Hugs, handshakes and Christmas greetings

by the Rev. Steve Treash Ph.D.

Black Rock Congregational

Snowflakes float through the night sky and land upon the building located at the confluence of three carriage paths — later known as Stepney Road, Sport Hill Road and Church Road in Easton.

It is Christmas Eve 1831 and family-sized groups emerge from the darkness with lanterns swinging side to side. Eventually, these snow-dusted travelers meet and after hugs, handshakes and Christmas greetings, climb the steps of Easton Baptist Church.

Inside, the church is illuminated entirely by candles. Soon, worship begins and together they sing. Old and young, men and women, farmers and merchants, join in Christmas carols with words like:

“God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. For Jesus Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day; to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy! O, tidings of comfort and joy!”

The Easton residents who sang songs on that snowy Christmas Eve in 1831 are gone now, but the place they gathered is still dedicated to the same tidings of comfort and joy. This year, however, the music almost died. After 183 Christmases, the singing was about to stop at Easton Baptist Church.

Eight months ago, the six remaining members of Easton Baptist announced that they could no longer continue the church’s ministry or maintain its facility. The Easton Courier reported on the situation and in several articles posed the question, “Is it OK to let a 183-year-old church die?”

On April 5, Easton Baptist became the site of a public meeting to discuss the question. To the surprise of many, that sunny Saturday morning found pews full of people saying that they wanted Easton Baptist to continue beckoning worshippers as it has since our nation was 55 years young.

I attended this meeting and I brought the Easton Baptist story to my church several miles away in Fairfield — and a few weeks later, Black Rock Congregational Church approved a plan to partner with Easton Baptist.

Now each week Black Rock supplies preachers and musicians who join Easton Baptist leaders for Sunday worship … and the result has been tremendous. Each Sunday morning at 11, the Bible is taught, God is worshipped — and like 183 years ago, the good news of Jesus is celebrated with singing.

Meanwhile, Black Rock is also giving oversight to the physical improvement of the Easton Baptist facility. The heating system is being replaced, electrical wiring is being brought up to code, the roof is being repaired, and rest rooms are being upgraded.

These investments are being made with the firm conviction that at the historic confluence of three roads in Easton, God’s work is not history.

Like Christmas 183 years ago, Easton Baptist Church continues to be a gathering place for those eager to celebrate the timeless message that, though we have gone astray, God loves us so much that He came personally to bring us back through the Savior. O tidings of comfort and JOY!

Black Rock Congregational Church is a non-denominational evangelical church in Fairfield.