Wilton church celebrates 200th year
WILTON – “We are the ‘Church Triumphant,’â” the Rev. Peter Vitello told those gathered in the Good News Bible Church on Friday, April 7.
He had many reasons to call it that, since the church was celebrating 200 years and at one point in the 1940s, the membership had shrunk to five members of one family.
That family, the Keyes, refused to let the church, at that time the Wilton Center Baptist Church, die.
About 75 people attended the anniversary service, during which Vitello read some excerpts from a talk given 100 years ago.
“They were looking for those people to be triumphant,” he said. “They were looking forward to us.”
How a church grows “is how they live and how that affects others, and pass that on to their children,” he said.
A historical overview of the last 200 years was given by Dale Hallowell.
A Baptist Church was organized in Mason in the late 1700s. The Wilton Baptist Society was formed from that in 1817 with 11 members.
In 1827, they built a brick church in Wilton Center, using bricks made in Wilton by the grandfather of early minister David Gage. That building is now a private home.
Membership fluctuated, and in 1918, the church united with the Lyndeborough Baptists and shared a minister until 1962, when the Rev. Donald Magnuson became the first full-time pastor in more 40 years.
In the late 1980s, the church separated from the American Baptist Association to pursue a different theological path, and changed the name to Good News Bible Church, to better express its goals.
Vitello came to the church in 2001.
By then, the church had outgrown its little brick building on the hill, which had no parking spaces and was badly in need of repairs. Church members purchased a warehouse just off Route 101 and began the process of converting it to their needs.
A slideshow covered a lot of that history in pictures, drawings, program covers and newspaper clippings.
Melissa Longoal described what the church meant to her, relating her journey of faith after arriving in Wilton “at the end of her rope in 2001,” and how the church helped her find her way.
This church, she said, “is my family, my life, my love.”
Joanna Norbu, a lifelong member, spoke of her family’s connections with the church and how that had affected her.
In his talk, Vitello mentioned the founders, their goals and their determination.
“It is amazing to be part of something that started 200 years ago,” he said. “And we want to be here 100 years from now, committed to the works of God and the next generation.”
The congregation was led by pianist Sue Hallowell and singers Deb Krook and Joanna Norbu in singing three hymns that could have been sung by the congregation 100 or more years ago: “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” “Great is They Faithfulness” and “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.”
A cake was shared after the service. A supper was enjoyed prior to the service.