New England Notes

April 23, 2012

With some friend at Admiral T. J. O’Brien’s Restaurant in Sturbridge.

Southbridge, MA

I’m writing this update from the lobby of the Southbridge Conference Center, a vast convention center built on the site of the former American Optical Company building. We arrived on Friday after a longish trip from Tupelo via Memphis, Detroit, and Hartford. Someone welcomed us on Facebook by saying that, “No one ever comes to Connecticut,” which isn’t true but I guess it does get squeezed between New York on one side and Boston on the other.  

We landed in Hartford, drove to Southbridge, went to Faith Baptist Church in Auburn, MA where I spoke at a banquet, then to HighPointe Church in Thompson, CT for a pastors conference on Saturday, then I spoke at Eastford Baptist Church in CT yesterday. So we’ve gotten a brief taste of NE CT (I like using those abbreviations) and western MA. 

This is beautiful country. Rolling hills, some farmland, long stretches of forest, with towns and villages scattered across the countryside (I’m not sure exactly when a village becomes a town.) Here are two things we noticed immediately:

1. Dunkin’ Donuts. We saw at least six Dunkin’ Donuts between Hartford and Southbridge. When I commented on it, the people laughed appreciatively. It’s worth noting because as far as I know, there are no Dunkin’ Donuts in Mississippi. For some reason, they skip over the Deep South and then show up again in Florida. I’ve never seen as many Dunkin’ Donuts as I’ve seen here in New England.

2. History. Down South we have Civil War battlefields, but here you see signs like “Southbridge, Massachusetts, est. 1630.” That’s 10 years after Plymouth Rock. Now that’s real history. Everything around here seems very permanent and solid, like it’s been around for a long time, which it has.

Over the weekend we had the first of three pastors conferences in New England. The first one was primarily for pastors in MA and CT. On Friday and Saturday we have another conference in Brunswick, ME. Then next Monday and Tuesday we’ll be in Waterbury Center, VT. Pastors need these get-togethers because New England is a tough place for evangelical witness. New England (along with the Pacific Northwest) ranks as the least-churched part of the country. One pastor I met called New England frozen territory. Churches here tend to be small and scattered. You find lots of nearly-empty church buildings with weekly congregations of 75 or less.

But the pastors who came to the conference are filled with hope. I met one elderly gentleman who went to seminary in Boston in the late 40s. He spoke of a “quiet revival” going on in New England. Back then (60+ years ago) you could barely find an evangelical church anywhere. Today you find evangelical churches in many cities, towns and villages. “God is doing something in New England that most people don’t know about. Maybe it’s better that they don’t.” He means that a “quiet revival” happens as God moves “under the radar,” so to speak.

Yesterday I preached at Eastford Baptist Church (est. 1843), which at first glance appears to be a church located so far out in the country that no one could find it. But when we arrived, we joined 200 people in joyful and even exuberant worship of God. I know we talk about staid New England, but there was nothing staid about the service. Pastor Tim Vamosi led with great passion, the people shared their prayer requests, Pastor Tim prayed, a young man from the University of Connecticut shared about his call to summer missions, several people stood up and invited us to various events, the women were encouraged to call the local breast hotline (first time I had ever heard that in church, but why not? It saves lives.), the people seemed truly glad to be there, and they sang with gusto.

I love hearty congregational singing, and the people at Eastford love to sing. In my book that’s one mark of a healthy congregation. Looking arounbd, I saw some gray hair but also lots of children and young people. 

Afterwards Pastor Tim and his wife Missy took a group of us to Admiral T. J. O’Brien’s restaurant in Sturbridge,, purveyors of excellent seafood in a casual environment. You can check out our group in the picture above. 

All in all, our trip to New England is off to a fine start, except for the weather. It’s chilly and rainy, but I think they need the rain and New England is supposed to be chilly, so there you go.

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