
Association meeting styles and meeting dates have changed during 190 years. In the early years, the Association met in May or June. Then in 1865 the meeting date was changed to September. In early years the Association meetings filled two days in the middle of the week. Delegates were often housed in the homes of the host church members. Later, the meetings were reduced to a single day, generally a Sunday, starting with morning worship and continuing through the day and into the evening. Now we meet much more briefly on a Sunday afternoon in September.
Each church prepared an annual letter to the Association, usually written by the Pastor or the Church Clerk and approved at a congregational meeting, summarizing the significant events during the year and concluding with statistics on the number of baptisms and other new members, the number of dismissals to other churches and deaths, and financial reports on contributions to various mission causes. The annual letters provide insight into the current mood of each church and they sometimes swing back and forth between depression and elation from year to year. In 1874, the Mansfield Church’s letter began by characterizing four types of members: “A small fraction of our membership are ready in every good word and work. Upon this class we can depend for help in every way their ability will allow. Another fraction seems to feel no particular obligation on account of their relation to the church or covenant Vows. Another considerable fraction seems at first real Subjects of discipline, but at the same time nothing very definite can be found against them, only a general and uniforme neglect of their covenant obligations. Another fraction liv[e] so far from the church that [they] do not meet with us.” The next sentence reveals a possible cause of this malaise: “Last November Rev. J. F. Temple left us for another Field of Labour."
In the following year’s letter of 1875, all this has turned around. A new pastor is active and the letter begins: “Dear Brethren, Another year finds us still in the enjoyment of the blessing of our common Union. . . Many years we have reported to you when we were unable to see God’s hand dealing with us in love. But now the hand moves not in secret. We behold outward manifestation of his goodness. The past year has been one of prosperity. We stand united among ourselves. We have enjoyed the services of Br[other] Chaplin in whose Preaching, Visits, and Pastoral labor all of us enjoy. . . .” In that same year of 1875, the Church joined together to build a new house of worship, to replace the original structure which had become outmoded.
Association meetings well into the 20th century included multiple worship services with several inspirational sermons, business sessions, committee meetings, prayer sessions, missionary reports, music, and both noon and evening meals. Association meetings always emphasized Christian education. Statistics on Sunday Schools were generally included in the annual letters.
Missionary activity was a strong emphasis, and missionaries home on leave were frequent speakers at Association meetings. Particularly notable were the members of the Vinton family of the Willington and West Woodstock churches—Justus Vinton, his wife Calista Holmon Vinton, and his sister Miranda Vinton, as well as the Vintons’ son and daughter-in-law, Brainerd and Julia Vinton—who all followed the example of our first Baptist missionaries Adoniram and Ann Judson by serving the Karen people in Burma (now Myanmar). Churches of the Northeast Association also encouraged home missions, supporting the training and ordination of pastors who spread the gospel in New York, the mid-west, and as far west as Oregon and California.
Association meetings passed resolutions deploring slavery as early as 1834. Temperance was another recurrent theme. In 1861 the Association sent a protest to the State legislature against the repeal or modification of the Prohibition law, and in the minutes for 1862 the Association resolved that, “Rum, next to the king of the bottomless pit, is man’s worst enemy—the devil’s best agent—the most active and successful opposer of religion.”
In 1864 the Association resolved: “That it is the duty of all true Gospel ministers to set their faces against the use of tobacco in all its forms, and if hitherto accustomed to indulge in it as a luxury, to abandon its use at once.”
The churches of the Association were firm in their support of patriotism. In 1865 at the conclusion of the Civil War, the Mansfield church voted to include in its annual letter to the Association “the number that volunteered their service in their Countrie’s cause an[d the] number and condition of those who have returned and number killed or died and cause of
The strong forces of individualism in the Baptist movement—soul freedom, the priesthood of believers, and the congregational form of church governance—have always tempered the impetus to collective organization. In 1946 the call to the Ashford Association meeting warned that, “The subtle danger of Baptist Associational meetings in America is that they have often slipped into the temptation of becoming an end in themselves, rather than a means to a much higher end.” Baptists have always prided themselves on their independence and resisted dictation by any hierarchy. From the beginning, Baptists have viewed Associations voluntary method of pooling time and talents to work together for the common good.
- Note: Ashford Baptist Church removed its ABC affiliation in March 2014