by John H. Smith
On the evening of February 1, 1897, a small company of Christian believers met at the home of Alice B. Case for the purpose of perfecting some plan to secure a place where prayer meetings might be held regularly. At this meeting a committee was appointed to secure such a place and instructed, if possible, to procure the vacant rooms in the "Piano Block", and on February 6th, the committee reported that they had rented the rooms in the north-west corner of the block, now the waiting room and office of the Hotel Chenango.
The first prayer meeting, with thirty present, was held in these rooms on February 10th, and from that time until May 1st, two prayer meetings were held each week on Wednesday and Friday evenings.
On April 4th, the first Sunday School was held with twenty present and three weeks later the Sunday School was regularly organized with Dr. Fred Sumner as Superintendent.
The attendance at all services grew steadily and it was not long before the need for larger quarters became apparent and a committee was appointed to look into the matter of securing the same.
At the prayer meeting on April 7th, it was unanimously voted to meet one week later for the purpose of organizing a new church and all who desired to unite in such a movement were urged to be present with their letters. At this meeting, sixty- two men and women were present and an organization was formed, the name selected being "Mission Baptist Church of Norwich, N. Y.", and on May 18th, after two weeks formal notice, a meeting was held for the purpose of incorporating and to elect six trustees.
On May 2nd, the first preaching service was held, the officiating clergyman being Rev. Cyrus Aldrich of Pitcher, N. Y., who took for his text Philippians 3:13.
James R. Edwards, then a student in Hamilton Theological Seminary, was engaged as a regular supply and filled the pulpit after May 9th. A few weeks later a unanimous call was given him to become the pastor of the church, he having graduated from the Seminary at that time. The first covenant meeting was held on June 5that 2 p.m., Mr. Edwards presiding. At about this time it was decided to change the name to Calvary Baptist Church and it has been so known since.
The matter of a pastor having been decided, it was voted to secure a location with the view of building a house for a permanent church home and a committee was appointed to that end. At this time it was found that the previous organization did not entirely comply with the church and state laws and on the advice of Doctors Maynard, Clarke, Jones and Prof. Thomas of Hamilton, the committee recommended to the church that it re-organize, August 3rdbeing the date set for such action. At 8 p.m. on that date, the church assembled in its rooms and one hundred four letters were presented, eighty five of the persons being represented by proxy. After a full presentation of all the facts, it appeared that there was an abundant field for such a church and that there was financial ability to support it, after which the constituting authority was read and unanimously adopted. It was also voted that those holding office under the temporary organization retain such offices until the permanent organization should be completed when an election should be held.
It was also voted that a committee be appointed to consider the matter of calling a Council, to recognize the new church, and to ordain its pastor Mr. James R. Edwards to the Christian ministry. At this meeting a committee was also appointed to prepare and present a report on "Rules of Order and Discipline" for the church.
At a meeting on August 10th, the church laid plans for calling a Council of churches of the Chenango Association to sit with them on Thursday September 9thfor the purpose of asking to be recognized as a regular Baptist church and to ordain its pastor, the invitation going to the pastor and two delegates from each church with a special invitation to Dr. W. H. Maynard of the chair of church history of the Divinity School of Colgate.
By this time the church had entirely outgrown its quarters in the Piano Block and the committee recommended that the church lease the Freewill Baptist Church on Birdsall St. which had been standing vacant for some years, that congregation having ceased to function. The recommendation was adopted and a lease made with the trustees of the Birdsall St. property at a monthly rental of $10.00 and the church at once moved to its new home. At the same time it was decided that the lot which had been purchased at the corner of South Broad and Front Streets should be the final location of the church home. The first meeting held in the Birdsall St. church was the prayer meeting on Tuesday, August 17, 1897.
The Council met on the date specified and unanimously voted to recognize the Calvary Baptist Church as an independent church and entitled to the fellowship of the churches of the Chenango Association. It also approved Christian experience of Pastor Edwards, his call to the ministry, and his doctrinal views, and unanimously recommended ordination which was carried out during the afternoon and evening sittings of the Council.
Application was made to the Chenango Association at its Annual Meeting at Sherburne on October 13thfor membership in the Association, which was granted, and the church placed on the roll of Baptist churches. The affairs of the church moved along smoothly with steadily increasing membership and attendance but the time did not seem ripe to build the new church which was so earnestly desired.
On January 1, 1901, Mr. Edwards tendered his resignation to accept the pastorate of the Baptist church at Flatbush, L. I., and a few weeks later a call was extended to Spencer J. Ford, then a student in the seminary at Hamilton, to fill the vacancy. The call was accepted and Mr. Ford served as pulpit supply until his graduation in June. On July 2nd, a Council was called for the purpose of ordaining him to the ministry and after he had related his Christian experience, call to the ministry, and views on Christian doctrine, the Council unanimously recommended that he be set apart for the work of the gospel ministry. At the ordination service which followed, the sermon was preached by Dr. W. H. Maynard of the Seminary and the charge to the candidate given by Rev. Jabez Ford, his father.
The church grew rapidly under the ministry of Pastor Ford and a feeling arose among the members that the present location of the church was particularly suited to the work it was doing. This feeling became so strong that it was decided to purchase the property and refit it in a manner suitable for the needs of the church.
This was done and with an outlay of $11,356.00, which included the purchase price of the property, repairs, improvement and new furniture throughout, the church was in condition to do better and more effective work. The new building was dedicated on March 18th, 1903, and at that time less than $4,000.00 of the cost remained unpaid of which all but about $500.00 was in sight. At this time the membership was 257 having increased from 111 since its organization.
On July 2nd, 1905, Pastor Ford resigned to accept the pastorate of the Central Park Baptist Church in the City of New York and on November 12, 1905, Rev. Ira W. Bingham was called and commenced his work with the church. The work continued to grow and prosper under the leadership of Mr. Bingham who remained as pastor until June 1st, 1913, when he resigned to go to the First Baptist Church, Portage, Wis.
The pulpit was filled by supplies until January 1st, 1914, when Rev. Alexander Fraser assumed the pastorate and served the church very acceptably until January 28th, 1917, when he resigned to accept a pastorate in Western Canada.
On March 17th, 1917, Rev. Samuel T. Harding was invited to become pastor and commenced his work on May 1st remaining until February 1st, 1927, when he was called to become pastor of the Baptist church at Salamanca, NY At this time the church was in the midst of a "Religious Visitation Campaign" and Rev. Norman S. McPherson was engaged as a supply during the month of February. At a church meeting held on February 20th a unanimous call was given him to become pastor.
During the summer and fall of 1928 extensive repairs and alterations were made to the church building, the cost amounting to about $7,500.00 practically all of which was pledged at the completion of the work. The Church now has a commodious and beautiful house of worship with very good equipment and stands high in the community as an outstanding organization for the uplift of men and women and for advancing the cause of Christ among the citizens of Norwich and the surrounding country.
The Sunday School which came into existence with the church has continued to be a strong factor in its work, quite a large percentage of the baptisms having come from it and the various young peoples societies. The Baraca and Philathea classes composed of adult men and women continue to be of great service in forwarding the work of the school.
At its inception Calvary Baptist affiliated with the other Baptist churches in Chenango County, fellowshipping with the Chenango Association of Baptist Churches. With the inauguration of the Northern Baptist Convention in 1907, Calvary Baptist was a part of this national convention. The beginning of this convention was bathed in controversy, and was immediately plunged into the "fundamentalist/modernist" debates. This schism in the NBC raged though the 1920's and into the 1930's, with many fundamental Baptist churches withdrawing from the NBC due to theological liberalism and compromise of the gospel of Christ.
In a letter dated May 9, 1935, written to the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, Pastor Norman McPherson reported the action of Calvary Baptist Church taken May 8, 1935. He wrote, "Please be advised the Calvary Baptist Church of Norwich, NY, hereby approved the articles of Faith and Constitution of the Association, and express their desire to be considered in fellowship with the same. This action was taken at the Annual Meeting of the church held May 8. The motion was made that the church withdraw completely from the Northern Baptist Convention and become allied with the GARBC. There was not a dissenting vote...."
CBC since its inception has been a church clearly gospel preaching and Bible believing (from cover-to-cover!). This action clearly marked our church as a separatist, fundamental, Baptist church which had a great desire to reach the world for Christ in obedience to His word.
Further, CBC was instrumental in the establishment of our state fellowship of churches, the Empire State Fellowship of Regular Baptist Churches in 1942. The pastor Reginald Matthew served on the first steering committee to form the fellowship, and also served as the first secretary of the fellowship. Our church continues to maintain a balanced stance as a fundamental Baptist church, separated unto Christ in the work of the gospel. We fellowship with those of like mind and faith in the great enterprise of reaching our world for Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord for the courageous stand of numerous men and women, with the result that our church stands as faithfully and truly for the gospel now in 1997 as it did in 1897.
The beginnings of Calvary Baptist Church have their roots in events that transpired in 1897. Controversy surrounded the birth-pangs of our church. Many significant events led a group of believers to actually begin the process of forming our church. Here is a synopsis of the epic events of that first year of our churches life:
February 1, 1897 - The first formal meeting was held to begin discussion regarding formation of a new church.
February 10, 1897 - a prayer meeting held with 30 members present in what was then known as the Piano Block.
April 4, 1897 - The first meeting of a Sunday School is held. Dr. Fred I. Sumner (a local dentist, and grandfather of Robert L. Sumner) served as the first Sunday School Superintendent.
April 14, 1897 - 62 interested adults meet to organize as a church. The church selects "Mission Baptist Church" as their name. However, in published news about Mission Baptist Church, the name "Calvary Baptist Church" takes this name's place.
May 2, 1897 - first preaching services held, Rev. Cyrus Aldrich of Pitcher, NY, preaching from Philippians 3:13.
June 21, 1897 - J. R. Edwards called as full-time pastor of Mission (Calvary) Baptist Church. Pastor Edwards was a graduate of Colgate University & Theological Seminary in Hamiltion, NY (then an evangelical, Bible-believing training institution).
August 3, 1897 - Calvary Baptist Church reorganizes with new Articles of Faith, Constitution, & Church Covenant.
August 17, 1897 - Calvary Baptist Church begins meeting in the rented facilities of the old "Free Will Baptist Church" on Birdsall St. (at the ghastly sum amount of $10/month!).
September 9, 1897 - A "Recognition Council" meets to recognize Calvary Baptist Church as a duly constituted Baptist church and one entitled to the fellowship of the Chenango Association of Baptist churches. The name of the church formally changed to Calvary Baptist Church. Rev. J. R. Edwards is ordained this same day.
October 13, 1897 - Calvary Baptist Church applies for and is granted "membership" (affiliation) in the Chenango Association of Baptist Churches.
Thus was begun a ministry of God that has impacted countless people with the gospel of Christ. Since its inception it has been a separated testimony for Christ, declaring without shame the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ in all its fullness. Evangelists (Bob Sumner), Missionaries (Norman McPherson, Sue Morano), Humanitarians (Larry Ward), Church Leaders (Reginald Matthews) have all been a part of our church ministry. Numerous young people (and some not so young) have left the confines of our church assembly to enter vocational Christian ministry (Shirley Golden, et al).
Calvary Baptist has been instrumental in the formation of the flourishing ministries of the Empire State Fellowship of Regular Baptist Churches and BaYouCa Camp. Pastor Reggie Matthews was on the original steering committee (along with Clayton Howard Gray, pastoring in Binghamton, and Joseph Stowell, pastoring in Ithaca) which was instrumental in the formation of the ESF in 1942. Pastor Wilbur Strader gave aggressive leadership to the purchase of property for the ministry which is now BaYouCa (CNY Baptist Youth Camp). Our church has always had an interest in the larger fellowship of fundamental churches. Larry Ward left Calvary, and was the first editor of the Baptist Bulletin (the official organ of the GARBC) from 1951-55. Bob Sumner has traveled the world in his ministry of evangelism, and if indeed the pen is mightier than the sword, then his impact surely has been great through the written word. Bruce Comings faithfully ministered as pastor and preacher for many years. All of these, and numerous others, have their roots in Calvary Baptist Church.
In light of all that God has done, we greatly rejoice! Surely the life of Calvary Baptist Church through her first 100 years is a picture of how God can impact the world through one local church in a small, forgotten place! Yet, much more needs to be done for Jesus Christ. As a local church we are like the Apostle Paul who said that "a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries" (1 Corinthians 16:9). God is not done doing a work in reaching the world for Jesus Christ through the local church called Calvary Baptist Church. He has begun a good work in us, and will continue to perform that work until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6).
Praise the Lord for what great things He has done in our lives, and through our lives...and all by His grace, and for His own glory!