A church that has been here in Mansfield since 1838, we are an integral part of Mansfield's Fabric. Sustained through a church fire and other key events in town History, ours is a varied and colorful past. Today we enter the 21st centrury with a state of the art web site. Some old, some new!

Church as it appeared during Rev. Roland Green’s pastorateThe first Church in Mansfield was a meeting-house on the South Common. After the meeting house was built it took five years for them to find a permanent pastor. The first pastor was Rev. Ebenezer White who remained pastor for 24 years until he died. The second pastor was Rev. Roland Green who was called in 1761. He was pastor for 47 years and during his pastorate a new meeting house was built.

Rev. Roland Green was the first person in Mansfield to have a chaise. The story goes that there was a man in West Mansfield that resented the minister having such a fancy means of travel so he hollowed out a log, attached wheels, hitched up his horses and rode around the meeting house during services.

Starting in 1811 differences in theological tastes and arguments over the anti-slavery issue caused groups to pull away from the meeting-house and form new churches in town. First the Methodists pulled away. In 1837 the Baptists pulled away and in 1838 the Congregationalists pulled away. After the Baptists pulled away they were meeting at the home of Mr. Tingley in Foxboro. This was a four mile walk. Some of the families in this group of early Baptists were: Athertons, Whites, Allens and Newlands. Judge Warren’s house was half way to Mr. Tingley’s and it became a resting place for those who were walking. In bad weather services were held in the home of Micah Allen which was near the Mansfield south common. This  house  once belonged to Rev. Ebenezer White.

The Baptists began to make plans for a meeting-house of their own in Mansfield. On January 16, 1938 there was a meeting of the shareholders of the proposed Mansfield First Baptist Church at the home of Simeon White (great grandfather of Herbert E. King). Simeon White had a business as the Mansfield tack maker and Micah Allen who listed himself as a millwright, was a wealthy land owner who had inherited much land from his father. These shareholders planned a meeting-house to be erected on land donated by Micah Allen. The meeting-house was to be a one-story structure, 40 feet by 58 feet with a vestry 20 feet by 14 feet. This is just a bit smaller than the current sanctuary and entryway. The proposed cost with pews was $2,800. It was to be built next to the tailor shop of Avery Allen (nephew of Micah). This was on the current site of the church. To raise the money for the building they sold 50 shares at $50 each. Each shareholder would get their money back when the building was complete and the pews were sold. They planned to sell all the pews except 1 for the minister and 2 free pews. The money from the sale of the pews would be given to the shareholders according to the number of shares each held. Micah Allen and Simeon White each purchased 10 shares. That means that each contributed $500 toward the new building. According to the percent of increase in the Consumer Price Index the relative value of this amount would be equivalent to $12,500 in (2013).   Mr. Henrey Coombs purchased 1/2 share for $25. That would be equivalent to about $625 (2013). Ancestors of the Wellmans and the Shepards also purchased shares.

Rev. Henry Coombs at age 85 when he was living in Middleboro. Pastor of FBC from 1838 - 1839 at Age 27.Micah Allen, who donated the land for the church, and his wife Anna lived in the beautiful home that is still on the corner of South Main St. and Willow Street. Micah also owned the house across the street  on the corner of Fruit and South Main. Between 1835 and 1836 he let the other house out to Irish workers who were building the Taunton Branch Railroad. According to Harry Chase, “Their nightly happy hour so riled his Baptist soul” that one evening Micah marched across the road and smashed their keg of whiskey with an ax. The graves of Micah Allen, his wife Anna, and their nephew Avery are in Spring Brook Cemetery in Mansfield.

At the first shareholders’ meeting in January of 1838, Micah Allen, Simeon White, and Levi Snow were chosen to contract carpenters to do the building of the new meeting house. The building was finished by August but on June 6, 1838 the Taunton Association officially recognized Mansfield First Baptist Church. Thus we take this as our official starting date. The first worship service in the new building was in August. It was a dedication service with an overflow crowd. The first minister of the church was Henry Coombs. He was 27 years old and was already a widower. He had been married to Carri White, daughter of Simeon White. Carri had died in childbirth in 1837. Simeon later married Martha Pierce Burt and they moved to Middleboro where Martha grew up.

At a meeting of the shareholders in August 1838, the shareholders surrendered all claims to the property to the First Baptist Church for their use forever. There were also three stipulations in the deed. One was that the church will fence the property and keep the fence in good repair. The second was that only ministers in fellowship with the Taunton Baptist Association (now the American Baptist Association) shall preach or perform divine services, and third is that if the church is not in fellowship or unison with the Taunton Baptist Association (American Baptist Association) it shall relinquish all rights to the land to those who are in fellowship with this association.


Music in the early church was provided on a bass viol played by Albert Morse of Foxboro. After a few years Robert Fuller (son of Micah Allen’s second wife) gave an organ to the church. The organ was placed in the end of the church closest to the street.

The church also purchased a parsonage in 1843. At that time Rev. Jonas Appleton was the minister and his salary was $300 a year and the use of the parsonage and grounds. The parsonage was on Sough Main St. opposite Horace St. The Sunday school was also established during Rev. Appleton’s pastorate on April 4, 1844. Brother Beriah Willis was chosen as the superintendent of the Sunday school.

Fulton’s Pond was the site of many baptisms in the early church. After the parsonage was purchased, the baptismal candidates would walk in their wet clothes to the parsonage on South Main St. to change their clothes. Many baptisms were held in April but even though this is technically spring, there were a few times when the ice in the pond had to be broken before the baptism could be performed. It was recorded that no one ever got a cold from this practice.

In the 1840s, discipline played a key part in the church life. Committees were formed to visit members whose church attendance was irregular. One member was visited month after month and the church finally took him off the membership rolls. Thirty years later his wife was baptized and he was accepted back into membership. Some members were also dropped from membership for attending dances. A fiddle player that played often in worship services was dropped because he played his fiddle at dances. His brother was also dropped because he attended the dances where his brother played fiddle.

 


In 1852, Rev. Welcome Lewis became pastor. He would be pastor of the church twice, first from 1852 to 1855 and then again from 1862 to 1873. Before becoming minister Mr. Lewis had lived in the home of Marshall Shaw and had fallen in love with one of  Mr. Shaw’s daughters, Hannah. He later married her. Mr. William Robinson married Hannah’s sister, Elizabeth, so Rev. Welcome Lewis and Mr. William Robinson were brothers-in-law. William Robinson was to play an important part in the history of the church a little later.  Rev. Welcome Lewis and his wife Hannah are buried at Spring Brook Cemetery in Mansfield.

 

In 1854, near the end of Rev. Welcome Lewis’ first pastorate, a very wealthy man moved to Mansfield and opened a foundry diagonally across from the train depot. His foundry was called Mansfield Iron Foundry and it produced household furnaces and stoves which he marketed worldwide from his store in Boston. He also invented and manufactured a safety stove for railroad cars. Trains at this time were heated by stoves and in the event of a train wreck the stove spilled hot coals throughout the cars causing fires. This safety stove was bolted to the floor and in a wreck it remained sealed and no hot coals escaped. The safety stove saved many lives. The wealthy man who started the foundry and invented the safety stove was named Gardner Chilson. When he moved to town he built a magnificent house in the north end and began attending the First Baptist Church during the first pastorate of Rev. Welcome Lewis. He continued to attend the church and there is an interesting story about Gardner Chilson and Rev. John Blaine.  Mr. Chilson invited Rev. Blaine and his wife to come to his magnificent home for dinner. Rev. Blaine’s wife was an invalid and they lived in the parsonage on South Main Street. Rev. Blaine, often called Father Blaine was not sure how to get his wife to Mr. Chilson’s home for dinner. He did not have a carriage and his wife could not walk.  He finally devised a plan and Father Blaine arrived at Mr. Chilson’s door with his wife in a wheelbarrow. Mr. Chilson scolded Father Blaine and after dinner sent them home in a lovely carriage. The wheelbarrow was returned the next day.

 

During the second pastorate of Rev. Welcome Lewis, Mr. Chilson gave the church a new organ, pew cushions, and a large sum of money. Trees were set about the yard, an  iron rail fence was erected, the sanctuary was raised up and a first floor vestry was built under it which included Sunday school rooms and a kitchen. A steeple was added and a  belfry although there was no bell at that time. A carriage shed was also added on to the south side of the building.


 

A High Pope BicycleMr. Chilson died in 1877. He left a sum of money to the church and left his house to the minister at the time. That minister was Rev. Clarkson Russell.  The next minister  of the church was Rev. Lewis Pope. He was the brother of Col. Albert Pope who owned a bicycle company in Boston, MA. He manufactured bicycles including the  “High Pope Bicycle”. He was kind enough to give his brother Lewis one of these bicycles and Rev. Pope was often seen riding this bicycle around Mansfield.

 

In 1880, a choir platform was built in the front of the sanctuary. Before this time the choir stood in the back of the church. In 1885 a baptistry was built in the sanctuary thus eliminating the use of Fulton’s Pond for baptisms. The first person baptized in the new baptistry was Mary McAlpine who became Mrs. W. C. Fuller.

Around the turn of the century, the church was well known for its musical programs under the direction of  Mr. William Robinson. In 1908, during the pastorate of Rev. Edward Shaw, Mrs. Elizabeth Robinson  left a sum of money to the church for the purchase of a bell. This bell was purchased in memory of Mr. and Mrs. William Robinson. This is the same bell we now have in our bell tower. The inscription on the bell reads:

          Good Shepherd Window  God of the living, in whose eyes,

            Unveiled Thy whole creation lies;

            All souls are Thine; we must not say

            That those are dead who pass away;

            From this our world of flesh set free

            We know them living unto Thee.

 


In 1910, two years after the bell was installed, the Good Shepherd window was given by the Fuller-Edwards family. After that all the other windows in the sanctuary were filled with stained glass, each given by a Church School class or an organization within the church (Mizpah Class, Philathea Class, and Fidelis Class to name a few). Also around this time the carriage shed needed repair and it was decided to tear it down because  the need for horse and buggy accommodation was declining. Rev. A J. Hutchins was the pastor at this time.

 

In 1937, the church was preparing for the 100th anniversary which would be in 1938. An addition was put onto the back of the church. It included Sunday school rooms, a large kitchen and a ladies’ parlor. At the same time a Wurlitzer Theater Organ was purchased to replace the old organ  but the decorative front pipes and woodwork of the old organ were retained. The new organ had chimes and an amplifier and speakers in the bell tower that allowed the sound of the chimes to be heard throughout the town. This all happened during the ministry of Rev. George D. Hudson.

 Church in 1930sIn 1938 when the church was celebrating its 100th anniversary, a fierce hurricane blew the steeple off the church and it was replaced with a new somewhat taller and pointier steeple.

In 1944, the house at 142 Church Street was purchased for a parsonage. The church had not had a parsonage since the parsonage on South Main St. had been sold in 1864 to buy new pews for the renovated sanctuary. The first minister to live in the new parsonage was Rev. Newell J. Smith. The second minister to live in this parsonage was Rev. Ralph Palmer who lived there during his second pastorate of the church. His wife, Mildred, was also a minister at the Bellingham Baptist Church. Rev. Palmer was a wonderful youth leader in the church. He could often be seen riding his bicycle around town.

 

InRev. Jack Averill 1963, a 125th anniversary celebration of the church took place during the pastorate of Rev. Jack M. Averill. Also during Rev. Averill’s pastorate, the deacons and deaconesses were combined into one group and women were allowed to serve communion. Membership options were increased from membership by baptism and transfer of letter to include membership by profession of faith. One of the first members to join by profession of faith was Roger Everett who became very active in the church as collector, then treasurer, a deacon, and a member of the church choir.                                                                                      

In 1970, the church was badly in need of paint. The cost to have  it painted was great and this needed to be done every 5 or 6 years. The church was contacted by a vinyl siding company that offered to give a great price on siding if the church could be used for advertising their product after the job was done. The church decided to have the siding installed and they sold the parsonage at 142 Church St. to pay for the siding. At this time the church had an interim pastor, Rev. William Forsyth. He was from Scotland and he had a charming Scottish brogue. Although he was an interim pastor, he assumed full time duties and was loved by the church members. He and his wife Isabelle and their four children lived in Attleboro. While he was with us one of his children, a daughter aged 10, died of lupus. This was a very sad time for the church.


Mansfield First Baptist Church Burns in 1987In 1974 the church hired its first woman minister, Rev. Elizabeth Congdon-Martin. During Beth’s pastorate, the Sunday School attendance increased by 100% and the doors of the church were opened to the Mansfield Jewish community. During this time, members of the church were invited to attend a Sader Supper that the Jewish community put on at our church. It was a wonderful experience.

A beloved church member named Ruby Berry died in 1978. She had been a skilled story teller and often did “chalk talks” for the church people. The church decided to dedicate the vestry in memory of Ruby and the large room on the first floor was  named the Ruby Berry room.  Around that same time a pastor’s study was added on the lower floor and it was dedicated in memory of John and Emily Ingram, two other beloved church members.

When Beth and Doug Congdon-Martin had their second child, Beth decided to become  a stay-at-home mom so we lost our loved pastor. A pastoral search led us to our second female pastor, Rev. Margaret Hess, whom we called Meg.  Meg was young and energetic and the church experienced much growth under her leadership. Also while Meg was pastor, a most tragic event occurred. On Friday, April 10, 1987, the Friday before Palm Sunday, an electrical fire completely destroyed the church. It was a very devastating event for the church people. It was like losing a beloved family member. People of Mansfield and people around the country showed us support. We received donations from all over the country. The Orthodox Congregational Church gave us space for worship and Sunday School, Wheaton College also gave us space in their chapel. Businesses in Mansfield contributed money. A musical was produced and directed by a Mansfield resident for the benefit of the church. The musical raised $5000 toward the building of a new church building.

With the generous donations of money, time, talent, and materials we were able to have a beautiful new building without a mortgage. We certainly owed much to the generous community. On September 10, 1988 a 150th anniversary celebration was held for First Baptist Church of Mansfield and on the same day the new church building was dedicated. At the dedication ceremony the sanctuary was packed with church members, clergy from all around the area, former pastors, and many town folk. It was a joyous ceremony.

Soon after the dedication service and the 150th celebration Rev. Meg Hess decided to resign. We then had a three year period of interim pastors and pastoral search. The interim pastors were  Rev. Franz Orth and Rev. Victor Scalise. In July of 1991 we  hired Rev. Steve Gretz. Under the leadership of Rev. Gretz, the church experienced great growth in membership and an increased awareness of missions. The missions giving increased, the SHARE program was introduced by George Ings, The Food & Friends Kitchen was started by Tom Dill, Senior Luncheons were begun by Julia Harris, the doors of the church were opened to the New Beginnings Christian Fellowship who had lost their building, and Hillside Adult Day Care opened a facility in our Fellowship Hall. We earned the unofficial title of “The Mansfield Community Service Church” because our building was open to the community more than 80 hours a week. 

Rev. Steve GretzRev. Gretz left in 1996 to become pastor of a larger Baptist church in Avon, MA.He was a much loved pastor and the programs started under his leadership flourished for many years.

First Baptist Mansfield entered the new millennium with a continued sprit to serve the community. Our doors are still open to community groups for meetings, gatherings, rehearsals, and concerts. The Food & Friends Kitchen continues to serve hot meals to between 40 and 60 people every Tuesday. Rev. Rollin Karnehm, our pastor since 2010,  encourages us to grow spiritually through daily scripture reading and prayer. He leads Bible studies and offers once a month inspirational movies free to the entire community.

The history of the church has seen several from its membership respond to God's call. There were two missionaries in the 1920's: Kate M. French (India) and Doris M. Lunn (Alabama). Five members responded to the call to ordained ministry: Rev. Charles R. Freeman (1895), Rev. William B. Udall (1055), Rev. Ernest B. Chace, Jr. (1969), Rev. Peter Brown (1976), and Rev. Diane Badger (2009).

 

 

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Rev. Rollin Karnehm


We  now celebrate the  175th anniversary of our church, trusting God to lead us forward into the future as we strive to do His work and show His love in the  local community, the  country, and the entire world.