Life and Death at Green End

The congregation asked for help on a regular basis, and rather than provide it, the SDBs of that era elected to withhold their support.

Rev. Nicholas J. Kersten

Director of Education and History

In between the lines of our history as Seventh Day Baptists, many stories are hidden. One such hidden story emerged several months ago when we received two requests in quick succession about our churches in Rhode Island. The first request was for a listing of all of our Rhode Island churches for a religious history of Rhode Island being written by an emeritus history professor from Rhode Island College, Dr. J. Stanley Lemons. After surveying our resources, our list was comprised and sent. Soon after, we received a request from a woman asking about the history of an SDB church located at Green End, RI, which was not on the list we had just sent. A church, which was not part of any of our church lists, emerged from the research which followed — and a once hidden story is hidden no longer.

Green End was apparently located on the sea coast near South Kingston, Rhode Island. Geographically speaking, it is not far from our other historic Rhode Island congregations, and had a postal address in Perryville, RI. Perryville is located just north of US Highway 1, between Charlestown and Matunuck.

The first references to SDB work in South Kingston are from 1825, when Elder Matthew Stillman stopped and preached there as part of a trip through the area.1 There is no reference of a church beginning at that time. In 1843, the SDB Register (our publication directly before the Sabbath Recorder) records the organization of the church with 13 members on April 9th. The first clerk of the church was William C. Lanphear.2

The new little congregation struggled from the outside with two crucial things: pastoral leadership and associational support. Throughout the remainder of the 1840s, the church seems to ebb and flow with the involvement of leaders — doing well when there was leadership help from other congregations, and foundering when it was not supplied with leaders. By the early 1850s, the little group had grown to about 25. In 1853, the Green End congregation reported to the Eastern Association that they were endeavoring to build a meeting house. In response, the association took up a collection and sent money to help with the building project. 3

The building project seems to have been completed shortly thereafter, early in 1854,4 though apparently the members of the church required loans to get the project completed. Once again after the completion of the meeting house, the little congregation begged for support in the form of pastoral leadership. The Eastern Association had been supporting the work of Henry Clarke to aid the little church. This aid continued until 1856, when enthusiasm for supporting the little church ran out and the work ceased to be supported. In 1857, the Association allocated $100 to aid in the hiring of a minister, but there is no record of any pastor or leader ever being hired. The reports continue in a negative vein from there, as the church failed to find a leader. With the addition of the debt from the construction of the meeting house, the church was even more burdened. In 1865, the Missionary Society sent a missionary to inquire after the health of the group, but the town was quarantined for small pox, and the missionary was advised to stay away. By 1876, a missionary reported that the church had been “undermined by Seventh Day Adventists,” and was no longer in fellowship with Seventh Day Baptists.5

Putting the remaining pieces of the puzzle together, it seems that when SDBs failed to support the congregation, and deep in debt, they reached an agreement with the Adventists to make use of the building, providing they could pay the mortgage. In time, as the Adventists grew and cared for the meeting house, they seem also to have gained the trust of the members of the Green End church. They ultimately sold the building to the Adventists and became members of the church. In short, the little church ceased to be an SDB church because it was neglected by Seventh Day Baptists. The congregation asked for help on a regular basis, and rather than provide it, the SDBs of that era elected to withhold their support. That withholding came despite the affirmation of the work at Association meetings. There was much talk about supporting the congregation at Green End, but too little action.

The lesson for us in this is clear as we once again focus on church planting: talk is cheap, and planting is hard work for all of us. If our efforts to cooperatively plant new SDB churches is to be successful, we must move past affirming the work of spreading the Gospel in committee meetings and into doing the work of supporting with our prayers, our dollars, our time, and our hands — the work of advancing the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. We must do the hard work of training leaders whom we can commission to go elsewhere and lead well. Local churches will have to focus their attention to this in order to be successful. If we fail in this, many more of our churches will become “hidden” stories in the pages of SDB history.

1 Missionary Magazine, v2, i7, p186 (September 1825)

2 SDB Register, v4, i8, p30 (April 19, 1843)

3 Sabbath Recorder, v9, i51, p202 (June 2, 1853)

4 Sabbath Recorder, v10, i32, p126 (January 19, 1854)

5 Sabbath Recorder, v32, i45 p1 (November 9, 1876.)

Clip to Evernote